John Wilkinson’s Token Weights


In Preparation - Ignore the text underneath for now.



1787-1793 Wilkinson’s Copper Tokens

A Token Profit?


1787-1793 Wilkinson’s Copper Tokens

Since the Government was not issuing small denomination coins, there was a dire shortage of money to meet demand for wages as spending money for workers who were earning only a very few shillings per week.  At this time Wilkinson employed over a thousand workers.[22]  Silver coins of small value were impracticably minute. Wilkinson had encouraged his friend Thomas Williams to issue his Anglesey tokens for the same practical reason as well as the fact that Williams needed another tonnage market for his copper.  Wilkinson started ordering tokens for himself very shortly afterwards. 

 In 1781, Francis and Samuel Garbett, friends of Boulton, had undertaken an officially commissioned report on shortage of coinage.  Boulton had to wait more than ten years for the contract so turned to other orders such as the Parys Mines token (‘Druids’ – after the effigy on the obverse) and Wilkinson tokens[23] (‘Willeys’ – because of where they were redeemable).

 The tokens all bore the effigy of Wilkinson on the obverse.  One design shows his hair tied back and showing two buttons of his coat.  Some later tokens showed him with extra sets of curls to his wig and with three buttons displayed. 

 The reverse of each token celebrated one or more of his achievements.  Some are:       

The interior of a hammer shop with forgemaster using tongs to support work being struck.

A nude figure of Vulcan seated on a low anvil with hammer raised to strike metal on a higher anvil.  In the background is part of a sailing vessel.

A two masted sailing ship, possibly a Swansea Copper Boat.

Most genuine tokens have been edge rolled with the inscription that covers the towns where the tokens could be redeemed:  ‘WILLEY SNEDSHILL BERSHAM BRADLEY’. 

The Wilkinson obverse was used with many other reverses by different mints to make a wide variety of forgeries or ‘mules’.[24]  Sometimes the obverse was wrongly struck with spellings such as ‘Wilkenson’ and ‘Wilkison’.  The standard classification of tokens of this age is by Dalton and Hamer and there are well over a hundred ‘D&H’ numbers covering Wilkinson token varieties, forgeries and mules. 

 From the start the classification of the tokens was confused, being allocated to Warwickshire.  Since then there have been many articles written covering the topic and it is difficult to know what to believe!  They remain some of the best known and collected examples of tokens and continue to ensure that the branding of himself that John Wilkinson initiated will never be lost.

A Token Profit?

It is not easy to show whether Wilkinson made a profit on issuing his tokens.  To do so it would be necessary to know:

Cost of production

Cost of distribution

Profit on sales

Less redemption costs

Promotional value

The promotional value came from the fact that Wilkinson’s image was on every token, an intentional, useful spin-off.  The number of contemporary forgeries made might have increased his redemption costs. 

 Janet Butler quotes his specification as 36 tokens per pound weight.  This seems to have applied only from 1790.  All of the issues, from 1787 through to 1795, featured Wilkinson's portrait facing right.[25].  Boulton was able to supply the tokens to better reproducibility by striking between dies fitted with a collar that retained the diameter accurately.  They were edge rolled with the legend: ‘WILLEY SNEDSHILL BERSHAM BRADLEY’.  Steam driven presses were used for standard tokens from 1789 and die collars could be used in steam presses from the Autumn of 1790.[26]  Many tons were ordered, initially from Boulton and later from Westwood.

 The 1790 Vulcan token was struck at 15cwt/week from Westwood to a total of 206,000 tokens.  Seeing products from the opposition, Boulton commented to Wilkinson that he should have all tokens struck in collars.  However, on December 11th 1790, Wilkinson complained to Boulton that the halfpence were four in the pound less in number than those which Westwood used to make for him.[27]  In 1791 he was ordering tokens by the ton from both Westwood and Boulton.  The 1792 Vulcan issue numbered 103,000 tokens.  Hancock struck the tokens that have Vulcan in reverse.[28]  If the Westwood tokens were struck without the use of collars it might mean that some tokens without the edge legend ‘WILLEY SNEDSHILL BERSHAM BRADLEY’ are genuine rather than fakes.

 One calculation has been around for some time: [29],[30]

Tokens at 32 to the pound weight,

Value 2/8d[31] against a

Mint contract for striking at 1/11d per pound

Profit 9d /lb,

Return on capital approx. 40% 

 It is not clear where the costings came from but it is very unlikely that anyone, even John Wilkinson, could have got away with making a profit of 40% selling tokens! 

 There were initial plans to issue tokens to the value of one penny but none was officially issued.  Certainly the initial specification was for 32 tokens to the pound but the value would have been 1/4d which would have shown a loss of 5d per pound, equally unlikely. 

 Collected tokens have been weighed to check conformance to original specification.  While ‘mint’ ones are not available, an effort was made to ensure that the sample tokens were not unduly worn.  There was a check that sufficient detail still remained in the effigy.  If it was not possible to count the number of buttons on Wilkinson’s coat the weight was not included.  The numbers in the boxes are the sample sizes.

[1] Dickinson and Jenkins, p44.

[2] Dickinson and Jenkins p236.

[3] Butler.

[4] J R Harris ‘The Copper King’.

[5]  Harris p60.

[6] Selgin Ch2 p27.

[7] Butler.

[8]   Harris p 61 quoting a letter from Boulton to Watt dated 22nd July 1785.

[9] Harris p69.

[10] Harris p88.

[11] Hamilton, p179.

[12] Barton, p38.

[13] Butler.

[14] British Parliamentary Papers.

[15] Butler.

[16] Butler p367.

[17] Butler p367.

[18] Three publications, see: LeMay, Pearce and Copper Development Association Book No 29.

[19] CDA No 29 frontispiece.

[20] Randall, J. Madeley p85.

[21] CDA No 29 p39.

[22] Selgin Ch1 p3.

[23] Harris p88.

[24] ‘Mules’ are tokens struck from dies where the obverse and reverse were not originally intended to match.

[25] Dell, John, Victoria Numismatic Society,

[26] Selgin Ch2 p5.

[27] Turner, Wayne.

[28]  Dell, John,


[29] Turner, Wayne.



[31] Two shillings and eight pence of pre-decimal money, just over half a crown (2/6d), now equivalent to 13p.

Graphs of Token Weights - Illustration

In Preparation



This plot shows the average weight of tokens issued for each year. 

The red .. ones are Wilkinson’s,

the green .. are Anglesey tokens and

the mauve .. ones are from Shrewsbury. 

The numbers in the boxes show the sample size.  Clearly the specified weight of each token diminishes with time.  The ‘Willeys’ and ‘Druids’ seem to follow the same trend downwards in weight with others.  What is not clear is the reason.

This augmented chart shows the first data compared with the price of rolled copper for each year.  Obviously the makers are economising on copper well ahead of the rise in price.  For comparison, the brown block .. given for 1797 represents half of the weight of the ‘Cartwheel’ penny produced by Boulton when he eventually obtained the Government contract.  This was based on a fair weight of copper per coin – one ounce for one penny, two ounces for the tuppence.  Boulton was happy with that price despite the much higher cost of the copper so the tokens issued during the 1790-1794 period must have netted quite a profit for either the mint or the customer or both.   

A supportive epigram on John Wilkinson’s Copper Money was published in ‘London Magazine’ in 1787. (see Bell, quoted by Uglow[1] and most other main articles on the tokens.) 

So, Wilkinson, from this example,

Gives of himself a matchless sample!

And bids the Iron monarch pass

Like his own metal wrapt in brass!

Which shows his modesty and sense,

And how, and where he made his pence!

As iron when ‘tis brought in taction,

Collects the copper by attraction.

So, thus, in him, twas very proper

To stamp his brazen face on Copper. 

This commented on the fact that normally only the monarch’s effigy was to be seen on coinage or tokens.  Thomas Williams had used a symbolic druid.  Perhaps it did imply that, besides being an iron master, he was also a Copper King. 













































































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