Artifact of the Day for May 7th, 2018 — (Another) 1852 Half-Penny Token

Today’s artifact of the day was a very surprising find! Almost exactly a year ago, we found another 1852 Half-Penny Token. I won’t repeat all the interesting information found in that post, but continue with some other interesting background to this coin.

The pound was divided into 240 pence, 60 of which, or 120 half-pence, were nominally equal to one dollar. In Canada, due to the coin shortage, these were represented by the only Canadian coins known at the time, which were these copper tokens issued by certain banks. By 1854, there was a lot of legislative grumbling about if a decimal currency should be adopted, and what changes to the system would arise from the switch.

Coins and currency were touchy subjects, as demonstrated in this passage from a comment in the appendix to the thirteenth volume of the Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, which summarises the first session of the 5th Provincial Parliament of Canada from 5th September 1854 to 30th May 1855:

“Mr. Adam Ainslie, of Galt, complains (see his reply to the Committee’s Circular) that our progress in currency matters is slow. It is but a few years since, in the British Exchequer, the perplexing and barbarous custom in use before the Norman Conquest, of keeping the Accounts by Roman numbers, was steadily upheld. Now, however, Arabic numerals and the English tongue are permitted. Mr. Ainslie (see his answer, page 54) is of opinion, that, “While every petty state in Europe, and Republic in South America, can boast of a Currency of its own, it is at once marvellous and humiliating to think that a country filling so large a space in the Map of the World as Canada, possessed of a soil so fertile, such boundless and valuable forests, such magnificent inland seas, such noble rivers, such illimitable water power, such an extensive commerce, and containing such an enterprising and energetic population, with powers of self-government, should not (with the exception of the Penny-token of the Upper Canada Bank, and the Sou de Bas-Canada) have a single coin, it can call its own.”

I am struck while reading this of the colonial mindset of the Euro-Canadian settlers, who have broken the land down into resources to be consumed and land to be taken. In 1852, Charles Perry had bought the land that would make up the Nassau Mills complex. In 1854, when the above debate was taking place was when Perry’s Red Mill at Nassau first fired up its saws, the rushing Otonabee both the source of the motive power for the gang saws and also the vehicle to get the timber down from the highlands.

The fact then that this token, part of a larger economic system based on extraction and exploitation of Canadian resources was not “our own” is a reminder that the ties of globalism stretch deep into the past.

1852 Half-Penny Token
1852 Half-Penny Token

This particular coin, unlike the other one we found last year, is in coin alignment, which means the face and obverse are facing different directions. That means that this coin was struck at Heaton’s Mint in Birmingham, UK, whereas our other token was struck at the Royal Mint in London. Another interesting thing you will notice is that this coin has been pierced, probably because it was on a chain or string as a lucky piece. Unlucky for the person who lost it, but lucky for us!

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