One penny token, minted in 1862. Issued by Fenwick Brothers, Importers & Clothiers. It features Observatory House and the Flagstaff in Flagstaff Gardens.

Melbourne Traders Tokens - History in your palm

Melbourne in the late 1840s through to the 1860s was affected by a coinage crisis. The crisis mainly related to a shortage of small change in circulation. At this time, British coinage was in use, however not enough coins were being supplied for Melbourne’s booming population and economy.

Out of necessity, savvy entrepreneurial businesses of the day began issuing trade tokens. These tokens, which were mainly made of copper, were most often the size of a penny or a half penny. The tokens promoted the businesses that produced them, thus providing free advertising and helped to create awareness of their business names within the community.

Like the British pennies circulating in Melbourne, tokens often showed the figure of Britannia or symbols of Australia and Melbourne on the reverse side. These unofficial coins proudly promoted the various businesses, such as grocers, drapers and hoteliers, which issued them. While other businesses and clients alike happily accepted them, they were barely tolerated by the government of the day, even though they provided a practical solution to the coinage crisis.

The first tokens that circulated in Melbourne and throughout Australia were imported from Birmingham, England in 1849 by the Collins Street business, Annand, Smith & Co. Family Grocers. The importation of a coinage press and blank pennies in 1854 enabled other businesses to also issue tokens. By the late 1860s after enough British pennies had been imported for circulation in Melbourne, tokens were declared illegal in Victoria, but continued to be used elsewhere in Australia.

The most prolific issuer and maker of tokens in Melbourne and Australia wide was Thomas Stoke. He was an apprenticed diesinker from Birmingham who arrived in Melbourne in 1854. In the 1860s, his company Thomas Stokes was based at 100 Collins Street East. The business became a proprietary company under the name Stokes & Son Pty Ltd in 1911. In 1962 Stokes became a public company, renamed Stokes (Australasia) Pty Ltd, with offices in Ringwood and throughout Australasia. Today the business is still thriving, making medals/tokens and has become Australia’s major manufacturer of electrical elements and a distributor of appliance spare parts.

About twenty years ago, I came across my first Melbourne traders’ token and have been fascinated with these little windows of history ever since. Often I find myself trying to locate addresses on tokens, (difficult since the street numbering has changed in the city), to see what has replaced the savvy little businesses that once issued tokens.

The enhanced photos in this article are of my own collection of Melbourne tokens - click for a larger view.

Copper one Penny Token, minted by Heaton & Sons in Birmingham, 1851. Issued by Annand Smith & Co, Family Grocers, in Collins Street, Melbourne. Annand Smith & Co issued Australia's first circulating copper tokens, on 20 October 1849.

1 comment

Kycon's picture

More of Peter every week please! This article was thoroughly an enjoyable read. Who'd knew Melbourne had a coin shortage during the gold rush era.

Back to top
My Real Estate Mate logo

Development & Planning

Friday, October 28, 2016 - 00:00
The route 11 tram not so long ago used to be known as the route 112 which ran from West Preston to St Kilda. The old 112 route was split in two (routes 11 and 12) and route 11 now runs from West Preston and terminates at Victoria Harbour in...

Policy, Culture & Opinion

Thursday, October 20, 2016 - 14:30
On Monday 24th of October, the iCities: World Class CBDs series conference kicks off. First held in Kuala Lumpur, this year's conference is to be held at the Langham Hotel on Southbank. iCities is owned and operated by iProperty Group, a network property under the REA Group umbrella brand. Over...


Visual Melbourne

Wednesday, August 31, 2016 - 17:00
Melbourne’s architectural landscape is a wonderful juxtaposition of modern and Victorian architecture. Although the CBD has been peppered with many skyscrapers, its historical structures have won Melbourne the title of “Australia’s most European city”. Perhaps the most striking example of this juxtaposition between old and new is the Coops Shot...

Transport & Design

Thursday, October 20, 2016 - 07:00
108 Leicester Street is a collection of eight multi-level Fitzroy townhouses that have been designed to respond to the changing face of multi-residential living in Melbourne. The hybrid inner-city dwellings combine developer/builder FOURSQ with Melbourne firm BKK Architects. The design acknowledges the housing typologies of the development's Fitzroy neighbourhood with...

Sustainability & Environment

Wednesday, October 5, 2016 - 00:00
The proposed new Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (MCM) on Sturt Street is shaping to become much more than a cutting edge venue. While the project has been given coverage to date across a range of mediums, very little has been said regarding the project playing an integral part in the...