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Steel dies

On display in Kendal Museum are two steel dies which were used for manufacturing tokens for the Mercers’ Company in Kendal in 1657

There are very few examples of seventeenth century token dies in existence today. The designs for the tokens were devised to identify the issuer of the tokens. On one die there are the arms of the Mercers’ Company together with the inscription ‘Mercers Company in Kendal’.

On the other die is a shield of four quarters with, in the first and fourth quarters, three spindles, and the second and third quarters, three wool hooks. The arms were adopted by the Corporation of Kendal and appear on Corporation silver with the motto ‘pannus mihi panis’ – meaning ‘cloth is my bread’. Above the shield on the token are the letters KK, short for Kirkby Kendal, and to the left and right is the date 1657.

The view on the right shows the whole of the one of the dies, the other two images show the dies from above.

Unofficial trade tokens were produced in great abundance in England between 1649 and 1672. They provided the small change that was necessary for the day to day commercial and social activities of the town and village traders, companies and local authorities at a time when the government was issuing official coinage only in gold and silver. It has been estimated that over seventeen thousand varieties of tokens may have been issued in England and Wales in the 17th century.

The museum has twelve examples of tokens from the Mercers’ Company in Kendal which was probably one of the towns most common tokens. The tokens of Kendal’s companies and traders reflect most clearly the dominance of the wool and cloth industry in Kendal at that time.

The method of production for the tokens was probably as follows: the dies were mounted in a timber frame screw press, and the blanks of metal, probably in the form of a strip or square plate, were fed in between the dies, which were then pressed together. The resulting tokens were then cut out into their present, usually circular, form. The majority of tokens were struck in brass but copper was also used.

Both sides of a finished token having been cut into a circle.