Anglesey Pennies

Monday 21 January 2013, 16:41

Phil Carradice Phil Carradice

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Most people are aware that in 1968 the Royal Mint was relocated to a new building at Llantrisant in Glamorgan. Minting coins at the new plant began shortly afterwards, and the old Royal Mint at Tower Hill in London produced its last coins in 1975.

However, the association between Wales and the minting of coins, copper coins in particular, goes back a lot further than the early 1970s. The production and use of Anglesey Pennies in the late 18th century was probably the first time that privately produced "tokens" were used in Britain during the Industrial Revolution. As such they remain a rare and lasting piece of social history.

By the mid 1780s copper pennies were scarce since the Royal Mint had stopped producing them in 1775. With wages low throughout industrial Britain, this presented a serious problem for mine, coal and cotton factory owners as pennies were in great demand for the workers' pay packets.

Thomas Williams, the owner of the Parys Mountain Copper Works at Amlwch on Anglesey, was clear that his workforce desperately needed these small denomination coins. Consequently, in 1787, he produced a number of privately minted pennies for use by his workers.

The Anglesey Pennies were, appropriately enough, made of copper with the company logo - PMC (Parys Mining Company) - on one side and the head of a druid, surrounded by oak leaves, on the other. There was also a motto - "We promise to pay the bearer one penny" - to remind everyone, workers and shop keepers alike, that these pieces of metal were not official coinage but tokens.

The scheme was a huge success and before long all of the miners at Parys Mountain were being paid with the tokens, Anglesey Druids as they were sometimes known. Indeed, so successful was the use of these small coins that in 1788, the year after the penny was introduced, it was decided to add halfpennies to the system.

Anglesey Pennies were not the first tokens to be used during the Industrial Revolution. The first were probably the ones made for Colonel Mordaunt's cotton mill, known as Halsall Pennies, but they were never in such wide use as those at Amlwch.

It would be good to think that, by introducing his Anglesey Pennies, Thomas Williams was operating out of pure altruism. There was undoubtedly an element of this in his actions but the sales of copper were, by 1787, beginning to slow down and selling "Druids" to other industrialists was a great way of increasing turnover. At this distance it is hard to know the truth.

Williams died in 1802 and by 1811 the copper works at Parys Mountain were in the hands of the Earl of Uxbridge and the Vivian family of Swansea. Deep mining replaced the shallow opencast mining of the previous regime and by the end of the Napoleonic Wars output from Amlwch had increased by over half. There was no longer any need to pay workers in small denomination coins and the use of the Anglesey Druids gradually fell away.

In 1821 the privately minted coins were made illegal. Since then they have survived only in museums and in the hands of private collectors.

It has been estimated that about 200 tons of pennies and fifty tons of halfpennies were produced at Amlwch - other industrialists simply added to the tally. It was a remarkable piece of Welsh, or even British, social history that has now been largely forgotten.

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