The Tullamore Shilling,   John Stocks Powell

The end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries witnessed in Ireland and Britain an acute shortage of physical currency from the royal mint.  Silver coin output was limited to the small coins of penny, twopence, threepence and fourpence. There were no shillings between 1787 and 1816.  Gold was issued, but copper coins had not been issued for Ireland since 1782.  There were two consequences to this: a large output of light weight counterfeit copper coins, known as ‘raps’ in Ireland; and a private enterprise output of token coins during the 1790s to the 1810s, which could be redeemed for official coin by the token issuer.

There was a further difference between the Irish and British pound value until equalisation in 1826: the British shilling reckoned at one shilling one penny Irish.

Lord Tullamoore later earl of Charleville and his wife Catherine Maria

The Tullamore shilling of 1802 is one such example.  This shilling is in copper, not silver, and circulated at twelve times more than its intrinsic value. The issuer was Charles William Bury of Charleville Forest, Baron Tullamore in 1798, Viscount Charleville in 1800 and earl of Charleville in 1806.   Charleville Castle, designed by Francis Johnson in the dramatic Gothick style and was in the process of construction, together with its estate, in the first decade of the century.  (see, Judith Hall’s article ‘Entertaining royalty after the Union: space, decoration and performance in Charleville Castle, Co. Offaly, 1809’, in House and home in Georgian Ireland, edited by Conor Lucey: Four Courts Press, 2022).

The Tullamore shillings were commissioned to pay the workforce and suppliers involved with the castle’s development.  Bury contacted the currently famous Soho Mint in Birmingham, the enterprise of Matthew Boulton with the latest steam power presses.  He also commissioned Thomas Wyon the elder 1767-1830 as die engraver.  The Wyons as a family were significant engravers for coins and medals. There is evidence of proof and copper gilt examples.

On the obverse side of these Tullamore tokens are the Charleville arms with supporters represented by two black Moors in golden armour: the motto, Virtus sub cruce crescit (Virtue increases under the cross) is included with the designation ‘Charleville Forest’[1].  Within an outer circle is: ‘Industry shall prosper’, and between sprigs of shamrocks the date 1802.

On the reverse are lined the words ‘Payable at Tullamoore [sic] first Tuesday in each month’. The portrayal of a rose and shamrocks shows Charleville’s Unionist support. Within the outer circle ‘One shilling and one penny’. i.e a British shilling value.

It must be presumed these tokens achieved general circulation in the Tullamore area, as the Charlevilles would be deemed financially sound at the time.  The tokens suggest a regular payout on Tuesdays at the estate office, and while there is no promise to redeem on the token wording, they probably were exchanged in quantity for gold[2] or valid bank notes. It is not known how many were issued, certainly by weight they were profitable for the Charlevilles, and evidence suggests die varieties. Was this a vanity project or a response to a cash need when more and more people were moving into a cash economy?  These are scarce items nowadays, and value very much depends on condition.  The use of these arms by Goss China for an output of Charleville souvenirs circa 1900 confirms Co. Offaly Charleville and not the town in Co. Cork

[1] W.J. Davis, Nineteenth Century token coinage, 1st edn 1904, repr. 1969; p. 224 notes that the forest mansion burned down in 1808. [ a small fire in fact]

[2] The smallest gold coin at the time was the third guinea, circulating at seven shillings British.

See also our blog of 21 July 2018, ‘The Charleville (Tullamore) token or thirteen-penny shilling ‘Industry shall prosper’ ‘  Michael Byrne

Offaly History adds: a modern day token – the Tullamore ‘quid’ issued in 2022 and backed by Tullamore & District Chamber