Vanished Value

19th October 2014

William Doring

BArch(Hons), Department of Archaeology, La Trobe University, November 2013

The mid-nineteenth century was a period of great change in Australia’s history. The discovery of gold brought new wealth and increased population numbers to the colonies, though with these came many problems. One of these was that the available supply of coins was suddenly insufficient; there were plenty of officially distributed sovereigns and half sovereigns, but this would be analagous today to only having $20 and $50 notes readily available. The solution eventually settled on was for various businesses to mint their own coins. Such ‘trader’s tokens’ were imagined as a form of voucher but soon became an unofficial currency used widely throughout Australia, especially in New South Wales and Victoria. Eventually tokens became to be seen as problematic, especially once new official coins had been introduced, and the colonial governments took steps to have them phased out, with the Tasmanian government going so far as to ban them outright. Trader’s tokens were in common use for a period of fewer than 20 years, during which time they transitioned from items of value to items that were commonly viewed as worthless or even illegal. Many can be traced to a specific distribution point and many travelled far outside the distribution of the businesses for which they were made. This thesis examines traders’ tokens as archaeological artefacts, focusing on where they are found today compared with the businesses from which they were first distributed. It considers how and why tokens travelled. Ultimately information about these unusual artefacts in archaeological settings proves sparse, but what there is supports the numismatic interpretation of history, i.e. that while the use of tokens as currency was widespread their movement between colonies was minimal.

Doring, W.
Vanished Value
December 2014
Thesis Abstracts
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