Curious about 18th century provincial tokens (Conders)?
First off - what’s in a name?
James Conder was a haberdasher with a business in Ipswich, Suffolk. Between 1794 and 1797 he issued his own penny and halfpenny tokens; six different die pairs of the former, and two of the latter.
He was a collector in his own right and an avid researcher, historian, and student of the series. In 1798 he published a catalogue titled AN ARRANGEMENT OF PROVINCIAL COINS, TOKENS, AND MEDALETS ISSUED IN GREAT BRITIAN, IRELAND, AND THE COLONIES, WITHIN THE LAST TWENTY YEARS; FROM THE FARTHING TO THE PENNY SIZE. On point - but doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. Small wonder someone came up with a more convenient label.
How ever the use of the term “Conders” came to be, it is a bit of a misnomer. Not only are there a number of tokens listed by him that are not generally referred to as “Conders” (he included the colonies of Barbadoes and Bermuda, as well as those issued by the East India Company, Isle of Man, and Sierra Leone), there are far more tokens that were not listed by him that were known at the time. All in all, he identified just under 2000 varieties. Quite an accomplishment, but far short of the 4300 varieties noted by Atkins and 6000+ in D&H. Nor was James Conder the first to publish a catalogue of tokens. In that, he was preceded by at least five others including Hammond, Spence, Pye, Denton & Prattent, and Birchall. What he was the first to do (at least in print), and that which he ought to be credited for, was to arrange the material geographically. This method of classification has been emulated by subsequent catalogers and continues to be the subject of ongoing debate.
James Conder died in 1823 and his personal collection was finally auctioned by Sotheby’s a generation later, in 1855. And, while his name has likely become irrevocably attached to the series, it may be argued the only tokens that truly have a claim to be called “Conders” are those he issued: listed by him in his catalogue on pages 142 and 145; later noted by D&H as Suffolk 9-14 and 35-36.
Dalton & Hamer (D&H) remains the default source for information about the series - certainly for basic points of attribution. THE PROVINCIAL TOKEN COINAGE OF THE 18TH CENTURY was published in fourteen parts between 1910 and 1918, ultimately listing over 6000 varieties, not including lead tokens and later (19th c) Scottish farthings. It’s an impressive body of work, to be sure, but not infallible, nor complete. In the century since its final instalment, there have been numerous updates and corrections, as well as over a thousand new varieties identified. Additional information can be found in a considerable number of publications, extensive collector’s notes, and the myriad auction catalogues issued over time.
It’s an immense series; multiple series’, really, incorporating the efforts of some of the most talented artists, engravers, and engineers of the time (not to mention unscrupulous counterfeiters, forgers, bag men, self-promoters, propagandists, and profiteers). Many millions of tokens were produced and whole industries were transformed by the process. Much has been published about 18th c provincial token coinage over the past two hundred years, and yet a great deal more research needs to be done. With nearly 7400 die pair and edge combinations documented to-date (excluding evasions!), there is an almost endless opportunity to assemble collections based upon individual tastes - whether by location, subject, or type; by engraver, manufacturer, or issuer; by denomination, year, or metallic content; or even by die state, provenance, or association - and in all price ranges. Each is a miniature work of art - and all have their own story to tell.
(My) Biographical Details
I began collecting coins in 1965. Mostly US material. Collections were formed and sold, and there was much rejoicing. In the late 1990's I was introduced to British Provincial Coins (Conder Tokens) by David Litrenta. We became close friends and I helped him to curate his collection before it was sent off to DNW for auction. Since then, I have focused almost exclusively on the 18th century token series.
Some years ago, the good folks at Baldwins asked me to help them organize their token holdings. For a half-dozen years, or so, I rummaged about in their basement looking in boxes and cabinets and trays, and pulling out tokens that, for the most part, had been waylaid or misplaced or hidden for nearly a century or more. Over the course of those years I examined tens of thousands of tokens, many representing original acquisitions from the collections of James Atkins, John Dudman, Richard Dalton, Samuel Hamer, Frederick Lincoln, and Francis Cokayne. It was not only a wonderful numismatic adventure, but a true privilege, as well - and I am quite cognizant that a similar experience is not likely to be repeated.
About 4000 of those tokens were catalogued and auctioned in three sales from 2014-2016. The last of the three, Baldwins Auction 102 on 4 October 2016, turned out to be the last, and final, auction conducted exclusively under the Baldwin name. It was a good run.
Access to Baldwins "Basement" stock provided an unparalleled opportunity to not only examine a large quantity of tokens, but a large quantity of tokens that had remained unhandled for a very long time. For the most part they had not only retained their original surfaces, but many had acquired a bit of basement patina, as well. Early on in the cataloguing process, it was decided to leave the tokens alone and not to remove any accumulated detritus nor brush them up in any way. Those actions would have to await the desires of their new custodians.
The quantity of tokens also provided an opportunity to view multiple examples of identical, or similar, varieties. As a result I was able to study die states, die progression, and surface characteristics is a way that would not have been possible otherwise. While I was able to develop a greater appreciation of the series, I was also struck by just how much more there is to know - and my education continues.
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