Countermarked Silver Reales Tokens


Eric Hodge has sent these photos in of a “coin” marked “Blantyreworks”. These coins are Mexican 8 Reales (Dollars) and were used at a time when coinage in Britain was scarce (possibly due to the wars with France). These coins are silver, and were overstamped with usually the 5/- mark and used at New Lanark and Blantyre works village stores, given to employees as wages. New Lanark Mill Museum still have a couple of them. They were part of the truck token system which were to be used locally. Imagine being paid by your employer yet only available to spend it again at their own shops!

‘BLANTYREWORKS’ appears in a circle around 5 shilling (all one punch) recorded on five Spanish-American Dollars dated 1792,1798, 1804, 1812 and 1814. This token may have been issued between about 1815 and 1820. An apparently genuine Blantyre countermark is known punched on a Bank of England three shilling token dated 1811. The countermark was then cancelled to obliterate the valuation.

Eric who has a real passion and understanding for this subject told me, “In 1601 an edict was issued that set the quantity of silver that must be present in each silver denomination. This set the price of silver at 5s 2d an ounce.. This was fine until about 1750 when, due to foreign wars in America and the Peninsular (mercenaries etc being paid in silver), the price of silver increased above 5s 2d. This meant that without a change in the law the Royal Mint could not afford to buy silver and make coins without incurring a loss.

So the Royal Mint stopped making silver coins other than odd issues for Banks to issue at Christmas. Virtually no silver coins were made between 1750 and 1816 the date of the great recoinage. Small amounts of copper coins were issued, but as the Mint workers were paid as a percentage of what they produced then gold coinage took priority. There was no shortage of silver.

Spanish-American 8 reales were a world wide currency and could be purchased on the bullion market in London by anyone, but at the prevailing silver price. This all came about at the start of the Industrial Revolution. Large work forces and nothing small to pay with.

That is why the Works Shop arose, through necessity. Obviously some took advantage of this (for example Monteith asked his workers to spend their money within the village), but the better employers and the most philanthropic started to issue countermarked dollars. The countermarked value was slightly higher than the intrinsic silver value, to prevent melting. So the employees could spend the countermarked coin anywhere at the silver content value, or more locally at the countermarked value. The recipients collected them up and returned them to the Works in exchange for gold. They could then be re-used until, of course, the changing silver price made the countermarked value un economic so that the value was changed or the coin melted and new values used.”


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