In the closing years of the eighteenth century, there was a boom in the issuing of tokens - nominally ha'penny or farthing (a quarter of a penny) tokens, though they weren't legal tender.
There was an acute shortage of low value copper coins, so these tokens filled the gap - being given as change or in pay packets or in small value transactions. A lot of shops and other traders issued tokens. And so did political groups - mainly those on the left.
Thomas Spence, an energetic if idiosyncratic figure on the extreme fringes of political radica;lism, was the most assiduous issuer of these tokens with a message. He's been described as the 'chief user of tokens as propaganda for the revolution'. The token at the top of this blog is one of his.
In 1775, when in his mid-twenties, Spence published his land plan, which foresaw common ownership of the land with no private land holdings at all. This token - while probably issued in the 1790s - is intended to promote Spence's communitarian approach to land ownership.
Here's how the token is catalogued in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge:
'Everlasting peace and happiness' is not a bad political goal. But Spence's activities got him locked up at times - on one occasion for high treason and on another for seditious libel.
Thomas Spence died in 1814, but his followers - the Spencean Philanthropists - were involved in the popular protests which followed the Napoleonic wars. They were impliocated in the Spa Fields riots and in the 1820 Cato Street conspiracy - here's George Cruikshank's depiction of the uncovering of that alleged plan to blow-up the cabinet.
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