The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 13, Number 22, May 30, 2010, Article 5


Paul and Bente Withers of Galata have published another new book, soon to be released. Paul forwarded the following press release and enlightening commentary. Thanks, and congratulations! -Editor

Withers The Token Book THE TOKEN BOOK. 17th, 18th & 19th century British tokens and their values by P & B R Withers. 14 x 22 cm 512 pages, over 3000 tokens illustrated, all in colour, from the best specimens in public and private collections. £48 (+ £4.50 p&p)

There is a 20-page introduction with a short account of how to understand tokens, and a list of the standard reference works for each main type. Nearly 3500 17th century tokens are listed, with Williamson/Dickinson reference numbers, and prices for Fine condition. Over 2,500 of these are illustrated, including the most commonly found pieces, the most interesting, those that are heart-shaped, square, hexagonal or octagonal, and those depicting the tools and products of various trades and activities, inn signs, and the arms of the livery companies.

  • For each county there are details of the token-issuing towns, cities and villages with the number of tokens they issued.
  • 18th century tokens listed with Dalton & Hamer references, all types listed, with edge varieties, and prices for up to three grades. Gives more information and has many more illustrations than the Schwer guide.
  • 19th century silver tokens listed with Dalton references. All types listed, prices for EF condition.
  • 19th century copper tokens listed with Withers references. All types listed, prices for three grades.
  • Evasion halfpennies and farthings listed with Atkins references, prices for fair or Fine condition.
  • Select bibliography.
  • Detailed index with around 2000 entries.

We first thought of the project almost two years ago when we asked various people whether they thought there was a need for a new pricing guide to tokens. The answer, both from collectors and most dealers was a resounding “yes !” The general response being that new people are coming to the hobby and need guidance and literature to help them find their way. The only guides currently available are all 25 years old.

As a healthy, active segment of the market is located in the USA we discussed the project with Allan Davisson, who is part of that market, and also has a high reputation among dealers here in the UK. He was very helpful, and we subsequently got a lot of help from Bill McIvor too.

Back in 1970 B A Seaby published British Tokens and the Values. It was popular with collectors and dealers alike, indeed, a lot of people are still using it ! The book was reprinted with revisions in 1984. Around the same time, Fred Schwer printed his Price Guide to 18th Century Tokens, and, a year later, Michael Dickinson produced his excellent Seventeeth Century Tokens of the British Isles.

Since then, although inflation has been rampant and also the market has grown and matured, there has been nothing more of a similar nature published; so, a quarter of a century on, demand for an up-to-date price guide is quite legitimate given that some of the books are now only obtainable secondhand, and that prices have increased due to demand, and inflation.

As numismatic book dealers we get many requests for the old works whenever we have them for sale, and the 1984 revision of British Tokens and their Values sells on eBay for around £45 (60$) and we could never find enough copies of Fred Schwer’s book to supply the demand.

What is needed in such a new work ? Not only does it need to reflect the current market as closely as possible but we decided to correct errors in previous works, and also those that we had spotted in the original standard reference works, particularly where attributions have been revised when research has shown this to be necessary.

We also used the opportunity to add lots of illustrations, so that this has become the best illustrated book on 17th century tokens that there is, especially for those of Ireland. In some instances, where suitable examples were not available for photography, we have used line drawings. These were obtained from George Benn: A History of the Town of Belfast, 1877, and Thomas Snelling’s A view of the Copper Coin and Coinage of England, published in 1766, the very first guide to tokens.

For the shields of arms of the London livery companies we went back to William Boyne’s 1858 Tokens issued in the Seventeenth Century, and discovered that if we really tried hard, we could produce passable results ourselves for those that we needed that were not in Boyne. Numismatics is certainly a hobby that extends one and requires the development of new (old) skills !

Incidentally, thinking of old works, we used James Atkins’ The Tradesmen’s Tokens of the Eighteenth Century for checking back on Dalton & Hamer, and found it to be instrumental for giving the answers to many little puzzles and problems. It should neither be ignored nor consigned to the stack just yet.

The 18th century section is clearly not as well illustrated, nor as detailed as D&H itself; obviously so, as D&H is a BIG book, and we wanted this be a handbook, not something the size of a family bible. It is, however, rather better illustrated than Schwer, and the text a lot more detailed. D & H is currently out of print, so those that can’t find a copy, or can’t afford it, will find this a find this the best substitute available.

We have, however, left some things undone and would like to point them out - the 18th century tokens of Ireland section is something that an enthusiastic expert needs to take on board and look at afresh. Judging by the last few editions of “Conder” Gregg A Sylvis has clearly started on such a project. Anglesey too is in need of an overhaul, D & H didn’t do a bad job on it, but it could be simplified a bit, and with modern electronic techniques, arrows could be applied to the photographs to point out where the extra acorns are !

The last quarter century or so has been a remarkable period for token collectors. There has been a great increase in interest in 18th century tokens and in the number of collectors. It really started with Spink selling the collection of T A Jan in 1983 and 1984. When R C Bell’s collection was sold by Dix Noonan Webb (DNW) in 1996, 18th century tokens were beginning to look up, but 19th century copper tokens were in the doldrums and we bought most of what we wanted with little opposition.

In 1998, Jim Noble sold his collection of tokens and paranumismatica. The catalogue was a real blockbuster which brought to an international market a critical mass of material which had not been seen for a quarter of a century or more, some of it with pedigrees going back to those doyens of the token world S H Hamer and W J Davis, and other famous names.

In 2000, the new century started with a metaphorical bang, when Allan Davisson brought Wayne Anderson’s collection to the market, setting many price records, largely because the material was choice.

Since then DNW have offered the collections of Joel Spingarn, David Litrenta and David Spence, the last two of which required no fewer than three catalogues each.

In the last year or so, prices for general 18th century material seem to have fallen a little from the heights they were achieving two years before, though rarer and choice material has continued to rise in price due to demand. Over the past two years prices for 19th century copper tokens in high grade, especially those with original red lustre, have risen sharply too, but that market is by no means as sophisticated as that for 18th century tokens.

Spectacular prices for choice material are one thing, but the lower end of the market is strong too, with badly worn and damaged items making prices in Internet auctions that sometimes make one gasp and stretch one’s eyes.

Unaware, non-discriminating buyers clearly do not realise that much better buys may be available elsewhere ! This does, however, set the scene for the lower end, and it is part of the market, albeit one that most established dealers will not reach, largely because many of its denizens keep out of the light.

For the last nine months we have expended thousands of hours compiling the book, and apart from fine tuning it is now more or less ready for the press. In the words of the computer-savvy generation, the Beta versions have gone out. Prices, repricings, corrections and additions are coming back from collectors.

The neophyte probably wonders exactly how one values a coin or token. I certainly did when I was young. If you are an expert you look at the piece and put a price on your ticket. If you are not, then you have to resort to a guide, especially if you are a new collector who wants to find out what he should pay at auction, or decide whether the price being asked by a dealer is a bargain, a rip-off, or just right.

A true price is said to be that arrived at after negotiations between a knowledgeable buyer and an informed seller. How often that actually happens is uncertain, but what is certain is that there are trends which become evident when observing the market closely over a period of a decade, or longer.

Punters at race courses assessing a horse’s likelihood of winning examine its ‘form’, i.e., how the nag did the last time out, though other matters also have to be taken into condition – the skill of the jockey riding it, whether the going is hard or soft, the trainer, the course, the weather, the opposition and whether the leprechauns are with you that day, or not. The market in tokens is a bit like that, it is essential to know how pieces of the same type performed the last time they came up for auction and prices are based on that sort of information.

Auction results, however, have to be interpreted with care, for although they do give an instant snapshot of the market at that time, and are evidence of a wider picture if taken over a period of a decade or more, some things sometimes do not make nearly enough, or when two wealthy collectors are competing it has been known for one of them to commit financial suicide.

So, the prices we have put in our book are not derived solely from auction results, but dealers’ offerings, our experience and observations. We have assessed, wherever possible, the rarity, and precise condition, which is not easy considering that some dealers can be mildly mendacious and others unduly hype what they are selling. We have accordingly recorded pieces only where illustrations were available to us, and/or where we knew the standards of the cataloguer.

The market for 18th tokens is not one theatre of action. There are those customers (mainly in the USA) who want perfection, and those in the UK who are satisfied with extremely fine pieces, who frankly do not care overly much whether their piece has red colour or not. Then there are those who frequent coin fairs but who are happy with pieces in VF condition and have never seen an auction of choice and rare material, and then there are those who buy solely from on-line auctions and only see a bright, shiny red colour when the piece they are buying has been pickled in battery acid.

Add to that people who buy tokens because they are interesting, historical relics, and even then you don’t have the complete picture, so someone entering this world needs a price guide to help them. I know that I did, and still do, and I have been a dealer now for coming up to 50 years. In other words, I shall be using our own guide !

The 19th century copper tokens is a modified version of our own book. Only the major types are listed so as to cut it down to size. There are many illustrations, all taken from examples in our own collection. We have done much the same for the 19th century silver tokens, using Dalton’s work as the basis. The illustrations were from pieces owned by an English collector, and Allan Davisson.

The illustrations for 17th century tokens were taken from several collections, public and private, including those of several collectors who preferred to remain anonymous.

So forgetting the slabbers and the elitists, our new price guide is a book to help the collector to know where he is, a road map of an enormous continent, to show where the fun is. It will give you a price without you having to spend hundreds of hours trawling through world auctions to find out what price your token made the last time it came up for sale.

It puts the collector in charge of his own destiny by telling him how much he is likely to have to pay for the nice, the very nice or the extremely nice piece he wants, and if he wants a diamond-sharp, bright red piece of perfection there are sufficient examples of similar items to warn him what that’s likely to cost too.

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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