This article was first published in the Winter 2020 edition of the High Wycombe Society Newsletter. I am grateful to them, and to Mark Page the author of the article, for permission to publish it.
Mark is also a keen photographer, and has recently published a book called “High Wycombe through my eyes” that includes many of his photographs.
Find him on www.facebook.com/groups/HWStreetlife
Did you know that Wycombe once had its own coinage? In 1811, James Gomme, a local cabinet-maker and auctioneer, issued a number of silver shillings. They depict the Guildhall (which was then the town hall) with the date in Roman numerals below; and on the reverse a swan, gorged and chained as in the arms of the borough.
Trade tokens in the form of coins came into existence in the seventeenth century following the Civil War. There was an acute shortage of small change for trading. The creation and issue of private tokens was a logical solution to the difficult situation in which traders and poor people found themselves.
Tokens were issued by municipalities, traders and innkeepers, and were essentially a local coin that was legal tender with a particular business or trade, (but usually also exchangeable at others).
Most such coins were made of copper or brass and came in three denominations: farthing, halfpenny and penny. The tokens usually bore the name of the issuer, the town, the arms or symbol of his trade and the year of issue.
Records show 22 traders issuing tokens in the seventeenth century within High Wycombe alone. Of these, at least 13 had burgess status and seven were innkeepers.
An early token was issued by Robert Whitton “of Great Wickham”. From 1661 to 1691 he was the proprietor of the Antelope Inn (which was then in the High Street). It contains the three initials W R & K, which stand for Whitton Robert and Katherine, who was his wife. This was a common convention used on tokens at that time.
Another token was issued by Richard Lucas, proprietor of the Red Lion “in Wickham”. In this case the three initials L R & D lead us to deduce that Richard Lucas’s wife’s first initial was “D”.
Around the end of the eighteenth century there was again a shortage of coinage, which triggered the creation of more tokens including the Gomme silver shilling shown here.
The practice of producing such coins was outlawed a few years later. These tokens have now become sought-after collectors’ items. There is a Gomme shilling at the British Museum, and, thanks to a bequest from Ambrose Heal, chairman of Heal’s furniture shop on the Tottenham Court Road, the museum also holds an early furniture label relating to James Gomme.
Do you have any pre-decimal coins lying around? – if so, take a closer look – you might just find something of interest! If you do, you might like to let us know, just email email@example.com