John Robertson’s Token

9th April 2018 — 23 Comments

The last time I discussed a token there wasn’t much information. The John Robertson example below provides us with a better commentary on our recent social history. Nothing much changes.

In 1760 when George III ascended the throne, there was a scarcity of silver coins. In fact, from 1804 to 1811 no coins were issued. As a result, manufacturers, tradesman, as well as the general public, keenly felt the lack of small silver change. However, by the end of 1811 tokens were being issued by private firms and individuals.

The Local Historian’s Table Book of Remarkable Occurrences – a pithy title 🙂 reported that in early November of 1811 Mr. John Robertson, a silversmith of Newcastle, issued silver tokens of one shilling and sixpence each. He later went on to issue others to the value of half-a-crown. The book is well worth a look, but I warn you … it’s 859 pages!

John Robertson’s (Northumberland) silver shilling token dated 1811. Obverse: Arms of Newcastle with legend: PAYABLE BY IOHN ROBERTSON * NEWCASTLE ON TYNE *. Reverse: Commerce seated on bale holding cornucopia and spear with a sailing ship on the horizon and legend: NORTHUMBERLAND & DURHAM 12p TOKEN 1811. Diagonally milled edge.

Not all tradesmen were happy and there was considerable opposition. A newspaper of the time reported that 120 local traders refused to accept Robertson’s tokens. They signed and issued the following notice:


Mr John Robertson, silversmith, Dean Street, having by Public Advertizement [sic] announced his intention of issuing Silver Tokens for general circulation as shillings and sixpences in this Town and the adjoining Counties, We, the undersigned, think it necessary to inform the Public that we will not receive in payment any Tokens which may be issued on the by the said Mr John Robinson or by any other individual whatever. NB – We have Authority to say that all local Tokens will be refused in Payment by the regular Bankers in Newcastle.

Although there were public meetings condemning the tokens there were others held for the purpose of promoting them. Not everybody disagreed. In Robertson’s tokens the quality of silver, the excellence in design and workmanship were perhaps equal to any of the period. But they were never recognised as legal tender by Parliament who also tried to suppress them.


And that brings me nicely to the fact that the Robertson’s silver 12p token, shown above, was found by detectorist Keith Dobbs of Morpeth in the North East of England. History comes alive!

John Robertson inherited his uncle’s silversmith business at an early age. His lack of business acumen and desire to make quick progress resulted in his bankruptcy in 1821.

A version of the above originally appeared in my Searcher Medley column

After reading the post Stephen Smith contacted me to say that he had a similar token in his coin box and because of the hole suggested it may have been worn as a pendant. He could be right.

As expected the token was found in Fatfield, a village in Tyne and Wear close to Newcastle. I thank Stephen for sharing his special find and allowing me to highlight it in my blog.

Picture by Stephen Smith … click to enlarge

Second Update

Well, it’s happened again. The detectorist who goes under the name Mark@Morpeth on the Northern Relics Forum uncovered a very fine example in September last year. I thank him for sharing it with us.

One would expect examples of the John Robertson token to be found in and around Newcastle and this one is a cracker! I don’t think I’ve seen better. Also gratifying to find items that tell us more about our local history. Super!

Courtesy of Mark@Morpeth … Click to enlarge


Check out Dick’s blog by clicking on the image



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23 responses to John Robertson’s Token

  1. I am sure the public today would be happy to take one of the Tokens as change. A nice looking find by Keith. I just had a look in the Australian records and it seems they were never used over here.

  2. Wonderful book! And it’s downloadable and free! George III didn’t stint with the copper tho’ when he found some! Cracking token; well found Keith! Apparently worth £2.33 or so in today’s money, but rather more as a collector’s item. Remarkably interesting article John! Cheers!

  3. John from Ontario (AKA Geobound) 9th April 2018 at 5:15 AM

    John as you know I have a bit of an infinity for the North East, so a find like that would be on the top of my list.

    I know that I would gladly pay more than £2.33 to have it.

    I am surprised though that with such high quality it would be rejected, but like all governments I’m sure……if they don’t get their 2 pence worth.

  4. John you are teaching me well. Another thing I wasn’t aware of.

  5. I suspect the authorities were swimming against the tide with this one as the public would surely have been aware that the intrinsic value of this fine silver token would have guaranteed no loss on silver bullion value alone. Far more trust would have been required in acceptance of the brass tokens issued in the 17th Century which had no metallic value as such.

  6. I’ve never actually heard of these tokens, but it appears that one of the members of our forum has found one and I would definitely be interested in seeing photographs of it and to hear the story surrounding his find.

    It would be nice to see it added to your blog John.

  7. Good read. Think it was great that tokens helped during times of coin shortage. Sure that most colonies of the empire during their early years, experienced the same dilemma

    Trade tokens filled a need here in Canada as well with most of these produced… got it in Birmingham. Some classics.

  8. a beautiful find, and an interesting back story. Thanks, John.

  9. a wonderful looking token with a great story behind it …many thanks john for another enjoyable read

  10. Thank you for your comments Les, David and Alan.

  11. Thank you for the story John.. and the update.As I pointed out..; our tokens are a ‘good for’ type.. .I will now be posting here as well as the forum.. I could not do this one while I was in Maui..


  12. John from Ontario (AKA Geobound) 11th April 2018 at 7:30 PM

    WOW John the second update is even better than the first!

    What a fantastic looking token.

    Thanks to Mark@Morpeth for sharing such a great find with us.

  13. got to love social history

  14. I have one of these. Given to me by my brother, who found it at a coin show. Robertson is my middle name.

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