Money tokens ‘lost during panic of Great Fire of London in 1666’ could sell for thousands at auction

Posted on 04/05/2021 in Press Coverage

Money tokens thought to have been lost during the chaos of The Great Fire of London in 1666 are expected to sell for thousands of pounds at auction.

They’re among hundreds of 17th Century trade tokens from Kent, painstakingly collected by one man over the course of 35 years. The entire single-owner collection is expected to fetch between £15,000-£20,000 at Hansons Auctioneers in May.

Around a quarter of the 360 tokens up for auction display the year 1666. Some of these were found on the banks of London’s River Thames. Several were dug up by lifelong collector Roger Green or by fellow members of the Society of Thames Mudlarks and Antiquarians.

Alan Smith, head of Hansons’ Historica department, thinks finding so many tokens from 1666 around the banks of the River Thames is no coincidence. He said: “During the panic and chaos of The Great Fire of London, the Thames offered water to quell the flames and a means of escape by boat. In the panic, it’s likely many of these tiny trading tokens flew out of pockets and bags. At the time, tokens were used as currency in London as no small-value coins were being minted by the government.

“To enable them to do business, traders pressed their own farthing or half-penny tokens to give as change. They could be spent locally and were widely used between 1648 and 1673.”

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The Great Fire of London raged from September 2-6, 1666. It gutted the medieval City of London, destroyed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St Paul’s Cathedral and most City authority buildings. It’s estimated that 70,000 of the city’s 80,000 inhabitants lost their homes.

Mr Green, a lifelong collector of everything from stamps to beer mats, has built up an academic interest in tokens and agrees that the Great Fire could well have played its part in the number of 1666 tokens found around the River Thames. He finds trade token history fascinating and concentrated on sourcing Kent trading tokens as he originates from the county.

He said: “I started collecting coins but gradually moved to tokens. I find them more interesting as they’re personal to the people who issued and used them. I joined the Society of Thames Mudlarks and Antiquarians in 1985. River digging opened a whole new area and over the years I managed to find quite a few tokens, mostly from London and Southwark but also from other areas of the country.

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“One of my most prized tokens is from Erith, an area of south-east London only a mile or so from where I used to live. It was found at Billingsgate in London and was my reward for a particularly arduous dig.Tokens from the river are usually in good condition as they’re in a sealed layer of silt which preserves them from the ravages of time.

“Now I’ve decided it’s time to let my collection go. I’m getting older and have fewer opportunities to add new pieces. Also, as I now live in Dorset, the draw of Kent pieces is not so strong.

“I have my grandma to thank for my passion for collecting. She bought me an album and packet of foreign stamps when I was eight. I found these fascinating and learned much about the world.For me, the 17th century is a particularly fascinating period as it was the time of the English Civil War and then the Commonwealth before a return to the monarchy. I hope the sale of my tokens will inspire others to enjoy collecting them.

Mr Smith said: “This token collection is impressive. We hear about Bitcoin and a cashless society but finding new ways to trade and pay for items is nothing new. Hundreds of years ago, people came up with innovative ways to do just that.”

The Roger Green Tokens Collection will be sold in Hansons Auctioneers’ May 21-22 Historica Auction at Hansons, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire, DE65 6LS. Entries invited until May 7. To find out more or arrange a free valuation, email: [email protected].