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Tradesmen’s Tokens

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The Tradesmen’s Token series of images caught my eye when looking through todays Flickr set Images from the 19th Century.  There’s a humourous story surrounding them as written about in this excerpt from The Gentlemen’s Magazine – Volume 31 – March 1849 page 248:

TRADESMEN’S TOKENS.
No.1.

THE MOTHER RED CAP IN HOCKLEY HOLE.

MR URBAN,

FEW of your antiquarian readers are unacquainted with the small “Tradesmen’s Tokens” current in the seventeenth century. During the period of the Protectorate and the Restoration they abounded, and the necessities of the time gave them an extensive local circulation. The earliest known date is 1648; in 1672 they were suppressed by royal ordinance; and, if we may judge from dates, the largest numbers appear to have been issued in 1665 and 1666, the period of the “greate fyre” and the plague. Pinkerton has spoken of these pieces with the utmost scorn, disdaining them as utterly unworthy of notice; but we are not of those who yield to the dictum of that learned pedant. Many of them are of very neat workmanship, and interesting as illustrative of costume and heraldry; others are of a political or satirical character, while some describe trades and occupations, a few of which are now obsolete; to say nothing of them as records of old localities, and the orthographical designation of towns, buildings, and streets, now swept away by the ruthless hand of time, the great fire, and the no less devastating march of modern improvement. As illustrative of old London, they abound in interest.

The Token delineated above, which we have selected for illustration, was issued by the master of a tavern or public-house at Hockley in the Hole, in the county of Bedford.

The “sign” is one that dates from the period of the Reformation. Not only were learning and argument then employed in exposing the fallacies of the Popish system; but, in the fierce contentions of the time, scurrility and buffoonery were resorted to, as auxiliaries well adapted for prejudicing the common people. The conclave of cardinals was irreverently designated as a ‘set of old women’, and hence “Old Mother Red Cap” became a popular sign with the vulgar and the profane.

George Hall may have been a Puritan, and probably intended the device on his token to convey a sly sarcasm on the orders of the Popish priesthood. There is considerable ingenuity in the pictorial management of the device. If Popery were in the ascendant, the publican might aver that his token represented merely a tapster with the symbols of his occupation in his hands. On the other hand, the sign might be regarded, as it was obviously intended to be, as a caricature of a cardinal bearing the elements of the Eucharist. Transubstantiation was one of the points most fiercely contested.

Yours, &c. B. N.

* Mr. J. Y. Akerman has now in the press a work on the “Tradesmen’s and Tavern-Tokens of London in the Seventeenth Century,” which promises to be of considerable antiquarian and historical interest.

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There are more in this series, so keep a watchful eye out for follow up postings.

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