April 26th 2024.

Next club meeting Saturday 18th May 2024.

Reading Coin Club 60th Anniversary Celebration

Monday 3rd June 2024

·         Annual General Meeting and Display Competition

Monday 1st July 2024

·         TBC By

 Meetings are held at the Abbey Baptist Church, Abbey Square, commencing at 7.00 p.m.



It will be the Annual General meeting in June and the time when we look for volunteers to serve on the committee, PLEASE give it some consideration. It is also the time for the Annual Display Competition, so start thinking about that too.


We have realised that Abbey Square (or at least the bit outside the Church) is now a one-way street! You need to enter it from the Library end.


April Meeting

John began the meeting by reading out a long list of apologies from members with reasons as diverse as train strikes and being on a different continent. Even so, we had fifteen members attending.


John then reminded the members present that we were having two events in aid of our 60th anniversary celebrations and that lists were available with the usual signing in sheet for members to express an interest and to allow us to get numbers.


We were very fortunate to have Neil to give us a talk on ‘Devon Pub Tokens’ after Tim Everson was unable to make it. The talk was illustrated by a selection of tokens and a couple of books on the subject.


Firstly Neil thanked David Pottinger (posthumously), having come across a set of David’s notes for a similar talk to the club some years ago. The spiritual home of the Pub Token is in the Birmingham area, which is where most of them were produced. Other areas where they were used were the West Country and South Wales, with some from Gloucestershire, Somerset and Devon. Neil did not know of any Pub Tokens from Berkshire, though he did have one from Chertsey in Surrey. Interestingly, some of the Devon tokens were produced locally in either Exeter or Newton Abbot, specialising in the smaller 18-20mm sizes. Mainly produced in brass there are some in copper and a few in pewter or aluminium.


So, what is a Pub token? The library definition is ‘any check issued by a hotel, inn or beer house, redeemable for a drink or food at the place of issue’. Even though some have 1½ D or just D for 1 penny on them, they are not money. 1½ D was around about the price of a drink when these tokens were in use, and multiples, 3D and 6D also occur. Other denominations such as 5D occur much less frequently. They were used between 1850 and the First World War, but petered out after that, with only a few being made between the wars in Tiverton.


How did Pub tokens come about? Early in the 19th Century, the Government were keen to promote beer sales, because the drinking water was unfit to drink, with people dying of cholera in the Summer. Because the beer was fermented, it had killed off all the harmful bacteria. On the other hand it was not the strong beers we enjoy today. There was also an interest to reduce the consumption of spirits. A further conflict had arisen between the brewers who had to pay a duty on the beer they produced and individual publicans who brewed their own, where the unspecified strength made it difficult to get the correct duty. In 1830, the duty on beer was abolished completely. Anyone with 2 Guineas could get a licence to sell beer and cider and some of our older members might remember pubs that didn’t sell spirits and such like. Neil commented that he remembered practices like that in Bristol where he started work. In the West Country, the difference between spirits and the stronger ciders was less clear cut.


Another important event was the coming of the railways in the 1840s. The Great Western reached Plymouth in 1849, later the London and South Western railway came through Somerset and Dorset to Exeter and eventually Plymouth. Exeter was the administrative centre for the whole of South West England and the main centre in Devon and along with other towns saw a great expansion due to the arrival of the railway. Pub tokens saw their heyday in the 1870s although interestingly there are almost none from Plymouth, probably only twenty or thirty, compared with probably a hundred different ones in Exeter, which echoed the increase in the number of pubs, hotels and the like. The railways also caused the invention of the tourist industry in the area along the south coast, as they needed to sell tickets. In 1869 the beerhouse act was abolished but in 1880 beer duty was reintroduced. In the late 1880 - 1890s the bigger breweries got stronger building the ornate pubs of the period that are now sadly shutting down and the small breweries disappeared.


Pub tokens are generally around the size of an old halfpenny, with the name of the pub and often the name of the licensee and street address on the obverse, the value and sometimes the manufacturers name on the reverse. Very few have pictorial designs on them, they were entirely utilitarian so most of the interest comes from the social history side and the details of how the manufacturers changed over time. Very few have dates so in order to date one you need to check who was the landlord of the pub and when. Quite a few pubs were family run businesses handed down the generations.


The purpose of the pub tokens is quite obscure and generally they could be used for anything the landlord wanted to use them for. Some could be used as promotional/advertising items, along the line of ‘first drink free’ when you come to some event in the pub, some pubs would have them just because everyone else had them. Initially they would have been used as prepayment for drinks, for example at a party in the pub. They were also used as deposits for pub games in the same way that a 50p might be left on a pool table in a bar to join the queue for use of the table. Some of the tokens would advertise the games on offer at the pub. Visiting sports teams were sometimes given the tokens for their first drink. Local businesses might give out tokens as special rewards for their workers.


Contemporary references to pub tokens are very scarce, Neil only knows of one and there is no standard reference to the rarity of any token in the series. It seems likely that the smallest amount made would be a batch of 500-1000 to make it worthwhile. 3D and 1½ D are the commonest denominations. The best reference to the series is the book ‘Devon Tavern Tokens’ by Yolanda Stanton and Neil Todd in 1982 and lists about 200 tokens - it is wildly out of date  - Neil is certain there are at least a thousand tokens in existence.


Neil then went on to show images of some of the tokens, beginning with a selection of four, all different values and different landlords but all from the same place, the Devon Arms Hotel for which he was able to provide a recent picture. Next we had a token from the Tiverton ‘Railway Hotel’ illustrating the links between hostelries and the Railway. It included an advertisement from a gazetteer pointing out the hotel was also a posting house, with horses for hire, meaning you could get local transport from the hotel, to make your connections after you had reached the railway station. Local amenities (in this case fishing opportunities) could also be listed. After that we had a selection of Railway hotels, including Dawlish, with a reference to being a South Devon Inn, meaning it was connected to the London and South Western Railway. We then had an unusual token since it was pictorial and also very early, showing two men probably playing billiards and a third man looking on. One thing that marks it out as early is that there is actually a ‘D’ by the value (1½ ), later tokens dropped the ‘D’ though it reappeared from time to time. After that we had a 6D token for the Dolphin hotel, with a nice picture of a dolphin, made in Leeds. Masonic symbols turn up too and we had a Plymouth token with the ‘all seeing eye’ and the ‘hand on heart’. A token from Exeter had a picture of the Coach and Horses from South Sidwells. A token from Barnstaple was accompanied by its advert, with an interesting spelling mistake in the proprietors name, Stewart for Steward.


Neil then went on to discuss the manufacturers, starting with J P Worton, briefly on the scene in the 1850s before going to Birmingham, followed by three generations of the Seage family which carried on the business from the 1850s till 1914. The original Seage was a carriage spring maker, associated with horses in the posting houses, so metal working would have come naturally to him. Although some of the Seage tokens did not have the family name on them, their style is enough to identify them. Mark Helmore was a proprietor, turned token producer and Charles Vile made some tokens in the Devon style, 20mm round, but then made larger ones in Torquay to match the ones there.


We had one of Worton’s tokens (3D), with nicely done geometric designs. An early Seage one, unsigned, had the usual wreath reverse with the value having a cross hatched 1. The wreath is unusual being half oak, half laurel, with no preference as to which side each went on. Some of the Seage tokens had Script initials for the proprietor. Neil had found it difficult to allocate some of the tokens to a particular business as the proprietors’ initials don’t match any known businesses. Another token had a rather sad looking spaniel, with the name Black, another for the Royal Oak had an indecipherable monogram. We then had an advertising piece for the Three Cranes Tavern and Boarding house, ran by the aforementioned Mark Helmore, which was eventually shut down for having a troop of young ladies as one of its many attractions. The token had Queen Victoria’s head on one side. Neil showed us a token for another railway establishment Harrisons London and Western hotel.


Neil also had a list of local manufacturers. Although the majority of the tokens had no names at all, it can occasionally be possible to allocate a token based on the style of the numbers etc.


Finishing then with tokens produced outside the area, Neil showed us a very large (old penny size) 6D token for the Globe Hotel in Torrington, by Taylor in London. Another was made by Pope in Birmingham for the Old Devon Arms in Torquay. Neil also had examples of two tokens for the Elmfield Hotel in Exeter from 1869 and 1879, these being quite common. A token with Masonic symbol came from the White Hart in Kingsbridge, there are many pubs called the White Hart which was the personal badge of Richard II. Lastly a token, together with its advertising from the gazeteer, for the Ship Inn, St. Martins Lane in Exeter with a fine picture of a full sailed ship. The Ship is famous for being where Sir Francis Drake stayed when he was in Exeter.


In questions it emerged that common tokens go for about £5, with less common ones around the £50 mark and above. Some are sufficiently sought after that their owners will simply not consider offers at all! The next question concerned whether you could use one pub’s tokens in a different establishment, to which the answer was ‘no’, they were only any good in the hostelry they were made for. It was pointed out that they were still at the same value (1½ D and multiples) all the way from the 1850s to 1914. Perhaps inflation wasn’t so high then. A very enjoyable and well researched talk, thank you Neil.


Future Events.  


Past Events

·         10 years ago – 17th Century Suffolk Tokens” – Speaker unknown.

·         20 years ago – “The life of a coin dealer” – Mark Rasmussen.

·         30 years ago – Jill Greenaway gave a talk on the Roman hoard found at Wokingham that consisted of 1600+ 4th Century bronzes.

·         40 years ago – Vincent West spoke on 17th Century Berkshire tokens and their relationship to present day businesses, especially public houses

·         50 years ago – The guest speaker was Mr R Lax who bought along a superb collection to support his talk on the English Milled Shilling. His collection included many rarities in mint state.

Club Secretary.