17th Century Bay coin isn’t half bad

Exhibit of the Week''Robin Hood's Bay Museum''Bay Penny''w140809c
Exhibit of the Week''Robin Hood's Bay Museum''Bay Penny''w140809c

Ahalfpenny from the 1600s is among the exhibits at the Robin Hood’s Bay museum.

The Robin Hood’s Bay Halfpenny was a tradesman’s token which was issued in the reign of Charles II.

A highly-collectable item, the token is in the shape of a heart and is made of thin brass, about 2 cm across.

On one side of the coin is the figure of Robin Hood, bow in hand, together with a diminutive Little John and the inscription “Roger Dickinson”. The other side reads “Of Robin Hood Bay, his Half Peny, 1669”

Roger Dickinson was the issuer of the Robin Hood’s Bay halfpenny token. He was landlord of the Robin Hood and Little John Inn in 1669.

The inn was well situated near to the dock, in the centre of Baytown and with a prominent painted sign which could be seen by travellers entering the village from the beach (the main route from Scarborough) or down King Street, which was the main road through the village at that time.

During the Civil War and its aftermath the authorities were too busy to be concerned with minting low denomination coinage for the tradesmen, who were forced by necessity to issue their own token coinage.

At first, these tokens were mainly farthings, but from 1664, many thousands of different designs of halfpenny and occasionally penny tokens were issued, mainly by shop and innkeepers.

The vast majority of the tokens were round, or as round as they could be made, but in the late 1660s, a few other shapes were tried. These include heart-shaped tokens, diamond shapes, square pieces and octagonal tokens.

In 1669, Roger Dickinson issued his own unusual heart-shaped token, one of only nine of this type issued in Yorkshire.

It is thought that at least 200,000 traders in England and Wales issued tokens, about 500 of them in Yorkshire.

In a period where few people could read or write, the inn sign on the token was easily recognisable and a visitor to Bay would look for the Robin Hood sign over the inn. He would then know that he could be sure of exchanging the heart-shaped token there for food and accommodation, or more than likely, good ale at two pints or more for a halfpenny.

The Robin Hood and Little John was still an inn into the 20th century, surviving until, at the earliest, 1910.

The tokens were a very useful form of advertising, particularly for innkeepers, as they circulated over a wide area and were accepted by shopkeepers in town and villages throughout the neighbourhood.

In some towns, there were “farthing changers” who made the changing of tokens a business and from them travellers could obtain tokens for the area they were going to visit.

Unfortunately for Roger Dickinson, and the other tradesmen, the King decided to issue his own copper currency in 1672 and it was made an offence to use tokens.

In a year or two, they were entirely replaced by the regal copper currency.

Roger may have only issued 1,000 or so tokens before he had to exchange them for the new currency.

Most of those that were returned to him would be melted down for their brass or copper content, but a few would survive because of their attractive shape.

These few remaining coins may well have been used as “love tokens” and hung on a chain. Either way, they are now valuable and highly-popular collectors’ items.