The Parys mountain copper trade tokens
The industrial revolution in the last part of the 18th century brought about the need for a small coin with which to pay the workers. In 1775 the Royal Mint had issued a copper coin which was the subject of much counterfeiting. The poor quality and lack of local supply of the coin meant that by 1786 Thomas William was considering producing his own coinage with which to pay his workers.
The coin that was struck, first in 1787, was not a dull blank similar to that made by the Royal mint but an elegant copper coin. The quality of the design and minting of the coin was thought to be high as any that time Thomas Williams and his great rival Mathew Boulton were both considering approaching the King with a view to producing coins of the realm.
The observe of the coin showed a Druid’s head surrounded by a wreath of oak leaves and acorns.
Thomas Williams lived at Plas LLanidan overlooking the Menai Strait. His home was close to the battle fields of the Romans and Druids in AD61 and AD76. It is thought that this influence the design of his coin.
The reverse of the coin showed a PMC design which stood for the Parys Mining Company. The design also had the words: – “We promise to pay the bearer one penny On demand in London, Liverpool or Anglesea.”
This served as a reminder that the coins were “Trade tokens” and not official coins of the realm.
The half penny coin had a similar reverse design.
The Universal Register a London based newspaper of the time, reported in March 1787:-
” There is a new coinage now going on in the Isle of Anglesey at the great copper mines there. This coinage consists of one penny piece and not the half penny as heretofore. … It is struck upon copper and is intended only for the convenient of paying their men. The die is most beautifully conceived and executed and the intrinsic valve of the copper is nearly a penny. A Druid encircled with a wreath of oak occupies one side. The reverse has a cipher PMCo over which the letters (D) Denarius, encircled with the following words.
“We promise to pay the bearer one penny. on the outside of the rim are the words. On demand in London , Liverpool or Anglesea.”
The “D” on the coin was widely thought to mean Denarius the Roman word for Penny. However, it has also been suggested that it could be a mark of honour for John Dawes who was a partner in the Parys mining company as well as one of Thomas Williams early financiers.
Initially the blanks for these coins were cut at Thomas William’s works at Greenfield near Holywell in North Wales. They were then sent to William’s presses at Great Charles street in Birmingham to be cut and finished. It has been estimated that 250 ton of pennies and 50 tons of half pennies were struck at these works. This amounts to over 12.5 million coins. Each ton was equivalent to 35840 pennies or 71680 half pennies which is around £150.
Thomas Williams continued to mint his own coins until around 1780 when he entered into an agreement to allow Mathew Boulton to mint the coins for him.
Over the next 10 years the Thomas Williams trade tokens became widespread in there use not only in Anglesey but throughout the rest of the country. They were pressed in the Soho mint in Birmingham.
The final coins were struck by Mathew Boulton in around 1798. After this Boulton had won the contract to supply the crown with a coin of the realm and the PMC coin was discontinued.
The total amount of trade tokens recorded as being produced was around £430 ,000 a very substantial amount in the 18th Century.
There was a great deal of imitation of the tokens and many light weight forgeries were made. Some of these were minted specifically for collectors. It is thought that pennies dated 1787,1788,1790 & 1791 are genuine with all others being forgeries. For half pennies only those with dates between 1788 and 1791 are genuine. A number of farthing forgeries were also produced. For presentation to VIPs a small number of silver replicas were made by Thomas Williams. The coins were all declared illegal currency in 1817.