Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tokens of Capitalism

In the popular adventure Pirates of the Caribbean: at World's End, Jack Sparrow and his friends must battle an array of bad guys headed by the British East India Company.  Like the Hudson Bay Company, the BEI certainly had a complicated past that inevitably included the evils of raw colonialism. On the upside, it was a venture; and venture capitalists profit from risks that no one else wants to take. (See Venture Capital on this blog.) Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley are attractive as freebooters. We denigrate the drudgery of billing department commerce; but, as Deirdre McCloskey famously reminds us, we are all bourgeois now.
British East India Company Rupee. 1840 Calcutta).
28 berries W. W. variety Craig 4a.  30.5 mm silver.
We get so used to seeing dead politicians on government money that we have a hard time imagining anything else. Excavations of Ice Age tombs reveal amber, jade, and shells, other objects of no practical use, hundreds of miles from their places of origin. 

Northumberland & Durham 6-pence Token  20 mm 
Payable by John Robertson
Newcastle on Tyne. 1811. (silver)
The stone ages ended about 8000 BC when copper was discovered. From about 3500 BC other metals (including silver and gold) were also found and worked. Cuneiform records from Mesopotamia at about 2400 BC tell of silver being weighed out in payment. This was indirect trade in a material that, like amber and cowrie shells, had no immediate use. Silver and gold are pretty, but not suited for agricultural or hunting tools. By 700 BC, merchants were die-punching nuggets of electrum to mark them so they would not have to be reweighed. It was not long before monarchies and democracies minted coins

Ireland Bank Token. 10d. 22 mm. 1813. Silver.
Craig 9. Seaby 6618. K&M Tn5
Series ran 1760 to 1820.
In the mid to late 1300s life in England had improved to the point where luxury items were over-priced in terms of the smallest silver coins. So, bronze tokens ("counters" or "jetons") from Europe filled a need for small change. Foreign coins were joined by private issues. By the 1600s, the privately issued copper, tin, and lead tokens completely dominated neighborhood trade. It is not surprising, then, that undervalued copper tokens were among first coins minted for American commerce. For nearly 200 years in America, small purchases were carried out in a wild array of private and foreign coinages. Federal government money was not established in household shopping until the 1840s. Through the 1830s, merchants in the East kept their books in pounds-shilling-pence; and Mexican silver was legal tender until 1857. Counterfeit British copper half pennies from the colonial era circulated as money in western Appalachia through the 1830s.

Norfolk Norweb. Dalton & Hamer 23b (no date)
"Prosperity to Old England / More Trade Fewer Taxes"
so-called Vitriol bottle
Copper half penny
Edge: "Richard Tinmore and Son"
If you look back at history, you will see a curious pattern. We can assume that government money is the norm and that tokens are an interesting exception. However, in every time, a variety of moneys carried the needs of daily commerce.  Stores today to pass out "good-fors," aluminum or wooden coins good for some amount of money toward a purchase whether coffee, ice cream, pop corn, or beer.
Canada Maritimes
Charlton Brett 963. 8.16 grams. copper.
The August/September 1993 issue of Mother Earth News featured a cover story about the
"time dollars" of Ithaca, New York, a local currency still in use today.  People there trade services in units of an hour. The idea of denominating money in labor was suggested by anarchists and syndicalists in previous decades. Community money can be found in many towns, including Traverse City, Michigan, where "Bay Bucks" have been circulating for ten years.  
An interesting twist on "time dollars" comes from the policies of the conservative economic journal, The Freeman. Authors are paid 10 cents per word, plus a subscription. Authors can assign that subscription to anyone, thus commoditizing it.

Middlesex. Dalton & Hamer 1012E
from Erskine, Anderskine, and Gibbs
Law firm successfully defended accuseds on charges of treason.
"Erskine and Gibbs and Trial by Jury"
Two men with banners: "Magna Chart" / "Bill of Right"
"T. H. Hardy,  I. H. Hooke, T. Holcroft. I. A. Bonney, J. Joyce, 
S Rid, J. Thelwall, I. Richter. I Baxter
1794.
The shoemaker, Thomas Hardy, was the secretary to the London Corresponding Society. His outspoken support for the French Revolution – including his association with a play called "La Guillotine: or, George’s Head" brought him from his shop at 161 Fleet Street to Old Bailey Prison on charges of sedition.  He was acquitted by his peers and his lawyers struck a token to celebrate their skill and his good fortune.

This narrative was taken from "Money Without Banks and Governments" by Michael E. Marotta, published first by Practical Anarchy, 1994 and then archived at Lloyd Unlimited Numismatics.

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