Big thank you from



Edward Smyth's token, 1.5 times actual size. This, together with another example, is in the Ulster Museum, ex. Riddell collection.

In 1736, an Edward Smyth issued a token for two pence in Lisburn1. The obverse shows a unicorn's head. (a design used as a treat by some of the Smyth family), with his name underneath. The reverse reads `I owe the bearer two pence Lisburn 1736'. There are three examples of the token in the Ulster Museum, one in the National Museum, Dublin and one in the British Museum.

Smyth's token is one in a discrete series of twenty-seven which has attracted virtually no scholarly attention- especially in the present century. The tokens form a quite consistent group: seventeen are dated 1763- all except seven are for two pence, the rest, with one exception, being for threepence. 'three of the threepences are silver, and all the rest copper. All use an overt promissory formula: generally `I promise to pay the bearer...' Geographically, the issuers centre heavily in Antrim, Down and Armagh.

It is obvious that these tokens provide a potentially valuable source for a difficult period, but one which, like all such oblique evidence, requires careful interpretation. The problem may be divided in two: first, the tokens as a general class, then, specifically. Edward Smyth's token and Smyth himself.

In the eighteenth century, the circulating medium could be divided very clearly between coinage and tokens, the former, by the definition of the time, containing a large element of intrinsic value. Tokens were metallic promissory notes, conventionally of low value, in practice of doubtful legality, and a substitute for what the government should have- but frequently did not -provide, viz., a plentiful supply of small change. The position of regal copper halfpennies and farthings lay awkwardly somewhere between the two, being carefully weighed at the mint, but having to be sell-supporting with a profit of 10% to the crown.

This can most clearly be seen in the issues of token halfpennies from 1787 onwards, which appeared at a time when over three-quarters (by the Mint's own admission) of the halfpennies in circulation were forgeries of increasingly poor quality. As soon as a plentiful supply of regal coinage appeared, legislation became effective and the tokens ceased. This period has long been popular with collectors and the situation earlier in the century has always been looked at with hind-sight conditioned by knowledge of these more plentiful pieces. Unfortunately, matters are not so clear cut in the first half of the eighteenth century. As is well known. William Wood had issued quantities of regal halfpennies and farthings for Ireland in 1722 and 1723, but these had been extremely unpopular, even though the last copper issue had been in 1696 and shortages were starting to appear. This popularity was in part the result of a campaign, given intellectual force by Swift's Drapier's Letters, which, in the spirit of the age, refused to accept the advantages of a separation between face and intrinsic value for the smaller denominations.

Swift's arguments were based on political animus and some rather shakey economics. The American colonists proved more amenable and Mr. Wood's coins were shipped off across the ocean. Before Wood's issue, it was said that 'considerable manufacturers were obliged to pay their men with tallies or token in cards, signed upon the back, to be afterwards exchanged for money..: 2 Subsequently, there may well have been a recurrence of the perennial shortage of coinage in Ireland, bin this must have been alevinted, at least m part. by the issue of regal halfpence in 1736-38, 1741-44, and farthings in 1737, 1738 and 1744, to take only the most relevant years.

Ruding 3 conveniently precis the relevant order by the Lord Justices for the official 1736 coins and Simon 4 reproduces the order for 1737, which is worth quoting verbatim. The reason given for this issue was 'to remedy the inconveniences and difficulties which affect the trade, and particularly, the linen manufactures of this kingdom, and his majesty's revenues here, occasioned by the want of good copper money;...' After going on to specify that at least 50 tuns (sic) should be made, five-sixths to be halfpennies. and the grade of copper to be used, the order goes on: `And to prevent further imposition upon the traders and poor manufacturers of this kingdom, by the uttering of false and base brass money, commonly called Raps,5 we do hereby declare, that if any person or persons shall presume to make. vend, or utter any halfpence, or farthings, or other pieces of brass, copper, or other base metal .. such persons ... shall be prosecuted ... with the utmost severity of the law...'

Whiles it is dangerous practice to argue from the absence of evidence, here it might be permissible. The Ulster tokens, a few of which had been around since 1734, seem to definitely excluded from the official wrath. Lindsay6 states `this money [the halfpennies] was first sent over in April 1737. The first contract should have produced over forty-four million halfpennies. If it is accepted that with the possible exception of a single rare piece issued by William Johnston in 1734 at Belfast for a halfpenny, but probably soon revalued to a penny, then this series of twenty-seven tokens was probably not a response to a shortage of halfpennies. If the existence, or not, of such a shortage at this point is irrelevant, then were they intended to substitute for tire low-denomination silver coinage?.

Here things are even more obscure. Ireland nominally had her own currency until 1825, formalized at the rate of thirteen Irish pence to the English shilling. The rate floated for large amounts and, in fact, only copper coins were ever issued during the eighteenth century. The actual circulating medium was made up of ordinary English regal coins and a mixture of foreign pieces, mainly Spanish, most of which had the status of legal tender. The difference between the English and Irish pound is the reason why prices are often stated as Is. l d. or £ 1 2. 9d., the latter being a guinea, which after a period of floating with the gold price, had by the end of 1717 settled down to a face value of 21s. sterling, although commanding a premium when shortages occurred.

A great recoinage started in 1696, which finally took the huge quantity of Elizabeth I shillings and sixpences out of circulation, to he replaced by modern milled (struck by machine) coins. During the first quarter of the eighteenth century, a problem which had been endemic since the first attempts at a bi-metallic system in the early Middle Ages, became worse: net out-flows of silver from the British Isles. This was caused by an imbalance between the international ratio between gold and silver and that at which English coinage was being issued. Growing use of silver was also being made for domestic plate, further reducing the amount available for coinage. These flows reflected to some degree the balance of trade, as well as to variations in the price of silver. The costs of making coins were subsidized by taxes on beer and cider, but for much of the eighteenth century, the mint price was not sufficiently high to attract bullion for coinage.

Dependence on outside sources of bullion is at least one explanation for the extremely erratic pattern of coin production. Swift wrote in the Intelligencer7 that employers were forced to pay their workmen collectively when wages amounted to a double-pistol (£ 1 17s 6d. approx.) or a moidore (£ I I0s 1d. approx.)', and that the workmen had to pay ten pence or a shilling to get the gold changed into silver. Once again, one must be dubious as to Swift's worth as a source in the matter, as the point of the piece was an attack on the government for not allowing a mint in Ireland but his statement may have reflected at least short-term or local shortages. Interestingly, Ruding conflates this putative shortage of specie with the Ulster tokens and compounds the error by suggesting that McCulla's coins of 172910 were inspired by the latter pieces, rather than vice versa. 11 Craig 12 usefully gives figures for the amount of silver put out by the mint, and whilst this fails to give the proportions of the various denominations, or the amount of coinage which made its way to Ireland, these figures at least give the potential amounts available.

Crowns and halfcrowns were more likely to be exported or hoarded than the lower values and therefore fewer were produced in times of difficulty. It is also true that in times of real shortage, premiums were paid for coinage which attracted money in, albeit this was a less effective mechanism for the lower denominations. During the twenty-one years (inclusive) from 1720 to 1740, the average annual production of silver coinage, at 62 shillings to the troy pound was 11,953 lbs. This may be contrasted with the following twenty-one years (inclusive), when no silver at all was issued between 1747-50 and the average per annum from 1750-60 was 8776 lbs, with 99.4% of this relating to 1751, 1757 and 1758. Taking the evidence as a whole, it seems likely that although there were fluctuations and shortages in the first quarter of the century, the situation in the immediately relevant period, 1734-41, was not as bad as that immediately before or after.

Simon, a Dublin merchant, with an obvious interest in the matter, wrote in 1749, presumably with first-hand knowledge of what he saw as the practicalities.13 In fact, his remarks bore a suspicious similarity to much of the pamphlet literature and were unlikely to be original, but rather a reflection of one section of public opinion. He observed that one effect of the imbalance between gold and silver was the attraction of light guineas into Ireland and although this was distressing at the time, we might see this as the normal operation of the market, fully analogous to a decline in the value of a currency through balance of payments difficulties. Provided people accepted coins in circulation, their quality was largely irrelevant as far as the internal situation was concerned, although a loss might have to be taken in external dealings. One is hesitant to suggest it at this remove, but the possibility of a contemporary gap between perception and reality cannot be dismissed and in any case, it is clear that the mechanisms operating, some still the subject of controversy today, were imperfectly understood.

Given the general paucity of our evidence, and the difficulty in interpreting what we have, it is easy to forget that the transmission of money and coin was neither easy nor cheap, and this may have lead to considerable regional variations. Certainly, the situation in Ulster, as reported to the House of Commons Committee on the Condition of the Irish Currency (1804), by local witnesses, was considerably less serious than elsewhere, because of the greater prevalence of a true cash economy induced by the linen industry, which was already a major force in the areas where the tokens were issued. Dublin, which provides most of our evidence, probably enjoyed different conditions from the rest of the country throughout this period. A further confirmation of this speculation about Ulster, are the notices inserted in the Belfast News-Letter by John Galloway and Alexander Beith,14 complaining of counterfeits (itself an indication that the tokens were circulating freely), but also offering to redeem their tokens in gold or silver. Whilst not wishing to put too much weight on this, it would seem that a reasonable deduction might be that if there was a shortage of specie, it was a particular problem with the lower denominations (threepences and sixpences), but that the putative shortage might not apply to halfpennies and farthings, as the issue of an even twopence, as opposed to, for example, a one-and-a-halfpence coin, would not address the problem. This latter solution was used, or at least tried, in the sixteenth century. If these metallic promissory notes are nut a simple expedient to fill a gap left by government indifference, what was the cause of their issue? Direct evidence, economic or other, does not seem to be available, but perhaps an examination of the sort of men-and especially Edward Smyth -who were responsible for their appearance, may give some clues.

Edward Smyth was born either in 170015 or about 169316, with the latter being the more likely, and was the grandson of a Colonel Ralph Smyth who was killed at the Battle of the Boyne. He was educated in Lisburn by a Mr. Clarke and graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1721 with a degree in law. He is described as `Counsellor at Law' in 1743 and became an honorary DLS from Trinity in 1747, at a cost of £ 1 17s. 6d. As is usual, information in P.R.O.N.I, relates largely to real property and even at that, must give only a partial picture. What is obvious, however, is that Smyth was no small retailer. He was M. P. for Lisburn from 1743 until he lost the seat at the election caused by the death of George II17, and was twice High Sheriff of Antrim, in 1747 and 1756. From our limited knowledge of his parliamentary activities and references in the Belfast News-Letter,18 it can be seen that he tended to support the anti-government side in the Surplus Revenue Dispute, which rumbled on in the middle years of the century. He stood in the Carrickfergus election of 1768, but given the opposition of a Dalway, a Dobbs and a Chichester, it is hardly surprising that he was not elected.19 He was appointed Commissioner for the Milita in 1756,20 for both Antrim and Down (which was unusual) together with, amongst others, members of the Hill, Waring, and Rawdon families. He held, until the year before his death in 1788, the office of Attorney at Law for the Diocese of Down and Connor and was register for schools for the dioceses of Down and Connor. These posts all imply a man of substance, busy with official affairs as well as private.

Such activities signify a certain level of prosperity, but more direct indications may be found from other sources. Working backwards, it is fortunate that his will survives in the Registry of Deeds in Dublin and has been published in abstract. 21 In the absence of estate maps or other precise information, one cannot be accurate as to the exact amount of property involved, but even a brief list is sufficient to show a man of considerable means, at least at this stage of his life. He left `real and personal estate in Co. Down, consisting of the townlands of Dromarebregue, Ballykeale ... and Aghnaskeagh', in Antrim the 'half townland of Caruaghlig ... and the half townland of Ballyhill, otherwise Ballykill', `two leases in the townland of Anakogh', a parcel of land in Ardglass, `...about five acres, with three small castles standing thereon', `freeholds in the town of Lisburn', `my old mansion in Derryaghy' and a legacy of £ 1000, as well as various smaller bequests. Having no son, the main beneficiaries of the will were three nephews, Roger, Matthew and Philip Johnston, who were asked to take the name of Smyth. One may presume that adequate settlement had already been made on his daughter Anne, who married a James Carroll, farmer of Aghagallon, in 1765, in which year her marriage portion was £ 100 per annum.

This prosperity was not confined to Smyth's declining years. The earliest transaction for which information survives is a lease of 1736 22. There are a series of three leases around Market Square in 1743, resulting from the break-up of some of the Conway estate,23 the rents for which are comparatively small, but which must have represented, if not immediately, then later, prime property. He had other holdings in Bow Lane, Castle Street and Magee's Tenements. More impressive is his involvement with Mark Ker O'Neill in the leasing, for twenty-one years, of 1500 plantation acres from Clotworthy O'Neill, the total rent payable being £ 163 7s. 5d. It is safe to say, therefore, that Smyth was a man of means at least by the 1740s, although the scale is more difficult to estimate. Knowledge of his father's affairs might have provided more positive evidence, but unfortunately neither this, nor his wife's settlement, seem to have survived.

On a lighter note, but one which still demonstrates a measure of wealth, Smyth owned race homes and was a member of the Honorable the Corporation of Horsebreeders of Co. Down, leaving his silver membership medal and a cup won by his horse Viper at Londonderry to one of his executors24. The references in the Belfast News-letter range from 1757 to 1784, with a concentration in the 1760s.

To sum up, Smyth was a man of substance, M. P. and holder of legal office, for whom no evidence of actual trade survives. If not considered quite gentry, he was not far from the dignity and mixed, professionally and socially, with the upper classes. He started life with a good education, or one which at least fitted him for a lucrative profession, and probably a fair patrimony which he enhanced quite rapidly, reaching a considerable prosperity in his middle years, dying wealthy with few debts, able to provide for his family circle. If he was not trying to facilitate personal trade by his issue of tokens, what was his aim?

A quick glance at the sources available for the other men who issued tokens seems to show that we can learn more about Edward Smyth than any other. There is a significant over-lap between the token issuers and men known to have signed clocks and watches. The horological connection does not suggest any technical skill, rather the availability of risk-capital and this is a line of enquiry which might produce rewards at a later date.

Why then the tokens, and why was Edward Smyth one of the issuers? At present that question must remain largely unanswered, but some suggestions may be made. As was remarked above, there is a certain coincidence between the tokens and linen both in terms of area and date. James Greer of Lurgan on his piece even shows a roll of linen and describes himself as draper. Smyth appears in a short list of men who approved an advertisement by the linen drapers of Lisburn, extolling the benefits of fair trading25. It is possible that the tokens facilitated the payment of out-workers and they may have represented a convenient sum in terms of piece-work. Once a few tokens had appeared successfully, they may have seemed a tempting speculation for other men who had little direct connection with relevant linen trade. Equally, some temporary shortage may have prompted the first issues and the later tokens may then have been the continuation of a convenience. The promissory formula apes that on banknotes which may be significant. Banks proper were of an undeveloped stage in Ireland outside Dublin. Belfast did not get its first bank until some years later, and it then went out of business in a very short time, not to be replaced for a further period. Merchants, many involved in the linen trade, facilitated trade between themselves by the use of promissory noses. At the end of the eighteenth century, it seemed that every corner-grocer or bar-owner, particularly in the west of Ireland, was issuing pseudo-banknotes or printed IO.U.s, mainly as an easy way of maximising cash, which may be seen as paper equivalents of the tokens. The more substantial issuers of Ulster may also have seen an opportunity to avail themselves of cheap money at the earlier date. The lack of complaint and rarity of surviving specimens suggests that, unlike the later emanations, they were scrupulously redeemed.

This still fails to answer the specific query about Smyth. He proclaims himself a gentleman by decorating his token with his crest. The refined restraint of this design may be contrasted with the cheerful rusticity of `I live in Hope' from Hugh Mountgomery of Glenarm, or the peacock and `Youth and Beauty' of Alex McClure of Ballylenaghan. Smyth was well placed, operating close to the centre of commercial activity in the thriving markets of Lisburn and associating with men of commercial, as well as political, power. The need was probably not his directly, but he may have seen an opportunity to facilitate both his associates and his own finances by having a token produced, The answer, like that to so many historical problems, probably derives from a combination of factors, rather than single circumstance. When further work is done on this neglected area of numismatics, the uncertainty may diminish.

List of tokens (all copper unless stated)

Alex Morton, 3d. silver, 1736
James Henry 2d. 1736.
John [---] h, 2d. 1741.
James Adair, 2d. 1736.
Alex Beith, 2d. 1735.
Edward Smyth, 2d. 1736.
W, Johnston, 1/2d (? revalued to Id.) 1734.
John Knox, 2d. 1735.
Hugh Magarragh. 2d. 1734.
William Ringland. 2d. 1734.
William Ringland, Id. 1734.
Issuer unknown, 2d.
James Green 3d. 1736.
Aaron Keane, 2d. 1735.
Thomas Fisher, 2d.
Bellylonaghan (Ballylonaghan)
Alex McClure, 2d. 1735.
John Overcast, silver 3d. 1735.
? Breby (?Breda)
Patrick Brown, 2d.
John Galloway, 2d. I736.
Will Hall, 2d. 1736
Sam Mackie, silver 3d. 1736.
Thomas Rea, 3d, 7736.
James Templeton, 2d. 1736.
John Cochrane, 3d, 1736.
John Stewart, 2d. 1735.
Fran McMinn, 7d. 1760.
John McCully, 2d. 1761.


1. W. I. Davis, The Nineteenth Century Token Coinage of Great Britain, Ireland Tit, (ha annel Islands and the Isle of Man, to which are added Tokens of over One Penny Value of any Period, 1904, pp. 212-39, Remains the standard listing and also illustrates many of the pieces. More accessible might be: P. J. Seaby, Coins and Tokens of Ireland, 1971, which is a little less full, however.
2. R. Ruding. Annals of the Coinage of Great Britain and its Dependencies, 3rd ed., 1840, Vol. 11, p. 68.
3. Ruding, op, cit., pp. 75-76.
4. J. Simon, An Essay towards an Historical Account of Irish Coins and of the Currency of Foreign Monies in Ireland, 1749, pp. 176-179.
5. A rap is a light-weight forgery, probably of crude manufacture.
6. J. Lindsay, A View of the Coinage of Ireland, 1839, p. 61.
7. Quoted by Ruding, op. cit., p. 73.
8. Although a number of proclamations were issued setting the value of foreign gold and silver coins in Ireland, none exists for this date. As the price of gold was shifting, the value given here was arrived at by calculation.
9. Ruding, op. cit., p. 73.
10. James McCall, was a Dublin brazier who issued a series of tokens dated 1728, 1729 and 1731 (with a trial-piece dated 1724), with a fixed profit margin calculated at 16%
11. Ruding, op. cit., p. 73.
12. J. Craig, The Mint, 1953, pp. 410-22.
13. Simon, op. cit., pp. 74-77.
14. Belfast News Letter, 16 February 1739 and 13 March 1739, for example.
15. MS pedigree of the Smyth family, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, T.1035/3.
16. G. D. Burtchaell and T. L. Sadleir, Alumni Dublinenses, new ed., 1935, lists an Edward Smyth who appears to be the man under discussion, who entered Trinity College, Dublin in 1708 and was recorded as being fifteen.
17. Pers. comm. Mr. C. Wisdom, History of the Irish Parliament Project, to whom thanks are due for his interest and assistance.
18. I should like to record my gratitude to Dr. John Green of the Institute of Irish Studies, Queen's University of Belfast, who kindly searched his index of the Belfast News-Letter and provided almost all the references to that source given here, and many more. My view of Smyth benefitted greatly from this assistance.
19. Belfast News Letter, 8 July 1768.
20. Op. cit., 7 September 1756.
21. E. Ellis and P. B. Eustace, Registry of Deeds Dublin, Abstract of Wills, Vol. III, 1785-1832, 1984, pp. 59-61.
22. P.R.O.N.I., T.1035/5
23. P.R.O.N.I., D.577/32,33,34.
24. Abstract of will, op. cit.
25. Belfast News-Letter, 10 March 1775.

Robert Heslip is Assistant Keeper in the Department of Local History in the Ulster Museum, with special responsibility for the numismatic collections. His special interest is the use of museum specimens as historical sources.