A Counterstamped Sloop

Some years ago I received this Upper Canada halfpenny token as part of a trade. The “T.F. Haywood” counterstamp was very intriguing and has afforded me many hours of speculation.

So now we jump forward to the last month or so and the fortuitous discovery of some excellent antique references. What follows is the result of my recent research. Let’s take a trip to the Great Lakes region of the 1830’s:

Around the time Queen Victoria was about to ascend the throne of England, Canada’s merchants and shopkeepers began issuing fractional currency in response to the suspension of specie by local banks. The public became less and less accepting of these bills, as the varying quality and dizzying variety only compounded the small change problem.

It is here that we meet Mr. T.D. Harris, a Toronto hardware dealer whose firm was known by the “sign of the Anvil and Sledge”. The business had been started in 1829 under the name John Watkins & Co., Harris being the “& Co.”, and in 1832 the firm assumed the name Watkins & Harris.

Watkins & Harris was the only firm in Toronto to issue fractional currency notes, or shinplasters, but other businesses were circulating copper and brass tokens with success. Recognizing the greater practicality of hard currency rather than the quickly worn out paper alternative, Watkins & Harris began issuing what are now commonly known as “Sloop Halfpennies” sometime between 1832 and 1840.

We get corroboration of this fact from “The Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal”, vol. 8-9: “The one masted vessel on the Sloop Halfpenny was Mr. Oates’ Duke of Richmond packet, taken as a symbol of the traffic and commerce on Lake Ontario. In the newspapers of the period there was at the head of the Richmond’s advertisement a rude woodcut of the vessel, and this was copied as a device upon the copper piece…this token was issued, I believe, by the Messrs. Watkins and Harris, hardware merchants at Toronto…”

Descriptions of the known varieties of the Sloop Halfpenny series can be found in the 1881 edition of the “American Journal of Numismatics”, vol.14-16, pp.37-38. The revealing remarks between descriptions shed further light on these coppers:

“Those who put into circulation these tokens, although they found their illegal issue a profitable undertaking, assumed the role of public benefactors by such inscriptions as “commercial change”, “to facilitate trade”, and the like”.

“These sloop halfpennies had an extensive circulation in Upper Canada, and from the many different reverses, it would appear that more than one firm was connected with their issue.”

“The commerce of Lake Ontario was almost entirely carried on in sloops; larger vessels were nearly unknown on its waters. This design was therefore popular on that account”.

So there we have the origin of the Sloop Halfpenny token of Upper Canada. But what of T.F. Haywood? For this we turn to “The Fisheries of the Great Lakes” by Frederick W. True, 1880. The Haywood family were successful boatbuilders, so successful in fact that their boats were actually referred to as “Haywoods”. T.F. Haywood was undoubtedly a predecessor of Mr. O.P. Haywood, who is described as having a particularly hard time selling his boats in 1880 because “…the fishermen have been too poor to invest in them. He has, however, the reputation of being the best boatbuilder on the lakes.”

The enterprising Mr. Haywood found an excellent advertising medium for his boatbuilding industry by counterstamping the popular and extensively circulating Sloop tokens. Now the only question that remains: why is this token dated 1820 when Watkins & Harris didn’t begin coining tokens until after 1832?

Remember the series of posts on the Massachusetts silver of 1652 posted here some time ago? Though Massachusetts produced silver coinage well into the 1670’s, almost all were dated 1652 to circumvent England’s laws against privately issued coinage. It seems our neighbors to the north weren’t averse to a little deception either. Once again local economies provided for the needs of the public despite oppressive laws against aspects of colonial independence.

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