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Topical Collections: Bears - England/Great Britain/United Kingdom

England, Half Penny, Edward III, 1327-1335, First Coinage, Berwick-on-Tweed Mint
(Uncertain legend)
Crowned, facing bust of Edward III
(Uncertain legend)
Bear heads and pellets in quadrants
13mm, 0.45g, Silver
Mintage: Unknown
Seaby 1537
Ex Calgary Coins, October 2005

Great Britain, One Penny Token, 1811, Minted by Fletcher & Sharratt
Bear seated left holding ragged staff
Legend in five lines in wreath
34mm, 18.58g, Copper
Security edge
Mintage: Unknown
Davis 101; W 1149A
Ex Classical Cash, Private Sale, March 2000

Fletcher & Sharratt were merchants selling Wine, Spirits (liquor) and Porter (a dark foamy English Malt Beer) from an establishment in Bridge Street, Walsall (in the County of Staffordshire).

They issued their own base metal coinage or "tokens", as did many other merchants and companies at the time, usually in denominations of 1 penny, 1/2 a penny (known as "ha'pence") and a Farthing (which was 1/4 of a Penny). This was done on and off from the late 1600s thru until 1817 when Government legislation put an end to private minting. There were two prime reasons why this was done......

1) A great lack of base metal currency issued during these times by the Royal (National) Mint. So many traders minted their own, and these were accepted.

2) Large companies, which employed a lot of people, like Coal Mines, Steel works, Mills, large factories, etc did this also with more of an ulterior motive....... their workers were paid at least in part with versions of these tokens which were only redeemable at stores owned by them, which were called "Truck shops" - this of course led to all kinds of abuses. Since these workers also often lived in housing owned by the Company for which they paid rent and in which they could only live as long as they worked for the Mine or the Mill or whatever, this effectively "hobbled" the workers, and made claims for better wages or conditions / or strikes, extremely difficult to organize.

Walsall - Background History as relates to use of a "Bear" on the coin token:

In 1159 King Henry II gave the Manor of "Walesala" to Herbert Ruffus - that family were Lords of the Manor of Walsall for 200 years. In 1390 the Lordship of the Manor passed to the Earls of Warwick, and it was from this association with the Earls of Warwick that Walsall took its Coat of Arms which includes the Warwick emblem of the "Bear and Ragged Staff" on top. (the "ragged staff" refers to that rough upright pole which looks like a tree trunk with the branches cut off):

The origins of the connection between the Warwick family and Bears is made in different stories - who knows what the truth is, but a heraldic Bear implies Courage and Boldness. One story is that the 1st Earl of Warwick had strangled a Bear. Another is a medieval "legend" which says that the Warwick family were descended from a Knight of King Arthur, one of whom was called Arthgal, a name associated with the word for Bear, and another Knight, Guy of Warwick, who in 926, slew a Giant with an uprooted tree - these are "legends" however.

Historical content contribution courtesy of Mikhali de la Valette Steverding, June 2001.