This wonderful ha'penny token from 1794 celebrates the acquittal on charges of high treason of John Horne Tooke. Educated at Eton and Cambridge, Tooke was a radical and was prosecuted for treason at a time when the perceived excesses of French Republicans prompted action against those seen as their sympathisers in Britain.
Tooke was arrested on 16th May 1794 and - with huge symbolism - detained at the Tower of London. But once the case came to trial, a hearing lasting six days, the jury took just eight minutes to clear him.
The token also celebrates the achievements of Thomas Erskine and Vicary Gibbs, the lawyers who secured Tooke's acquittal and also helped to clear others charged with treason at about this time, including Thomas Hardy and John Thelwall. After this series of courtroom setbacks, Pitt the Younger's government stepped back from its policy of repression of political radicals
This token - which is about the size of a two-pence piece - was produced as an expression of political support for Tooke and his ilk, as you can see from the inscription. Privately minted ha'penny tokens were common at this time because of an acute shortage of low denomination coins - though I rather doubt that these particular tokens were used to make routne purchases.
Tooke, by the way, later became the MP for the most notorious of the unreformed 'rotten boroughs', Old Sarum - while Esrkine briefly held the post of Lord Chancellor and Gibbs (nicknamed 'Vinegar' Gibbs for his caustic humour) became an MP and Solicitor General.
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