Category Archives: Antiquarian

Englands Oldest Handicrafts


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 Below is an article from The Antiquary Volume 35 by  Edward Walford, John Charles Cox and George Latimer Apperson – published in 1899.  It covers the early English Handicraft trade and the beginning of working in precious metals.


Alfred’s Jewel – BackWorking in precious metals and in bronze was one of the earliest and most important industries practised by our forefathers in this country. Many antiquaries have questioned whether the production of decorative objects actually preceded the Roman invasion. According to Holinshed’s Chronicle “collars of gold and silver wrought for women’s necks” were a part of the tribute which the Emperor Augustus laid upon this island, and it is scarcely probable that ores would have been sought here by other nations if ornaments of metal made in this country had not been carried abroad.

The earliest settlements of Saxons undoubtedly included goldsmiths and bronzeworkers, for as a race they were accustomed to wearing ornaments of precious metal, made with a skill and artistic taste which do credit to their handicraft. The monasteries, in Saxon times no less than in later ages, were the schools and cradles of arts and industries. Alcuin, who was living at the close of the eighth century, and founded several monasteries, is especially mentioned in medieval chronicles as the patron of handicrafts. He was the friend of Charlemagne, and went on one occasion to Parma to confer with that monarch on matters connected with the goldsmith’s craft, and to discuss means for improving the making of crosses, shrines, and vessels for the churches. The results of this conference Alcuin confided to the monks in England, and richly chased, hammered and enamelled gold, silver, and bronze vessels made by his instructions long enriched the great abbeys of St. Albans, and Gloucester. St. Dunstan more than any other exerted himself to encourage handicrafts, and at the school founded by him at Glastonbury pupils were taught, among other things, working in precious metals and bronze. Later he was taken as the patron saint of goldsmiths, and the records of city companies abound in notices of the ceremonies which took place in his honour on special occasions. Many of the abbots were themselves noted artists. Bishop Bernward, who lived at the close of the tenth century, executed some beautiful Sticks (which are now in Kensington Museum) for the abbey where he learnt his art. Another Bishop-artist was Brithnodus of Ely, whose four images, covered with silver-gilt and precious stones, the glory of the abbey, had to go, with many other ornaments, to appease the resentment of William the Conqueror against this last stronghold of saxons.


Further Reading and External Links

Bishop Bernward on Wikipedia

Tradesmen’s Tokens No III



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Tradesmen’s Tokens No III This is the third and final part of a three part series on Tradesmen’s Tokens. Tradesmen’s Tokens were commonly used by tradesmen as a form of currency when there was a shortage of the normal types of coin.  It allowed them to continue to trade and was widely used in the mid 17th century.

From The Gentleman’s Magazine Volume 31 May 1849 Page 496

THIS Token appears to have been of the satirical class, and was issued by William Newcome of “Darby.”  The inscription, which is continued  from the obverse to the reverse is “Touch not mine anointed; doe my prophets noe harme;” the propriety of which is not countenanced by any device on the coin.  Doubtless Newcome was a profane wag, and designed to have a fling at the Puritans, who were accustomed to adopt scriptural signs and mottoes (whether appropriately or otherwise) after the “Praise-God Barebones” fashion.*  And had any caviller questioned the  applicability of the quotation, Master Newcome would probably have directed him to read it, “doe my profits noe harme.”  The issuing of these  Tokens was a very profitable affair,  for one pennyworth or copper or brass could be converted into forty or fifty  tokens; hence they came to be issued in such quantities, that the Government was compelled to suppress them  by severe enactments.

 Yours, &c. B. N.

*There is a public-house at Tunbridge Wells, at the back of Mount Sion, which formerly bore for its sign “God encompasseth us;”  the puritanical landlord little imagining it would ever become corrupted into its present ludicrous designation, “The Goat and Compasses.”   Tunbridge Wells during the reign of Charles II. was the stronghold of Puritanism, as the names of “Mount Sion.” “Mount Ephraim,” &c. given to the localities by these sectarians, still attest.  And there is a curious custom still adhered to in the oldest church (or chapel) of this popular place of resort — that of the separation of the sexes during divine service — the men occupying one side, and the women the opposite side of the church.  Even temporary visitors here fall in with this ancient practice, which is doubtless of puritanical origin.

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Tradesmen’s Tokens No II

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Tradesmen’s Tokens No IIThis is the second in a three part series on Tradesmen’s Tokens, following on from my earlier post as promised.  Its from the Gentleman’s Magazine Volume 31 in April 1849 page 369.


From The Gentleman’s Magazine Volume 31 April 1849 Page 369

THE Token engraved here is of the class called “Rhyming Tokens,”— a very rare and limited series.  John Hart has appropriately enough adopted a heart as his device, in juxtaposition with the initials of himself and his wife.  It was a curious but universal custom to place the wife’s as well as the husband’s initials on these Tokens; where it is omitted the presumption is that the man was a bachelor.  Instead of date or motto, round the edge we have this distich, singular for its orthography:

“Take. these. that. wil. Ile. chaing. them. sti.”

equivalent to the “I promise to pay” on the bank notes of the present day.

Snelling has noticed these Tokens, and has engraved one that reads:

“Though I’m but brasse,
Yet let me passe.”

and he has also described another, of which we have an example in our own collection, issued by the proprietor of the “Coffee House in Exchange Ally” (now Garraway’s), which bears the device of a Turk’s head, with this rhyming inscription:

“Morat the Great, men did mee call,
Where’er I came I conquer’d all.”

Coffee having been introduced into Europe via Turkey, a Turk’s head naturally became the favourite sign of coffee-houses; and Amurath III. (popularly called Morat or Morad), who was a renowned warrior, appears to have been the most popular personage, although we have occasionally met with Tokens bearing the head of “Solyman.”

B. N.


Part 3 of Tradesmen’s Tokens coming soon

Images from the 19th Century


Tradesmen’s Tokens

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The Tradesmen’s Token series of images caught my eye when looking through todays Flickr set Images from the 19th Century.  There’s a humourous story surrounding them as written about in this excerpt from The Gentlemen’s Magazine – Volume 31 – March 1849 page 248:




FEW of your antiquarian readers are unacquainted with the small “Tradesmen’s Tokens” current in the seventeenth century. During the period of the Protectorate and the Restoration they abounded, and the necessities of the time gave them an extensive local circulation. The earliest known date is 1648; in 1672 they were suppressed by royal ordinance; and, if we may judge from dates, the largest numbers appear to have been issued in 1665 and 1666, the period of the “greate fyre” and the plague. Pinkerton has spoken of these pieces with the utmost scorn, disdaining them as utterly unworthy of notice; but we are not of those who yield to the dictum of that learned pedant. Many of them are of very neat workmanship, and interesting as illustrative of costume and heraldry; others are of a political or satirical character, while some describe trades and occupations, a few of which are now obsolete; to say nothing of them as records of old localities, and the orthographical designation of towns, buildings, and streets, now swept away by the ruthless hand of time, the great fire, and the no less devastating march of modern improvement. As illustrative of old London, they abound in interest.

The Token delineated above, which we have selected for illustration, was issued by the master of a tavern or public-house at Hockley in the Hole, in the county of Bedford.

The “sign” is one that dates from the period of the Reformation. Not only were learning and argument then employed in exposing the fallacies of the Popish system; but, in the fierce contentions of the time, scurrility and buffoonery were resorted to, as auxiliaries well adapted for prejudicing the common people. The conclave of cardinals was irreverently designated as a ‘set of old women’, and hence “Old Mother Red Cap” became a popular sign with the vulgar and the profane.

George Hall may have been a Puritan, and probably intended the device on his token to convey a sly sarcasm on the orders of the Popish priesthood. There is considerable ingenuity in the pictorial management of the device. If Popery were in the ascendant, the publican might aver that his token represented merely a tapster with the symbols of his occupation in his hands. On the other hand, the sign might be regarded, as it was obviously intended to be, as a caricature of a cardinal bearing the elements of the Eucharist. Transubstantiation was one of the points most fiercely contested.

Yours, &c. B. N.

* Mr. J. Y. Akerman has now in the press a work on the “Tradesmen’s and Tavern-Tokens of London in the Seventeenth Century,” which promises to be of considerable antiquarian and historical interest.


There are more in this series, so keep a watchful eye out for follow up postings.