The Birmingham Coiners, 1770-1816

John Powell chronicles the activities of a Midlands ring of counterfeiters whose activities open a window on the economic and social ambiguities of late Georgian England.

Almost any kind of rubbish used to pass as copper money...button tops, tokens or any round bit of metal. And all this made the trade of the false coiner more easy. The trade was carried on so openly that I have often wondered at people's hardihood considering the severity of the punishment on detection. They imitated the old copper half-pence of George II and fried them in brimstone to give them an antique appearance. If anybody was derected in imitating gold or silver coinage, it was called a 'spiritual' business because it touched his life; but if it were for copper money only, it was called 'temporal' because he was in no danger of the gallows for that...I have known as many as three and four people strung up together at one time for that offence...

These recollections first appeared on February 10th, 1851, in the Morning Chronicle. This was the era of Mayhew's inquiries, and not allowing London to take sole place amongst the investigated, men from this paper journeyed into the countryside and into the large cities. What is surprising is not the similarity of industrial nineteenth-century experiences, but their differences. On questioning the elderly artisans of Birmingham, the Morning Chronicle's correspondent unearthed a local tradition which by 1851 was becoming a part of history. At the beginning of the century the coining and forgery of money in Birmingham was of virtually epidemic proportions.

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