The question on the detecting forum was innocent enough: “Are there any books available or web pages about Irish countermarked slab tokens?”
I was intrigued. I’m regarded by many to be some kind of knowledgeable person on all things detecting, but that’s far from the truth. I’m an imaginative writer and have never set myself up as an expert. I’d never heard of a slab token and was determined to find out more.
My first port of call was my friend Mr. Google. Search as I might, I couldn’t find anything. The nearest I got was an invitation to buy tickets for a music festival where everything inside the ‘Festival Fence’ would be available, but only with tokens! My mind went into overdrive.
I tentatively replied to the request on the forum, because I didn’t want to look like a numpty. According to the Urban Dictionary ‘Someone who (sometimes unwittingly) by speech or action shows a lack of knowledge or misconception of a particular subject or situation to the amusement of others.’
I was given an answer by the person who had posed the question: He said, SLAB tokens are old worn hammered coins, shilling or groats countermarked with the initials of merchants and used as trade tokens.’
I graciously thanked the poster and replied that I’d never heard of them and that we ‘learnt something new every day’. However, I wasn’t entirely happy with the reply.
Another poster prefaced his comment with a smiley and said: ‘I think you meant SLAP token, not slab.’ Then everything fell into place. Mr. Google was very helpful this time and directed me to Rod Blunt’s good old United Kingdom Detector Finds Database (UKDFD) where I got the following information. At last I had an answer!
A countermarked silver coin, possibly an Irish ‘slap token’. Both the obverse and reverse of the coin are worn completely smooth, but the diameter of the flan suggests that it is probably an early milled sixpence (originally with a diameter of about 20mm). There are numerous countermarks especially on the ‘obverse’ face, which possibly explains the slightly concave appearance.
W J Davis (The nineteenth century token coinage of Great Britain, Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man) describes Irish slap tokens thus:
“So much had Ireland been neglected that worn shillings and sixpences, without any trace of the obverse or reverse designs, were in circulation, countermarked with the initials and names of various tradesmen and shopkeepers. These were called ‘slap tokens,’ from being countermarked by another trader, probably to induce acceptance. They were almost as thin as a hammered English silver penny, and like the imitation regal halfpence and farthings of the second decade of George III., show the depressed state into which the coinage of Ireland had fallen–indeed had almost disappeared.” – WJ Davis
Tony Jones, an administrator on the Countermarked Counterstamped & Engraved Coins FB group said, “John – I remember you did a blog on slap tokens once. I couldn’t find it online but be nice if you could share that as well.”
My reply: “That post was on my old site and no longer available on the Net. However, I have found some notes and clobbered together another version, albeit minus a number of pictures. Pleased to be of assistance.”