Author Topic: Irish Tavern Tokens  (Read 521 times)

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Offline akeady

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Irish Tavern Tokens
« on: October 02, 2018, 02:24:25 AM »
On the recent visit to Dublin by World of Coins members, mention was made at the NSI meeting of tavern tokens, a subject close to the hearts of the Numismatic Society of Ireland.   Recently (July 2018), we recreated a field trip made by the society in 1968 to visit as many as possible surviving taverns which issued these tokens in the 19th century.   In 1968, the researchers visited about eleven taverns (give or take a pint or two); this year, we only got to four.   Clearly the standard of research has fallen and we must undertake further trips :)

In any case, the society has published a volume on Irish Tavern Tokens (in 2013) and a revised second edition in 2017.

Courtesy of Garry Byrne, I have two reviews of the books - of the original paperback edition and the new, improved hardback edition.

It makes sense to quote from both reviews, as the first contains some background information.

Irish Tavern Tokens THE JOHN SWEENEY COLLECTION Supplemented by other collections Father GERARD RICE – A Review

A note in the souvenir programme of the March 1986 NSI Coin Fair says “The first major publication to be produced this year by the NSI will be the definitive study, and illustrated listing of all the known 19th Century Irish Tavern Tokens, and this should be off the press by late May. This updated, and long awaited, thesis by Fr. Rice, brings the number of Irish Tavern Tokens now to 400”.   Well, nearly 30 years later, it was finally published in September 2013 and formally launched the following month. The numbering of tokens covers 1 - 400, but with others, such as 33A and 33A1, the actual number of tokens listed is 422.   This awkward numbering system at least ensures that any further tokens which come to light can readily be assigned a number.   However, some of the tokens listed are merely varieties.

Tavern tokens were traditionally regarded as being used for bagatelle, which is described by Wikipedia as “a billiards-derived indoor table game, the object of which is to get a number of balls (set at nine in the 19th century) past wooden pins (which act as obstacles) into holes that are guarded by wooden pegs; penalties are incurred if the pegs are knocked over”.   This may perhaps be the use for some of them, but certainly not for all.   It is likely that they had other uses, such as in ‘the rounds system’, where a person in a round not requiring a drink in the round, could get a token for getting one later on.   Many tokens carry minimal information and cannot be attributed with certainty to a particular establishment.

Tavern tokens were issued between around 1860 and the early 20th century. Most were for Dublin taverns, but a few were produced for other locations, e.g., Cork, Dundalk and Limerick.   They are usually in the value of 2 pence, are sometimes made on heptagonal flans and often bear the name/ initials of the tavern and proprietor.   Others are merely farthing size.   The vast majority of them were made by J.C. Parkes of Dublin and bear their signature at the back.   The first published work on the tokens was by French in 1918 onwards, which was followed by Todd in 1977.   More recently, Barry Woodside has produced an excellent illustrated website on all Irish tokens, including tavern tokens, at

The tokens in this book are largely from the collection of John Sweeney (1921-1993), with additions from elsewhere with the intention of including all known tavern tokens and “to commemorate this unique coin collection in book form”.   Fr. Rice has carried out a considerable amount of additional research into tavern tokens and this is reflected in the book. Many of the tokens are previously unpublished.   There are some delightful personal touches such as for no.381 “bought 23.06.20 from Spink & Son for 2d”.   This is a fine book, with black and white photographs of most of the tokens and this alone has made the wait well worthwhile.   The quality of photography is generally excellent and tables at the back make it easy to cross reference tokens with issuers.

Inevitably, with an issue such as tavern tokens, the question arises as to which to include and which to exclude.   From looking through the tokens, it is clear that a considerable number are not in fact tavern tokens at all.   These include tokens with values of a farthing or well in excess of 2d, issued by hotels, clubs and even a temperance society!.   From analysing the tokens, I would raise doubts as to the inclusion of at around 65 tokens on this basis.   The decision on which tokens to include in this book would seem to have been largely influenced by their being in the Sweeney collection and or being listed in French and Todd.   The inclusion of some tokens might perhaps be justified if they were produced by Parkes for uses other than taverns.

The bibliography refers to Bell’s 1975 book on the 19th century farthing tokens but doesn’t mention its 1994 replacement, BUFS.   BUFS contains a number of tokens which are tavern tokens and in turn, Fr. Rice’s book contains some which are purely farthing tokens.   BUFS has now in its turn been replaced by The Token Book 2 - Unofficial farthings and their values 1820 - 1901 by P & B Withers.   A review on this book is in this Bulletin and it contains an analysis of duplication.

No doubt, additional tokens and varieties will come to light. In fact, a look through previous sales catalogues did indeed reveal some.   DNW Auction T6 of 19.03.09, Lot 558 has R127 (2d) in aluminium as well as brass, it also lists a 1d.   Lot 399 Whites Dublinia also has the 1d (large and small) and a pewter 2d.   Lot 412 is a Belfast Ulster Tavern 2d, Lot 454 brass 2d, WBS and DNW Lot 559 includes a “Taylor’s Club Twopence”, none of which are in Rice.   Irish Numismatics too reveals some additional information.   R256 is on p139 IN69 and so is previously published.   R396 and 397, is illustrated IN81 and is Joshua, not Joseph.   It is intended to include additional amendments and observations on the book in future Bulletins.   These would be most welcome and should be notified to the editor.

Overall, this is a fine book and it will serve as the definitive work on the series for a long time to come.

Garry Byrne.

And for the revised edition of 2017:

Rice, Gerard, Fr. Irish Tavern Tokens: The John Sweeney Collection supplemented by other collections, with a First Supplement by Garry Byrne. Published April 2017 by The Numismatic Society of Ireland & The National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks, Dublin. Hardback; xii;138p; 25cm; extensive colour illustrations, ISBN 978-0-902605-02-2 (Hardback), (€40).

In my review of the 2013 paperback version of this book in NSI Bulletin 48, I noted that the book was around 30 years in gestation.   Little did anyone realise then that a revised edition would appear within just 4 years.   Tavern tokens can only fully be appreciated in colour and all tokens in this edition are in colour, except for some line drawings.   The quality of the photographs is generally excellent throughout and the reproductions are first class.   It is a limited edition, in hardback with a dust jacket, which gives it a feeling of good quality.
The First Supplement contains two parts, Additions to the Catalogue and a Descriptions Supplement.   In Additions to the Catalogue new tokens not listed originally in the catalogue are illustrated, numbered and described.   These came from various sources, including eBay and various auction houses.   However, many came from Barry Woodside’s website on tavern tokens.   To him credit is due also for many of the images in the Descriptions Supplement, which includes images of tokens which were not available when the first edition was published.   It also includes additional details as to weight, metal or size of tokens which became available since the first edition was published.   A separate index of the First Supplement is provided.

Overall this is a fine publication, which is far superior to the first edition.   Great thanks are due to all those in the Numismatic Society of Ireland for their hard work and dedication in ensuring it got to the shelves so quickly.   The first edition rapidly established itself as the reference source for Irish tavern tokens by auction houses and on eBay.   This edition can only enhance that reputation and the only question is, when will the next edition appear!

Garry Byrne

As can be seen in the sample pics below, many of these tokens are quite attractive:

Availability - Spink still lists the 2013 edition - - at £20.
The expanded 2017 hardback edition (in colour, as opposed to the B&W of the first edition) is available from the NSI (there are perhaps ten copies remaining) at €39 - contact the treasurer for details (

All the best,

Offline malj1

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Re: Irish Tavern Tokens
« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2018, 04:13:08 AM »
The late Neil B. Todd also attempted a Dublin listing and published in 1977. (No images)

Dublin Tavern Tokens of the Latter Half of the 19th Century 61pp
Have a look at  my tokens and my banknotes.

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Irish Tavern Tokens
« Reply #2 on: October 02, 2018, 11:55:56 AM »
Indeed, Malcolm, that's how it works. All researchers stand on the shoulders of giants. You have to appreciate the extra research that went into Rice's book though. Fortunately, the part of the research described has praiseworthy secondary effects, leaving the innards cleansed and well preserved and promoting sleep ;), though, as a whisky drinker, it might kill me - what a way to go.

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.