A Ha’pennyworth of Sedition, 1796

Image of a metal coin with the bust of John Thelwall in profile on one side and a figure in chains and a padlock on the other

Contributor: Alice Rhodes

Location: The British Museum, London, UK

Description: In the 1790s, Britain was quite literally short on change. Insufficient supply of official coinage from the Royal Mint, combined with high levels of counterfeit money, led many business owners to issue their own coins, in order to pay increasingly large workforces. These private tokens, also known as commercial coins or Conder tokens, quickly became far more than currency. Free from official regulation, capable of being stamped with almost any design, and specifically intended to be circulated locally, they were soon used to advertise almost everything, from menageries to lawyers. And it was these same qualities which made them apt to carry political messages. This 1796 token, minted by Thomas Spence in the wake of the 1795 “Gagging Acts” features an image of radical orator John Thelwall on one side and an image of a “Free-born Englishman”, with shackled limbs and padlocked mouth on the other. But what can this coin say in 1796 that a “free-born Englishman” can’t?

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Herries & Co Circular Note

Contributor: E.J. Clery

Location: Lloyds Bank Archive and Museum, UK

Description: This creased and uncharismatic scrap of paper bears a name to conjure with, Robert Herries, visible in the design at either end: in addition to the Herries armorial bearings there are three ‘hurcheons,’ otherwise known as hedgehogs. This is a ‘circular note,’ precursor to the travellers’ cheque. It is a rarity; these notes were routinely destroyed after cancellation but this one is unused and therefore uncancelled. It was scanned from a guard book [ref A/26/b/3] by Karen Sampson of the Herries archive at Lloyds Bank. We do not know its provenance.

The template is in French, the international language of the day, and indicates that payment can be drawn at the Paris headquarters of the bank. The bank also had offices in Dover and London. On the note, there are spaces for the addition of a date and the customer’s signature. Upon completion, with presentation of a letter of ‘indication’ or identification, and after a wait of ‘sept jours,’ the circular note would yield cash in the local currency at banks and businesses in a network stretching from Calais to Moscow, and even further afield. It permitted a new, more informal, style of travel across Europe in the Romantic period.

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