The Spade Guinea Advertising Token

22nd December 2014 — 18 Comments

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


© John Winter  – In Memory of the Good Old Days Gaming / Gambling Token. CLICK to ENLARGE


With General Mites Compliments – click to enlarge

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!


CARTE D’VISTE by J. Wood of General Mite – Click to enlarge


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.


© Robin Sykes

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 …


Courtesy Wikipedia Commons


Hudson Bay

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.

HB Token

Courtesy of the HUDSON’S BAY COMPANY whose initials are countermarked on an imitation spade guinea, dated 1790, but after 1860. Brass. 25mm.


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.


© UKDFD – Click to enlarge

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


© UKDFD – Click to enlarge

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

It’s Great to get Feedback!


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18 responses to The Spade Guinea Advertising Token

  1. Re Frank Flynn ( General Mite) grave in Broken hill. I often have people coming to my workshop from BH even though it is a few hundred km from me. I see on the end of the link that he lies in an unmarked grave or i would have tried to get a picture for your blog.

  2. I wasn’t aware they were catalogued, Just looked mine up
    114 O. 108 See no. I l l above; possibly from earlier state of the die.
    R . 1 1 2 B.BROS.REX.F.D.CLXX.HOCKLEY.B.I.R.M I .1790.
    Around crowned shield. Stops: bl in leg., mh at date. Lettering: medium.
    Shield: 12|x 11. Harp: long upright inclined to centre of shield; inner
    part of top forms an oblique bar.

  3. Another great post John.

    We had (Flying Dip Pens) wooden dip pens, but with metal nibs.

    I always remember dropping in a small piece of carbide for devilment and the ink frothed all over the desk much to the amusement of many but not the teacher.

    Another couple of cuts with he cane for misbehaving were order of the day.

    Happy days. Jerry. LOL LOL..

  4. A cracking and interesting article John and will be well appreciated by the detectorists who unearth these imitation spade guineas, I have found quite a few of these over the years but none have displayed any of the advertising inscriptions.
    Many Thanks

  5. Good article and really tweaked my interest when it got to the section on the Hudson bay company.

    Thanks me son for all the work and interesting articles you haveput together in the last year.

    Can’t wait for my next jaunt your way to rape, pilage and drink fine ale. Best of the season.

  6. Thanks John — full of great information as always. I have a “Good Old Days” half-guinea token that belonged to my mum, but have never found one on the fields. Merry Christmas.

  7. All the best to every one ,seasons greetings and all,that ,scary ain’t it,another year disappears ,let’s hope that next year theres a lot less violence in this turbulent world of ours .and more.peace and tollerance …

  8. Another interesting and well written blog ! I know nothing of these spade guineas but I do live near a former Hudsons Bay company trading post so I now have something new to be on the lookout for. Thank you and Merry Christmas .

    • Thank you Marty. What you mean is that you know more of these tokens than you did before!

      Hope that you find that elusive token (let me know when you do) and seasonal greetings!

  9. Martin Warburton 13th March 2015 at 5:22 PM

    Just to update your information. There was a checklist of imitation guineas and their fractions published in 2003. This was updated and expanded in 2013. So, rather than rely on RNP Hawkins incomplete and now outdated information, it might be helpful to know that full information about these tokens is available in the 2013 published checklist of Imitation Guineas and their Fractions – ‘A THOUSAND GUINEAS PLUS’ by W Bryce Neilson & Martin R Warburton – available from Galata Print Ltd in the UK.
    This 2013 publication lists over 1250 varieties with many photographs and a guide to rarity/values. I hope this is useful.

    • Thank you for the update, Martin. Your book looks like a ‘must’ read for anybody interested in this subject and wishes to go further.

  10. I have two off these token coins in a coin collection given to me by my farther

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  1. The Spade Guinea Advertising Token - 22nd December 2014

    […] on a forum showing off what he thinks is a gold coin, only to discover that it's made of brass. The Spade Guinea Advertising Token | John Winter Reply With […]

  2. Crudely Holed Coins | - 20th June 2015

    […] were made in huge numbers during the 19th century for use as gaming counters or for advertising. SEE HERE. Some examples copy very closely the design of a proper George III guinea and are occasionally […]

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