Clare Champion, Friday, April 11, 2003
The Riches of Clare exhibition at the local authority-run Clare Museum charts the county’s history. In this article, Fidelma Mc Donnell writes about tokens from the 17th century.
In the collection at Clare Museum, there are two tokens originally from Ennis, that date from 1660 and 1690. These coins were purchased by the Clare Local Studies Centre in 1985, and were transferred to Clare Museum in 2000.
The earliest of these unusual coins appeared in Ireland after the execution of Charles I in London in January, 1649. Before the restoration of Charles II to the English throne, and during the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell’s government, no money was coined for particular use in Ireland. Because of this great scarcity of small change, many tradesmen and some local authorities, began minting their own coins. These private tokens had no official status, but they were normally exchanged for coin of the realm on demand to the issuer.
A typical token carried a merchant’s name and place of abode stamped on it. Many were made of brass, and were like promissory notes passed for one penny each amongst the customers of those who issued them. Sometimes they even possessed the coat of arms of the livery company to which the merchant belonged.
Limerick had 13 or at most 14 issuers of tokens. In Clare, there is only one known issuer, a merchant called David White. Interestingly, the name of David White, a Limerick merchant, appears among those transplanted from Limerick during the Cromwellian Plantation. Following the Cromwellian settlement, new settlers had replaced the pre-1641 Limerick merchant families. These were original Old English Catholic merchants and were forbidden by law to live in walled towns, who then settled in Ennis.
One such family were the Whites. This family first came to public attention when James II appointed a man called David White as the Provost, or Portreve of Ennis, while Andrew White, also a merchant, became one of 12 burgesses who together with the provost, elected the two members to represent the borough in Parliament. David White issued both half-penny and penny trade tokens.
There were two design types of his tokens: one is illustrated here, while Seán Spellissy features the other type on the cover of his book The Merchants of Ennis. Merchants in 17th century Ennis, conducted a considerable trade in hides, tallow and butter, which was sent by boat to Limerick. The present day O’ Connell Square was at this time the focal point of this commercial activity, and a Courthouse once stood there. It is interesting to note that while courts of law were held on the first floor, the ground floor was arcaded and functioned as an exchange, where goods were traded and weighed on Market days, which were held every Tuesday. O’Connell Square was then known as Exchange Place.
A regal half-pennies patent was obtained by the Lord-Lieutenant Sir Thomas Armstrong in 1680. With the issuing of official coin for Ireland, the traders tokens were deemed illegal. The issue of tokens didn’t cease entirely at this time, as judging from the worn condition of the coins, they were still in use for many years, particularly in the country areas. Altogether, there are some 800 different 17th century tokens known from 170 cities and towns throughout Ireland. They are useful to historians, as they provide a record of trades in a town at that time.