Badges and tokens

Communion tolken from Dull

Communion tolken from Dull

Badges and tokens fall into three broad categories. Medieval, pilgrim and secular badges, Communion tokens and beggars’ badges and trade tokens. 

Medieval, pilgrim and secular badges

These are amongst the earliest pewter artefacts that you can acquire fairly easily. Pilgrim badges and souvenirs were produced in large numbers at all the popular shrines for the thousands of pilgrims who flocked to them. They were worn as an ‘I’ve been there’ symbol and can turn up hundreds of miles from the shrine in question. Similar badges were also worn by retainers of large households.

Most pewter pilgrim and souvenir badges date to the 14th and 15th centuries. The catalogues of the collections at the Museum of London or the Salisbury Museum are the best guides for identifying them – see Reading list.

Communion tokens and beggars’ badges

In Scotland communion services in church were only held infrequently and those eligible to attend were issued with tokens which normally bear the name or initials of the church or minister. They were usually made of pewter, although some are fairly leady. Most examples are 18th and 19th centuries, though there are a few earlier ones. Tokens were also issued by Scottish churches in other countries, notably England, Ireland, Canada and New Zealand.

Licensed beggars, especially in Scotland, were required to wear an identifying badge issued by the local or parish authority. Mostly 18th & 19th century examples of these in pewter can still be found.

Trade tokens

In the second half of the 17th century there was a desperate shortage of small change, and in the end tradesmen took the matter into their own hands and issued their own low-value coinage in the form of trade tokens. They are not usually made of pewter, but they are of interest to pewter enthusiasts because several pewterers issued them. There are also examples which depict pewter vessels, although they were probably issued by inns, not pewterers. The first ones appeared in 1648, but most date to the narrow period 1663 to 1671. In 1672 the government finally got its act together, issuing its own base-metal coinage and outlawing the production of coinage by traders, though private trade tokens continued in Chester and Ireland for a few more years.