Checks, Tokens, Passes & Tickets – Types & Methods of Use

The types and local names of the paranumismatics found within the British munitions and ordnance industries over time are numerous. Often the precise purpose of such items is made clear, or at least alluded to, by the content of their legends (i.e. the inscriptions and information presented on them). Where this is not the case an item’s size or shape may infer a particular use. However, the purpose of some examples remains a mystery and can only be guessed at.

A list of the more common “War Work” related token types and uses are outlined below.

Identification & Security Passes

These typically comprise circular metallic discs (often brass or w zinc-based white metal alloy) and are pierced towards their upper edge (12 o’clock position) for suspension. Their designs normally bear an outer raised die-stamped legend around a central field which contains a unique worker’s identification number comprising incusely stamped numbers that have been applied using individual hand-held number punches.

A Great War period employee’s pass for the National Shell Filling Factory No.6 at Chilwell, Nottinghamshire

These passes would be issued to each worker in the factory or shipyard at the time of their initial employment. They were retained by the employees at all times while at work and had to be shown on request to the work’s security staff or management if challenged. The passes acted as each worker’s unique identification disc and works entry security pass.  Enhanced security was essential in most ordnance and munitions works given the risk of enemy espionage and spying.

At the end of each working day, such passes were typically taken home with each worker who would be responsible for their safe keeping throughout the length of their employment after which they would be returned to the works for possible re-issue to a new employee. Loss of such checks by the workers would typically result in them being fined before being issued with a replacement. A worker attempting to gain access to the works without a valid pass would likewise result in a fine and possible prosecution as illustrated in the example case below which was reported in the”‘Nottingham Evening Post” on 3rd August 1918.


For attempting to enter a munition factory with an unauthorised disc or pass, a labourer named James Dunn, aged 50, was fined 21s. at a Midland police-court today. 

Defendant, who was a discharged soldier, had lost his own pass, but instead of reporting it to the management he tried to get in with another disc. The danger of such a proceeding is that discs which are lost may get into undesirable hands.

Defendant’s further explanation was the substituted disc was given him by his wife, and that it had belonged to a lodger.

Registration & Time Recording Checks

These were similar in appearance and design to the security passes described above. The difference being in their method of use.

At many small establishments employing this type of check, on arrival at work, each worker would report to the work’s time registration office. After confirming his/her unique employment number the time office clerk would record the employee’s time of arrival in a time recording book and move their uniquely numbered time check from the “OUT” to the “IN” side of a numbered tally board. The same procedure would be repeated at the end of the shift at which time the employee’s departure time would be recorded in the same time ledger and their personal time check moved from the “IN” to the “OUT” side of each pair of similarly numbered compartments on the time checkboard. The use of a checkboard allowed the time office staff to see at a glance which workers were on the factory “shop floor”. Usually, time registration would be initiated only after the workers had passed through the works changing rooms and were preparing to start work. Similarly, discharge registration occurred immediately after leaving the factory floor, i.e. prior to entering the work’s change and washrooms in preparation for leaving the factory premises.

A late 19th-century employee’s time check for the privately-owned munitions company G. Kynoch & Company Limited. The example illustrated was issued at their Witton Works in Birmingham

While the above simple system of time recording may have operated fine for small to medium size factories it was arguably impractical for larger ones where the workers needed to be processed quickly without queues forming outside the time office window. For such larger factories, alternative time registration systems were available.

By the outbreak of the Great War many factories had progressed onto using electro-mechanical registration time machines which in many places made the earlier use of time checks and check registration boards redundant. While many of these time clocks operated by stamping a worker’s individual time card (which each worker slotted into the machine at the start and end of each shift) other types still operated via a check system.

With those time clocks which operated with time cards the workers first collected their individual time record cards from a rack on the wall adjacent to the time registration machine. Each card carried the worker’s name and their unique work’s identification. The workers then inserted their cards into a slot in front of the time clock. The time clock then automatically printed their shift start time on the time card. The card was then removed from the machine and returned to the safekeeping of the card storage board. At the end of the shift, the procedure was repeated so as to record each worker’s finish time. Such a procedure is shown in the film clip below.

A contemporary film clip of a group of Great War “munitionettes” changing for work and then “clocking on” at the beginning of their shift

Alternative types of time registration clock utilised a paired set of metallic numbered checks instead of time cards. In this system, each worker had their own uniquely numbered pair of time checks which were often struck on dissimilar metals such as brass and copper in order to quickly distinguish them apart. One disc was used for “clocking on” at the start of each shift while the other was used for clocking off” at the end of the shift. In between shift times, these time checks were kept on a numbered peg board located on a wall adjacent to the time clock (see illustration below).

An example of a time clock used in association with metallic time checks c.1899

At the start of a shift, each worker removed their personal “clocking in” check from the storage board and dropped it into a reception slot in front of the time clock. The check then passed through a chute system within the machine and was deposited into one of a series of compartments (typically 8) arranged around the edge of a slowly rotating turntable which was mechanically linked to the machine’s clock mechanism. Each compartment reflected and was labelled with the given time of the day. At the end of the shift, the workers repeated the process, this time using their separate “clocking off” check.

Part of the internal mechanism of a Llewellin’s & Company time clock showing the check collection drum at its base comprising 24 separate (i.e. half-hour interval) check collection compartments

As and when was convenient the time office staff would retrieve the time checks via a lockable door on the side of the time clock. Thereafter they would record each worker’s attendance in a time register before returning the checks onto the numbered storage board adjacent to the time clock.

A Time Check Storage Board used in association with a Time Clock System

Where a check was intended specifically for use for as a time registration device it often bore the word “TIME CHECK” in its obverse legend, often in the check’s upper field below its suspension hole.

Pay Collection Identification Checks

These were similar in appearance and design to the identification and security passes described above. The difference was that they were specifically used to identify their holders to the works pay staff as an indication of proof of their identity when they queued weekly at the works pay office to collect their respective pay packets. In large factories, employing many thousands of workers, such a system was essential to ensure that the pre-prepared wage packets held at the work’s pay office were handed over by the pay staff to the correct employee. Paychecks were particularly common in privately owned and operated factories. In many instances, a single check could serve as both a pay identification and security identification pass. Where a check was intended specifically for use as a pay collection identification device it often bore the word “PAY” in its obverse legend, often in the check’s upper field below its suspension hole.

A Great War period un-issued employee’s paycheck for the privately-owned company Kynoch Limited. The example illustrated was issued at their Thames Explosives Works at Kynochtown, Essex.

Canteen & Refreshment Tokens

British industry, and for that matter the military also, have used canteen tokens since at least the latter quarter of the 19th century. Their precise method of use varied considerably. In some instances, workers received such tokens from their employer’s as a concession as part of their terms of employment. In other cases, their issue, by the employer (or his representative), was as an incentive (in the form of a free or subsidized canteen meal) when requesting workers to work overtime. At some industrial establishments (at least in the mid to late 20th century) the management also issued apprentices with an allowance of canteen tokens to help subsidize their wages while training.
In most canteen and refreshment token schemes, the company management issued their workforce with the tokens. These were typically circular and of metal or coloured plastic. They usually carried a denomination of value on one of their sides (i.e. 1d, 2d, 3d etc.) or an indication as for what they could be exchanged for when presented at the work’s canteen for (i.e. good for one packet of cigarettes, half a pint of Cocoa etc.). In addition to a mark of value some canteen tokens (but by no means all) bear the word “CANTEEN” in their obverse legends.

A Great War period penny token exchangeable in the work’s canteen of the National Shell Filling Factory No.4  – Georgetown at Houston, Renfrewshire

In company operated works canteens once the tokens had been exchanged for some form of refreshment, by the employees, they were collected and accounted for before being re-issued by the work’s management to the workers. In works canteens operated by either private catering contractors or charitable organizations (e.g. the Y.M.C.A or Y.W.C.A. in the case of some munitions factories during the Great War) once “collected in” the tokens would be exchanged between the canteen operators and work’s management before they re-entered circulation. Depending on the exact nature of the token scheme, the value of the tokens exchanged in this way also formed the basis of payments claimed by the canteen operators from the work’s owners in the form of legal tender.

Tool Usage Receipt Checks

Throughout the 20th century mechanical fitters and machinists within most factories provided their own tools with which to work. However, this was not the case when it came to specialist tools and machine parts. For such items, the factories often held their own central specialist tool store from where items could be booked out on loan to individual workers.

A tool check issued by the Great War aircraft manufacturer Sopwith Aviation Company Limited

A common system of keeping track of such tool loans utilised metallic checks. These were often similar in appearance and design to the identification and security passes described above.

In factories employing such systems, those workers that had a need to draw specialist items from the central tool store were issued a number of checks (in the order of 10 per person) bearing their work’s identification number. On arrival at the tool store, the worker would request the item to be taken out on loan and hand over one of his/her personally numbered tool checks. The storekeeper would then hand over the tool in question, which were typically kept in cabinets or suspended from hooks on a storage board. In place of the tool, the storekeeper would suspend that worker’s tool check from a peg or hook in the location where the tool had been stored.

After returning the tool to the stores the storekeeper returned it to its allocated storage place. Thereafter he returned the worker’s tool check to close out the tool loan procedure.

Travel Passes

In the early decades of the twentieth century in some areas of the United Kingdom employees provided their workers with pre-paid travel passes for use on local public, or in some cases, the company’s own private transport services (i.e. buses and/or trains).  These travel passes were particularly common in the South Wales and Great North Coalfields but are also known to have been used by some War Department contractors and ordnance/munitions factories. Typically each travel pass was individually numbered so as to be specific to the worker to whom it was issued.

Rare examples of such passes are known to have been used by at least one large engineering contracting company who, in 1914, were engaged in a significant Contract awarded By the British Government’s War Department to build fifteen army training camps north of Salisbury in Wiltshire.

A workman’s railway travel pass used on train services between Salisbury and Codford or Heytesbury in Wiltshire.  These were issued for free travel to and from work to the employees of the construction company Sir John Jackson Limited. In 1914  this company was contracted by the War Department to build several army training camps north of Salisbury

Contraband Materials Receipt Tokens/Tickets

As in coal mines, the definition of “contraband materials” in facilities handling explosives includes anything that could start (or used to propagate) a fire or explosion. Such materials typically include matches, tobacco and other smoking materials, anything that may cause sparks plus any electric components except those that have been rated as “safety-approved”. It is common practice that on entering such facilities employees must declare and temporarily surrender any of the above materials in their possession to the work’s time office staff before entering their allocated working areas. In some such facilities, in the interests of plant safety, they are commonly “spot searched” for such materials before being allowed final access to their respective working stations.

In at least one British explosives factory during the Great War, it is known that after temporarily surrendering any contraband materials in their possession at the start of the shift the employees were handed individually numbered identification tickets or tokens. The identification number on such tokens would match with similarly numbered boxes or storage “cubby holes” in which their confiscated materials were temporarily stored for safekeeping in the works time office. After completion of their shift, the employees would return to the time office and hand over their “contraband” receipt tickets to the duty staff members who in return would give them back their respective property from the numbered safe storage area.

A “contraband” material (in this case specifically identified as a box of matches) receipt ticket used during the Great War at Kynoch’s explosives production factory in Arklow, Ireland.

Advertising Tickets & Unofficial Farthings

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.

Tribute Medals

While not a token, check, pass or ticket a further type of paranumismatics represented in this thematic series is the tribute medal. At the end of the Great War many employers, plus town and parish councils, issued commemorative medals of thanks to those of their employees who had directly served in or contributed to essential war work. Like military issue medals, these were suspended from a ribbon and fastened to the recipient’s clothing via a suspension bar and fastening pin. While such tribute medals were typically issued to returning servicemen (or their next of kin is killed in action) at least one British company is known to have issued them specifically to those women who had been employed by them in essential war work.

A copper tribute medal issued to women workers employed at Albright & Wilson Limited’s Oldbury Phosphorous Works