In the context of the British military supply industries, the above series of tokens specifically applies to a limited number of pieces dating from the mid-nineteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries. The former group includes a series of unofficial farthings plus advertising tickets while the latter comprises a series of unofficial halfpennies and farthings.
At various periods in British history, beginning at the end of the sixteenth century, a dearth in the levels of officially minted lower denomination currency led to a chronic shortage of “small change” in general circulation. Such circumstances, particularly when coupled with periods of industrial boom and related population growth, lead to private traders and shopkeepers commissioning their own personalised low denomination token coinage to facilitate their day-to-day commercial activities. Such unofficial token currency was often tolerated by the British government until such times as the Royal Mint was instructed by them to resume the large-scale production of low denomination regal coinage. Once this new coinage appeared in official circulation it rapidly displaced any need or official tolerance to the earlier use of private trade tokens.
An unofficial brass farthing issued (c. 1848 to 1887) by Gregory Kane, proprietor of the Military Furniture & Portmanteau Factory located at Nos. 69 & 70 Dame Street, Dublin, Ireland.
One of the principal periods, when there was an acute shortage of such low denomination currency, was that between 1820 and 1870. During this period many traders through the British Isles resorted to placing contracts with established private mints and die cutters for the supply of their own personalised bronze or brass farthing sized tokens. While most of these were initially manufactured to act as unofficial farthing tokens others appear to have been produced more as advertising or promotional tickets by their respective issuers. The differentiation between these two alternative uses of farthing size tokens is often hard to define unless the token itself infers a farthing value in its associated legends (i.e., the inscribed text found on its obverse and reverse sides). That said a generally accepted set of 5 criteria have been put in place by which tokens from this series can be ascribed as likely being either intended as monetary tokens or advertising tickets. This method utilises a ranking value (known as the “Farthing Factor”) of between 0 and 5 where the higher the value the more likely a given piece was intended for use as a monetary token as opposed to an advertising ticket.
The “Farthing Factor” is obtained from the cumulative scores related to the following five criteria. A positive response to each of the following criteria returns a score value of one. Hence, if all five criteria return a positive response then the cumulative “Farthing Factor” value is 5 and the piece is thus highly likely to have been intended a farthing token.
1) The piece is known to have been issued prior to 1860 when the 22 mm diameter regal copper farthings were replaced by small bronze pieces.
2) The piece’s diameter is within ±0.5 mm of 22 mm, i.e., that of a regal copper farthing.
3) The head of the reigning monarch, or the edifice of Crystal Palace, is selected for the obverse design.
4) The issuer is known to have been a shopkeeper selling low-value goods and is thus likely to have needed farthings to facilitate day to day business.
5) Struck in copper or bronze with a plain edge design.
Where a piece contains a clear monetary value or is described in its legends as being “payable” (i.e., exchangeable for equivalent value coin of the realm) at a given location then it automatically defaults to being a monetary token.