A good friend and great coin collector, the late John Sweeney (founder member of Offaly History who died 25 years ago), told me that the Charleville token or thirteen-penny shilling was one of the finest coins issued in the nineteenth centuryIt was not the first such token in Tullamore. That privilege belongs to a bootmaker, Robert Worrall. There is a reference to a trade token (or local coinage) issuing under the name of Robert Worrall (Worrell or Worrall), about 1670, but this so far as is known was the sole issue of a Tullamore token in the seventeenth century and is insignificant beside Birr, Athlone and Mullingar. Worrall’s token was issued to alleviate the scarcity of petty currency. Its issue would suggest that there was a degree of settlement in Tullamore by the 1670s and some forty years before the building of the army barrack (1716) which is often put forward as the catalyst for Tullamore town growth. I have never seen an example of it and hope there is one in the National Museum. Dr Moran, in his 1962 pamphlet on Tullamore, following Cooke, cites the issue of a token penny in 1670 by Robert Worrel a bootmaker, as evidence of a village ‘in Tullamoore’. If this is accepted, the fact that seven tokens were struck at Birr would confirm that it was much more developed (Boyne, Seventeenth century tokens). Even Ballyboy had two in that period (see Aquila Smith work on the subject).
The period from 1785 to 1815 was remarkable for the growth of many Irish towns and Tullamore more so than most. The completion of the canal to Tullamore in 1798, the new Catholic church of 1802 and St Catherine’s started in 1808 (completed in 1815) all were indicators of the pace of change at the time. Since the last crisis of 2007 we all know about change and that growth is not a given.
Lord Charleville, the owner of Tullamore (1764-1835) married about 1798 and had been planning his new house for some time before that. Perhaps since he came of age in 1785, the year of the ‘Balloon fire’ in the town. He had his demesne surveyed and also his town and estate lands. His house at the time of his marriage was old and had been built in 1641. He was in the money and decided to spend lavishly on a mock gothic castle to be set in a new romantic fashion according to the new ideas of the time. Nature was in and formal gardens and long and perfectly straight avenues out. It was the sturm und drang beloved by the Germans and by the Lake Poets. But how were the workers to be paid. They could not live on reciting Wordsworth. Coin was scarce and when sending notes any distance (as when paying the workers on the new Grand Canal) it was usual to cut them in half and send the money by two separate riders. A bit different to today’s credit transfers by smart phone! If you could afford it and could act as a banker with the promise to ‘pay the bearer’ at all times then do it. And why not do it well and in style and so the Charleville token issued in 1802 was one of the finest. Much better than the brassy ‘Wood’s Half-pence’ much lampooned in Dean Swift’s Drapier’s Letters (1724) and now held out as a classic episode of 18th-century sleaze, with sex and money nicely intertwined.
Almost immediately, most of the Dublin establishment was expressing its outrage. There was a widespread belief that the issuing of copper money would devalue Irish coinage and damage the local economy
To facilitate the payment of workers during the construction of the castle Lord Charleville had Matthew Boulton of the famous Soho mint strike a thirteen-penny token in 1802 because the coin in circulation in Tullamore was poor and could be counterfeited. A family connection of Bury, Frederick Trench of Heywood, Co. Laois (Queen’s County) wrote to Boulton in 1802: ‘I know he [Charleville] has a wish (as I have) to have Tokens which could not be Counterfeited, Struck off – as he is at this moment building a most splendid Gothick Residence; it would be peculiarly convenient; the [local] Silver [in] Circulation being so execrable, and worse than useless.’ (See See Whyte’s, Sale catalogue for March 2010.)
The Charleville token is now considered one of the finest of its type and much collected. An example could be seen in the Tullamore Dew Heritage Centre some years ago. Alas, we have no museum in Offaly and seem to care little for what we made over the years in the county. Even today very little, if any, local produce of a non-perishable nature is collected. Patrons are needed who will build collections for posterity. No Hans Sloane in Offaly unfortunately. But that is not quite true as this time fifty years ago the first exhibition of cultural objects related to the great telescope was put on in Birr by the sixth earl of Rosse with the help of Patrick Moore. The present earl has greatly enlarged on that with the Birr Science Museum which is a must visit if you have not already done so.
Why was it a thirteen-penny shilling? Between 1701 and the unification of the currencies in 1825, the Irish shilling was valued at 13 pence and known as the “black hog”, as opposed to the 12-pence English shillings which were known as “white hogs”.
In the 1800s the name of the town was then called Tullamoore by the Charleville family, as is depicted on the token together with the arms and supporters of Viscount Charleville and the words ‘industry shall prosper’. The token was ‘payable at Tullamoore first Tuesday in each month. One shilling and one penny.’ The use of the spelling Tullamoore seems to go back to the seventeenth century, but its use was more frequent in the time of Charles Moore, the first earl of the first creation (died 1764 childless) and was continued by his ultimate heir and grand-nephew, Charles William Bury. It went out of fashion in the 1830s with the decline in the fortunes of the second earl (who succeeded in 1835) and a growing sense of nationalism under the leadership of O’Connell. The second earl was a Conservative then out of fashion with his Catholic tenants, and worse he was a spendthrift and of no use to Tullamore in the critical Famine years. His agent, Francis Berry, did his best to come to the rescue.
The Charleville token is very much collected today and not so scarce. I will be glad to swap one for a Robert Worrall of 1670!
One final word with coins, like us humans, condition is everything. You can buy one at present for £50 or £750 on e-bay. All depends on condition. Enjoy