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The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 16, April 19, 2009, Article 16

VOCABULARY WORD: BRUMAGEM OR BRUMMAGEM

Speaking of proper word usage, occasionally we feature an unusual numismatic vocabulary word. Dick Hanscom submitted the following discussion of an archaic 18th-century term for imitation copper coins. Has anyone encountered this before in their research? -Editor
I recently purchased Life of Lord Timothy Dexter by Samuel Knapp, 1848. Dexter was an eccentric from Newburyport, Mass, circa 1790. In a passage about Dexter's poet laureate (yes, Dexter had his own poet laureate), Jonathon Plummer, and describing his selling halibut before he ascended to that lofty position, Knapp says:

... and abandoning his former honest calling of selling halibut from a wheelbarrow, at fair weight and low prices; fat fin cut for two coppers a pound, the more solid parts for a copper; and when there was a more plentiful supply, even a Brumagem would buy enough to furnish a man a dinner.


Brumagem is italicized in the text. I looked in Nipper's In Yankee Doodle's Pocket book and the term is not in the index. A net search has the term spelled Brummagem. Apparently, this is a reference to imitation coppers in circulation circa 1790, the term appropriated from the British. See: www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/17/messages/821.html
www.1911encyclopedia.org/Brummagem

It's interesting to see the term was still in use in 1850. For more information on Lord Timothy Dexter, if only to amuse yourself, go to www.lordtimothydexter.com

Your own poet laureate? Now that's a cultured gentleman. As the nerd who always got beat up in school, my fantasy was to have my own goon, like Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School. You know, someone who would lean over and say, "You want I should whack him, boss?"

Anyway, the first web page Dick referenced includes this definition from Merriam-Webster: -Editor


"Brummagem" first appeared in the 17th century as an alteration of "Birmingham," the name of a city in England. At that time Birmingham was notorious for the counterfeit coins made there, and the word "brummagem" quickly became associated with things forged or inauthentic.

By the 19th century, Birmingham had become a chief manufacturer of cheap trinkets and gilt jewelry, and again the word "brummagem" followed suit--it came to describe that which is showy on the outside but essentially of low quality.

Perhaps the term was something of an annoyance to the people of Birmingham way back when, but nowadays "brummagem" is usually used without any conscious reference to the British city.




Wayne Homren, Editor

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