1852 First trade tokens made in Australia

Trade tokens were used for everyday purchases in times of currency shortage

Trade tokens were unofficial coins produced by merchants and traders and were accepted by local businesses at their face value. They had a long history in England at times when there was a shortage of official coins in smaller denominations including pennies, halfpennies and farthings.

In the mid-19th century, especially as the population swelled after the gold rush of the early 1850s, there was a lack of small change in the Australian colonies. At this point, Australian coins were all being minted in Britain, where the needs of the colonies were easily overlooked.  The sovereigns and half-sovereigns dispatched to New South Wales were of little use for everyday trade in food and household necessities.

Successful merchants stepped in to fill the gap, commissioning tokens that were often accepted only by their own businesses or in the surrounding geographic area. Strictly speaking, these were illegal as the right to produce coinage was reserved for the Crown. In fact, it was only in 1898 that the colonies of New South Wales and Victoria were permitted to mint their own coins. Colonial governments initially allowed the use of trade tokens as long as they didn’t look the same as genuine currency.

The first trade tokens to be circulated in Australia were minted in London and were dated 1823. They were issued by the Hobart firm of Macintosh and Degraves for the Cascade Saw Mills. From 1852, tokens were struck in Australia, the first being for the tea stores of Samuel Peek & Co. Peek’s tokens, and many others, were made by a free settler named John Thornthwaite, an experienced die-sinker who arrived in New South Wales in 1849. Examples of his tokens are now rare and extremely valuable.

Trade tokens are now a specialised branch of coin collecting and rare Australian examples have changed hands for up to $30,000. Collectors talk knowledgeably about the Jamberoo Penny produced for William Allen General Stores, Jamberoo, in 1855 which changed hands some years back for $6000. And, with only six examples known to exist, the 1852 Peek & Campbell Tea Stores penny is perhaps the most valuable of all.

It wasn’t long before trade tokens were outlawed. Victoria made them illegal in 1863 and, five years later, they were banned in New South Wales. Western Australia was the last state to make tokens illegal in 1878.

This website uses cookies but doesn't share them.