Introducing the Norfolk Token Project


17 September 2018
Dr Adrian Marsden, Numismatist at Norfolk Historic Environment Service introduces the Norfolk Token project (NTP), which aims to shed light on hundreds of 17th-century local tokens

From 1649 until 1672, to remedy a nationwide shortage of small change, thousands of private traders and a number of town and city corporations had their own token coinage produced, writes Dr Adrian Marsden, Numismatist at Norfolk Historic Environment Service.

These 17th-century tokens have become extremely collectable in recent years. This is not surprising; not only are they charming pieces of 17th-century art in their own right but the issuers named on them can often be traced in the historical records.

Although about 300 traders in Norfolk issued tokens in this period making it one of the most productive counties in the kingdom, very little has been published on the county and almost no original research has been done on either the tokens or their issuers.

I decided to address this neglect of the Norfolk token series by setting up the Norfolk Token project (NTP) in 2014. One of the first priorities was the publication of the Norwich Castle Museum collection – this is available from the Norwich branches of the Norfolk Museums Service (£10 plus £4 p&p).

The NTP is also concerned with investigating the various aspects of token usage in Norfolk and in particular with researching the stories behind the issuers. Already this has produced some interesting results.

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For example, Stephen Tracey, a merchant of Great Yarmouth who issued a token in the mid-1650s had earlier been a Pilgrim Father, spending about thirty years in Massachusetts, New England, before returning to Yarmouth to set up as a merchant. 

Another issuer, Augustine Briggs of Norwich, fought for King Charles in the Civil War of the 1640s. Although this cost him his position on the Corporation at the time he was richly rewarded on the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, becoming Sheriff in that year and Mayor of Norwich in 1670. Portraits of him still survive, his fine memorial stands in the church of St Peter Mancroft, and a street in Norwich still bears his name. 

Although the issuers of most tokens did not lead quite such eventful lives as Tracey and Briggs, every token can tell a story and, in the fullness of time, the NTP hopes to make each token do just that. 

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