BRASS GAMING COUNTER and ADVERTISING TOKEN … It may come as a surprise to learn that there are over 1000 different Imitation Spade Guineas. It seems a common occurrence to see some exultant detectorist on a forum showing off what he thinks is a gold coin, only to discover that it’s made of brass.
… Some are gilt which can make it look like gold and this does cause some confusion. They were mostly struck in the 1800′s, during the reign of Queen Victoria, but to avoid the Counterfeit Laws they, usually, have the bust of King George III on the obverse and, usually, the reverse includes the spade shield, – hence the name “spade guinea”. To qualify as an Imitation Spade Guinea a coin must have one or both of these aspects. The guineas range between 24-27mm diameter and the half guineas 20-22mm.
Many coins are dated in the 1700′s and not in the 1800′s, to reinforce that they were not real currency guineas. Their purpose was as gaming / gambling counters, to look like sovereigns and half sovereigns, to show off the expertise of the engravers and manufacturers, many of whom were named on the piece – mainly from Birmingham – and as advertising tokens for many types of business, as promotional items.
Some were pierced at manufacture for suspension purposes and it is perfectly acceptable to collect coins in that condition. Whilst some pieces – such as many of the types of “In Memory Of The Good Old Days” are extremely common, some of the advertising pieces are excessively rare and command prices of well over £100. Each advertising coin is worthy of research as to it’s origin and purpose. For some, there is already well researched documentation but for others it is an interesting task to find out more. Courtesy of the Token Corresponding Society
In Memory of the Good Old Days
So, the purpose of the imitation guinea was as gambling or advertising token made to look like a real sovereign. What follows are four examples depicting the bust of George III and imitating the design of an 18th century ’spade’ guinea. The first was issued by James Willing, who ran a London advertising company. It was found on a Kent demolition site by Charles Bullock. What an interesting piece of social history .. and not a love token as he first thought. It was (presumably) pierced at manufacture for suspension purposes and is presented here courtesy of the UKDFD.
General Mite and Millie Edwards were dwarves – or is it more politically correct to say ‘vertically challenged’ people? General Mite, whose real name was Francis Joseph Flynn was born in 1872 in New York. He was exhibited at fairs and billed as A Human Miracle and Assuredly the Smallest Man in the World. Flynn was 22 inches high and weighed only nine pounds. ‘General Tom Thumb’, real name Charles Stratton, was said to be 25 inches tall.
At the age of 12, he ‘married’ English midget Millie Edwards, who was 19.5 inches tall, although his entourage claimed that he was much older. The wedding was widely publicised, well attended and visited by royalty. From then on the couple were exhibited as the Royal American Midgets. The token is probably a reminder of that publicity stunt whilst they were in Manchester.
General Mite is still considered as one of the smallest human beings ever documented. By all accounts he was lively and talkative, but died from kidney failure at the age of 25. The little fella happened to be in Australia presenting his show in the mining town of Broken Hill when he expired in the October of 1898. So, on your next detecting trip to the Australian Outback fossicking for gold, be sure to stop off at Broken Hill at pay your respects at the memorial erected to mark the General’s final resting place!
They come as a boon & a blessing to men: The Pickwick the Owl and the Waverley Pen
The rather corroded and slightly pitted replica of the George III Spade Guinea shown below is an advertising token found by Robin Sykes in North Yorkshire and was originally used by Macniven and Cameron for promoting their ‘dip’ pen nibs. Indeed, some of you may remember the famous Waverley brand.
Within the shield you may be able to just discern the legend: 100 WORDS ONE DIP THE FLYING ‘J’ PEN. I reckon the manufacturers might fall foul of the trade description act these days – more like 15 or so words with one dip might be more likely. 100 words seems like a gross exaggeration!
Bob Paterson has thanked me for bringing back so many memories of when he was a young police cadet on Edinburgh, Scotland. He says:
Wow – I never thought I’d see that advert again! ‘They came as a boon and a blessing to men – the Pickwick the Owl and the Waverley Pen’.
I used to see that phrase writ large, in white lettering on a dark blue background high up on the gable end of the wall of MacNiven and Cameron’s premises in Blair Street … the advertising phrase used to run in circles round inside my head until I confused myself and could never recall which order the pens came in!
The drawers in the offices of the police HQ were full of the old nibs in their different shapes and bronze colour, and I used to use them until ball point pens and fountain pens took better hold. They were indeed bonny things, although I did find some of them to be a bit ‘scratchy’ and not quite living up to the advertising hype. That said there is no doubt they were a genuine Edinburgh institution in their own right, (write?) and many a legal and other document was penned by them.
Thank you John for bringing back all those fond memories of happy days when the world was young, exciting, and where a decent pen nib was all you needed to make your way in the world …
An interesting fact is that these tokens were used for trading purposes, especially at the Hudson Bay depots when bartering for furs with the Northern Canadian Indians. And they can be still worth a canny sum. A friend of mine was surprised to see one for sale in the USA for $100 and brought it to my attention. I suppose this scarce and historic token would be of special interest to the enthusiastic pen and writing instruments collector who would be willing to pay that kind of money. Keep your eyes peeled!
Col Davidson of Australia collects primitive monies. When this blog was originally published in 2011, he was interested in my comment re barter at Hudson Bay Depots and asked where I gleaned the information. The Canadian Numismatic Bibliography Project records a sale in the summer of 1988 when a Hudson’s Bay Company counterstamped brass spade guinea was up for auction … and here it is, sold for 700 CAD.
My final example, courtesy of the UKDFD and the finder (name unknown), was discovered ‘eyes only’ on the Thames foreshore and advertises a supermarket giant whose name will be familiar to my UK followers.
Sainsbury’s was founded in 1869 by John James and Mary Ann Sainsbury, who opened their first shop in Drury Lane, London. The success of the business led to the opening of further shops, and in 1891 the headquarters were moved to Blackfriars, which provided easy access to wholesale markets and transportation.
The token is modelled on the popular gaming counters of the time, which themselves were modelled on the guineas of George III. They were handed out to customers as a means of spreading the word about the store and to remind them to return.
The second Sainsbury example was found in Nottinghamshire
This blog has been resurrected, revamped and amalgamated from two posts originally made in 2011
Feedback – June 2016
I was pleased to receive a comment from Richard Smith asking for further advice on the General Mite token. He’d come across one in a collection of coins and tokens he had acquired:
Hi there! I have just perused your excellent site with interest and have stumbled across an example of the James Willing ‘General Mites’ token – I couldn’t find any info online for it – anywhere! And then … I found your site and all was explained in fascinating detail … Best Wishes, Rich