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JOHN WILKINSON AND THE BRITISH TRADE TOKEN

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John Wilkinson Trade Token

                          ^John Wilkinson British Trade Token

 

ARCHIVE STORY: John Wilkinson's English Trade Token The Wilkinson Token.

 

JOHN WILKINSON & the British Trade Token.

 

 The British industrialist, the iron master John Wilkinson better known and labelled as 'Iron Mad' John Wilkinson, (1728-1808) inventor of the Wilkinson Trade Token, was a hugely successful British industrialist whose industrial innovations and foresight in the 1700's was to shape society and forge the industrial revolution in Britain itself.

Portrait of John Wilkinson Artist Unknown.

Portrait of John Wilkinson Artist Unknown.

Portrait of John Wilkinson
 

John Wilkinson and the British Trade Token

 

BIOGRAPHY AND STORY OF JOHN WILKINSON

 

 

 John - Iron Mad Wilkinson, was born the son of a poor foundry man Isaac Wilkinson, who worked in the furnace room at the Backbarrow Foundry  in Cumbria, England. Founder, John Wilkinson learned at an early age, the science and  potential of pouring molten metal into moulds, working alongside his father in the searing heat of the furnace room.

Though he realised the limitations of smelting with furnaces heated by coke which produced poor grade iron, it was down to him, the industrial innovator Wilkinson to help solve these problems with more and more effective bellows systems later in his career.

An incredibly ambitious man, John Wilkinson rapidly transited through the ranks of worker up to the management of a number of ironworks, until partnerships beckoned and John Wilkinson 'the boss' emerged.

 

 Innovator is an excellent word with which to tar John Wilkinson. He was a man who saw potential in metal all around him and with the industrial revolution full tilt, Wilkinson became the first to build a large steel transporter barge called the Trial,  to ply the new British canal systems, being built to carry massive loads of coal and clay throughout the industrial Midlands. Wilkinson devised numerous new applications for iron apart form building machinery and cylinders used to fire the industrial revolution itself. It's interesting to note some of the Wilkinson Iron made innovations:

At Ironbridge, a foundry owned by his father Isaac Wilkinson, himself a founder, canon from iron were cast, which was by far a much cheaper material than the traditional bronze from which cannons had been made previously. These rifled firearms made of iron, were both innovative and successful, so too were the Wilkinson made iron tubes, Wilkinson's obsession for everything iron included iron coffins, even one for himself that was never used and even an iron obelisk.

Wilkinson also manufactured the boring machine which became essential to the manufacture of James Watt’s steam engine.

The rest as they say is history.

 

 John Wilkinson became a formidable part of a remarkable trio of British industrialists which included the scientist and inventor of the steam engine James Watt  and the father of Birmingham, Matthew Boulton who owned the Soho mint.

These three great men were the leading lights of British industry and were appropriately called the Steam Engine Parliament.

The financier, Boulton, took on the role of business executive and entrepreneur, whilst naturally James Watt continued with his scientific developments, leaving Wilkinson as manufacturer and developer, honing with ever greater precision the great  engines, cylinders and machinery of the industrial north.

 

 John Wilkinson owned and ran an industrial Empire of vast foundries, blast furnaces and iron works throughout Britain. Each producing a vast array of goods, pipe work, weapons, rolling stock, wheels and machinery and it was to him that countless thousands of workers relied on for his employ.

His innovative brain clicked into gear again, this time as Wilkinson the retailer, with John opening shops called Tommy shops for his ironworkers, brick makers and potters throughout industrial England where the story of the Wilkinson Trade Token begins.

 

 A ruthless British businessman, John Wilkinson was in one, a tender man of charity and a miserly Scrooge. Wilkinson was also both a lovable and less lovable rogue rolled into one with a widespread reputation for womanising,  upheld by his three children all being born out of wedlock to his lover.

 

 

 

The John Wilkinson Industrial Trade Token & the British Trade Token's History.

 

 Around 1775, the British government, who looked inwardly to the city of London and the south being of greater consequence than the British good, decided in their infinite wisdom to stop the minting of all copper coins.

 Things haven't changed much then!

 

This messed things up completely for the ordinary man in the street and the poorer working class of industry and agriculture, as all what we would call 'small change' was suddenly abolished. So for England where a penny was a lot of money to a working class family, its proportionate half and quarter of a penny disappeared too!

 

 Now in today's' world where this little value coinage or 'shrapnel' just weighs down your pocket or gets collected in a jar, certainly buys you next to nothing and may not matter much  to us. Back then though, in Britain's industrial heartland, it was a big, big deal and could have had grave consequences.

So in steps in the inimitable Iron Mad John Wilkinson who, seeing a hole in the market decides to make his own money, the British Trade Token  or the Wilkinson Trade Token as it was to become known and kill a number of birds with one stone.

 

 Firstly, Wilkinson could use his trade token coinage to pay his workers and the trade tokens would be redeemable in his own shops and secondly he could buy the tokens cheaply from the mint by weight and well below the face value of the token and make money on the transition.

 

 

British Trade Token History:

 The first British trade tokes appeared in 1787, minted at Boulton's Soho mint, with the face of the iron master himself depicted in a right profile, as shown above, surrounded by the words, JOHN WILKISON IRONMASTER. Around the edge of the trade token some of his factories, WILLEY, SNEDSHILL, BERSHAM and BRADLEY,
with a different design appearing on the reverse of the Trade Token each year.

 

1795 John Wilkinson Trade Token (Reverse)

Reverse, 1795 John Wilkinson Trade Token

 

 

 

<This image of a John Wilkinson Trade Token from 1793 depicts the huge drop forge in use in one of his foundries and it was used for all of his coins minted in 1787, 1788, 1790, 1792, 1793 and 1795.

 

As with all coins, trade tokens alike, the issues soon brought about forgeries, though they are easily identifiable as they often carry misspellings of Wilkinson's name and incorrect factory towns printed around there edges.

 

 This John Wikinson Trade Token , thought by its owner to be some sort of medal, is a historical treasure, a reminder of Canada's industrial roots, back in the Heart of England.

 

 

© David Freeman 2008. The Wilkinson Trade Token    Contact

                                            Photographs: Jackie Freeman Photography

 

 


 
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WEXFORD CIVIL WAR MEDAL
TOULOUS LAUTREC - ARISTADE BRUANT
CHARLOTTE BRONTE
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JOHN WILKINSON TRADE TOKEN
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Wilkinson Trade Token
THE CONSTABLE MAP
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REFERENCE: KEY WORDS ON THIS PAGE: The History of the British Trade Token or the Wilkinson Trade Token

John Wilkinson British industrialist Trade Token | Biography, photographs, Iron History & Foundry & foundries | Story finds from the Roadshow, Canada tour, 2008

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