I HAD the pleasure recently of reading a book called ‘Salisbury’s Local Coinage’ (17th Century Trade Tokens) and I think I am right in saying that this is the only book written about these trade tokens of this particular time.

The book was written in the 1960’s by Mr Cyril Rowe who at the time was Salisbury’s deputy treasurer and to get his material, Mr Rowe made use of his own collection and those in the local museum.

There is no doubt that in researching and writing his book Mr Rowe unearthed some interesting facets of ‘Bygone Salisbury.’

Such was the state of the country after the Civil War that official minor currency was almost non-existent.

This meant considerable hardship for the poor folk to whom a farthing meant a great deal – in fact it bought two pints of beer!

The cost of living was a problem even in the early days of the 17th Century and rising prices had rendered impracticable the use of silver for a coin of lower denomination than a halfpenny which, itself, had become too tiny for convenience.

So, without any authority, Inn-Keepers (and there were more than 100 of them in the city) and certain shopkeepers and traders issued their own farthings and sometimes halfpennies of copper, brass and other base alloys in order to facilitate the giving of small change to their customers.

That some of them were made of brass rather than of silver led to an expression which is still current – “Not worth a brass farthing” and another, “Not carrying a brass farthing.”

Naturally, the only people who would honour the tokens were the particular traders who issued them and they were not acceptable elsewhere than in the city.