Conder Tokens, also known as 18th Century Provincial Tokens, are a form of privately minted token coinage struck and used during the latter part of the 18th Century and the early part of the 19th Century in England, Anglesey and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.
The driving force behind the need for token coinage was the shortage of small denomination coins for everyday transactions. However, the demand was fueled by other factors such as the Industrial Revolution, population growth, and the preponderance of counterfeit circulating coins. Because the government made little effort to ameliorate this shortage, actually King George III halted the production of copper coinage in 1775. It was estimated at the time that 3/4 of all coins in circulation were counterfeit leading to public distrust of the coinage.
Private business owners and merchants took matters into their own hands. The first tokens of this type were issued in 1787 to pay workers at the Parys Mine Company. By 1795, millions of tokens of more than 10,000 designs of varying designs had been struck and were in common use throughout Great Britain.
of the most prolific producers of these private tokens was Matthew Boulton. In fact, during his lifetime Boulton would
strike millions of these merchant pieces. Boulton was no stranger to the
manufacture of small metal items, having grown up with and managed his family
business for many years. In the mid-1780s Boulton
had turned his attention to coinage. In his eyes coins and tokens were just
another small metal product like those he had manufactured for years. He also
had shares in several Cornish copper mines, and had a large personal stock of
copper, purchased when the mines were unable to dispose of it elsewhere.
However, when orders for counterfeit money were sent to him, he refused them:
"I will do anything, short of being a common informer against particular
persons, to stop the malpractices of the Birmingham coiners." In 1788 he
established the Soho Mint as part of his industrial plant. The mint included
eight steam-driven presses, each striking between 70 and 84 coins per minute.
Boulton spent much time in London lobbying for a contract to strike British coins. In June 1790 the William Pitt Government postponed a decision on recoinage indefinitely. Meanwhile, the Soho Mint struck coins for the East India Company, Sierra Leone and Russia, while producing high-quality planchets, or blank coins, to be struck by national mints elsewhere. The firm sent over 20 million blanks to Philadelphia, to be struck into cents and half-cents by the United States Mint.
The national financial crisis reached a point of despair in February 1797, when the Bank of England stopped redeeming its bills for gold. In an effort to get more money into circulation, the Government adopted a plan to issue large quantities of copper coins, and Lord Hawkesbury summoned Boulton to London on 3 March 1797, informing him of the Government's plan, and he was awarded a contract at the end of the month. According to a proclamation dated 26 July 1797, King George III was "graciously pleased to give directions that measures might be taken for an immediate supply of such copper coinage as might be best adapted to the payment of the laborious poor in the present exigency". The proclamation required that the coins weigh one and two ounces respectively, bringing the intrinsic value of the coins close to their face value. With the return of large quantities of government issued small denomination. Twopence and pennies were minted at the Soho Mint in 1797 and halfpennies and farthings followed in 1799.
By 1802, the production of privately issued provincial tokens had ceased. However, in the next ten years the intrinsic value of copper rose. The return of privately minted token coinage was evident by 1811 and endemic by 1812, as more and more of the Government issued copper coinage was melted down for trade. The Royal Mint undertook a massive recoinage program in 1816, with large quantities of gold and silver coin being minted. To thwart the further issuance of private token coinage in 1817 an act of parliament was passed which forbade the manufacture of private token coinage under very severe penalties.
Conder tokens are named after the first person to catalog them James Conder. This was the standard reference for almost 100 years. Building on his work Dalton & Hamer published an updated and expanded edition between 1910 and 1917. This is still considered the standard reference for the subject.
There are many different ways to collect these. To assembly a complete set would probably be impossible. Many people collect by issuing location or theme. I tend to just collect the ones that strike my fancy. Most issues can be found in circulated condition for well under $100. Many of these were saved when minted because of there beauty and there were some issues made specifically for collects. Due to this uncirculated specimens are easy to find for a lot of this issues but can get pricey.