A mate of mine had attempted to have a big clear out of his house, loft, allotment and garage, to de-clutter. There were several attempts actually. Each time he succeeded, after going through everything, in only shuffling everything around, or tidying it up, unable to part with anything. To be fair, on his first attempt, he did end up with a big box of stuff to get rid of, but on closer inspection it contained his wife’s possessions, a fact which did not go unnoticed by his bemused wife.
I guess we all go through this shedding process now and then, especially as we get older. But it’s tough getting rid of things which have memories or special people attached to them, even if we never get these things out of the loft, garage or shed. It can be anything: unfashionable ornaments, broken toys, old school reports, the single piece of embarrassing pottery I made in the 3rd year of secondary education, old magazines you never quite got around to reading, Christmas and birthday cards, kids paintings, the detritus of abandoned hobbies, various uniforms, art projects, boxes of ancient leggo, grandmas cheese grater, etc.
Then there are the things you think other people might make good use of one day, and the good things you have got from them, and never used.
Parting with them is too difficult so we quietly leave it for the next generation to deal with it, to take to the tip or charity shop, or to make it available to the rest of the family. And all they say is “Why did he/she hang onto all this junk for so long?” or ‘They moved three times and took all this crap with them each time!”
But then something happened to harden my mate’s resolve. He and his wife (still), who had been talking about moving for years, put in an offer on a house in Wales, the country of his wife’s birth. Suddenly they were on a count-down to leave Yorkshire.
Almost immediately we all received emails from my mate containing lists of items we might like to have. Good stuff too. And I’m not saying that just because it was free. I ended up with a working pillar drill, a large roll of chicken wire, and several camping mats. If this was junk, it was high quality junk. I resisted on several other excellent items, which I’m very proud of.
Then a few days later, late one evening, there was an email from him saying that he’d called at my place earlier, but that I was out, and he had left something I might like around the back, hidden in my electric box. I have to admit that I approached the electric box with some trepidation.
Inside the electric box was an old recycled white envelope, loosely secured with tape. Once back indoors I tipped the contents onto my table. Out fell three old coins, two in plastic sleeves and the third in an impressive presentation case, bearing the words ‘The Henbury Beekeepers Assoc’n, 1905’.
These three items fell out of the envelope
But these were not ordinary coins. It turns out, after closer scrutiny and research that they were not coins at all, but they initially appeared to be so when they dropped out of the envelope. I used to collect coins when I was a kid and they looked just like old coins to me.
I was immediately fascinated by them.
A quick look at them revealed each had bee hives and bees on their reverse side. They looked like they were beekeepers coins. I didn’t even know beekeepers had coins. Each coin seemed to have a different purpose but all shared the universal beekeepers symbols of a bee hive. For the older coins the hive depicted was a skep on a low wooden platform, a symbol now largely forgotten, and for the modern beekeepers of 1905 an unfamiliar framed hive on a post.
Unusual hive on a post. Any ideas which hive this is?
So what are these if they aren’t coins?
The 1st COIN
The first coin, 50mm in diameter, was in a nice presentation box. I already owned a coin like this, in my childhood coin collection, a coin commemorating the death of Winston Churchill. Hardly worth anything but it was the pride of my modest collection (and still is). I was excited to see what was inside this particular well made presentation box.
The coin inside was of very high quality, and was awarded in 1905 to a beekeeper from Henbury and District Beekeepers Association, to a certain Mrs Waller. Henbury, I discovered, is a small town north of Bristol.
‘Awarded to Mrs Waller
For second highest number of points
Aug 2nd 1905’
The official definition of a coin is something which represents currency. The contents did not represent any form of currency (unless pride could be classed as a currency) and so the contents should be more correctly described as a medal. So this was not a coin!
‘The Henbury and District Beekeepers Association’
The medal (not a coin) was awarded for accumulating the second highest number of points. Frustratingly it doesn’t say what the points were awarded for, but clearly beekeepers in 1905 were very competitive, and liked to score points against one another. I wonder what first prize was? I don’t think Henbury and District Beekeepers Association was short of a few quid as the coin was struck by P Vaughton & Sons at the Gothic Works, Birmingham, a company which was, (and still is) striking high quality medals and coins.
Sadly Henbury Beekeepers Association no longer exists and I couldn’t find any references to it on the internet. Does anyone know anything about its history, or about Mrs Waller?
The 2nd COIN
The second specimen, 29mm in diameter, a pretend halfpenny (not strictly a technical term), was struck on behalf of Donald and Co. of 29 Bull Street, Birmingham in 1792.
I thought the word ‘coin’ would be appropriate in this case as it had been created specifically to represent currency. I turns out I was wrong on this one too.
Donald and Co., 29 Bull Street, Birmingham
Even though it can be used as a coin it isn’t one because a coin is more correctly defined as something which represents currency but is issued by a government or governing body. This ‘coin’ was issued by Donald and Co. of Birmingham. Currency issued by private organisations, companies, institutions or private groups is more correctly known as a ‘trade token’ or ‘barter token’.
So not a coin either!
‘Trade tokens’ or ‘barter tokens’, which are largely unknown to us in the 21st century, have been common for many centuries. Trade tokens fulfilled the same purpose as official currency, and amazingly many governments recognised trade tokens as valid currency, acknowledging their value to a healthy economy.
The practice of issuing trade tokens was begun in the medieval period, and by monks, but was then adopted by other trading organisations. They provided trusted currency when governments were incapable of doing so, particularly small value coinage useful to most of the population. They could be inflation proof, and were not very attractive to your standard criminal. There were many good reasons for using ‘trade tokens’ in place of the government issued currency.
The history of ‘trade tokens’ is fascinating, and its importance of trade token currency in the economic development of the modern world is largely unknown, and greatly undervalued. There’s even a thing called ‘Tokenomics’.
The practice of using ‘trade tokens’ continues today in a small way, but now that we have proper, sufficient and trusted coinage ‘trade tokens’ don’t appear in most of our lives, let alone in our pockets and purses. However slot machine tokens are a modern equivalent and more recently ‘bit coins’ are digital versions of ‘trade tokens’, so they are still out there if you take the trouble to look.
(Interestingly the word ‘token’ is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word ‘tacen’ which means a symbol or sign.)
This trade token was the equivalent of a modern day gift voucher, though infinitely more interesting. I think this particular one was probably handed out to potential first time buyers, to be redeemed on the first purchase. It says on the coin ‘promissory halfpenny’, and ‘payable at Nottingham’.
But there are two mysteries associated with this particular trade token.
Firstly Donald and Co. are not suppliers of beekeepers equipment as I initially thought. Closer inspection revealed that they were manufacturers of stockings.
So why did they proudly display the beekeepers symbol on the reverse side of their tokens? Were they hoping to sell stockings to beekeepers? It seems like a bit of a niche market.
The second mystery is even more confusing. This particular halfpenny ‘trade token’ was struck by a company based in, and trading from Birmingham, but redeemable in Nottingham, not in Birmingham.
‘Payable at Nottingham’?
What’s going on here then? What was happening in Nottingham in 1792 that stocking manufacturers from Birmingham might be attracted to? This is a very unusual trade token. Are there any historians in Nottingham who can tell us what was going on there in 1792? An exhibition perhaps, a trade fair, a market, a beekeepers fest, a stocking fetish convention, what?
Bull Street is now a very up market and modern street in the heart of Birmingham.
The 3rd COIN
This one is very small, 22mm in diameter, and of poor quality, is undated, and is a New Years gift. It says ‘Keep Sake’ on the coin which leaves you in no doubt as to its purpose.
New Years keep sake.
As it does not match the official definition off a ‘coin’ it cannot be called so. Neither does it match the definition of a ‘trade token’ as does not represent a currency. This is a ‘gift token’. Not a coin either then!
So what’s it for?
Greetings cards are available today, for every event, but there was a time, not so long ago, when greetings cards didn’t exist, when insufficient numbers of the population were literate enough to support such a custom. Sending cards was a Victorian invention, and a product of increased literacy (better education), a cheap and efficient postal service, economic relocation of labour (parting of friends and families), and the invention of the postcard. (Greetings cards were all originally post cards, not folded cards in an envelope. That’s why they are called ‘cards’.)
Here are a couple of examples:
On the back of many post cards you will find a message but no address as they were passed by hand. Clearly people liked the idea of greetings cards.
Prior to greetings cards people had other means of conveying their thoughts, wishes and emotions, through gifts and foods. There were possibly nationally favourite customs but undoubtedly local ones too. Here’s an example. In parts of Yorkshire, when somebody died, it was the custom for the family of the deceased to bake large, elaborately decorated, funeral biscuits flavoured with caraway. These were hand delivered by a family member, or close friend of the family, to every household who knew the deceased. The biscuit served three purposes. The first purpose was to inform everyone that an individual was dead, the second was to invite them to the funeral, and the third was to bring them immediate comfort because caraway had a reputation, at least in the north of England, as being a calmer of distressed people. The invitation was edible. (In the NW of England and Cumbria they ate ‘Wiggs’ at funerals, sweet bread buns flavoured with caraway.)
Today we would post the news in a newspaper and then send cards of condolence. The funeral biscuits didn’t require literacy.
So this little coin was handed between beekeepers, as a celebration of the New Year, and is undated so that it can be recycled each year, perhaps many times during the same year, many times over a period of a few days as people bumped into one another and wished each other ‘Happy New Year’. Eventually it would be put away, and kept for next year. Infinitely recyclable before greeting cards were invented.
I’ve tried to find out more about this coin on the internet but can find no information at all so I don’t even know when it was struck. As it carries the older beekeepers symbol, a skep, it would be reasonable to suppose it was created sometime in the 1800’s.
So three fascinating beekeepers curiosities, each with a different purpose and history, and possibly from three different centuries. One was a prize, another an unusual ‘trade token’, and the third was a predecessor to the greetings card.
Who even knew that beekeepers had their own coins?
If you have any information regarding these curiosities and their history I would be very pleased to add it here.
p.s. Do you have any other beekeepers ‘coins’ or curiosities?