Mining Memorabilia

Commercial Tokens - The earliest mining related tokens known from the British Isles are those circulated by a handful of colliery owners and coal carriers operating in the mid seventeenth century. Such tokens are recorded from various locations within the traditional coalfield areas of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Warwickshire, Shropshire, Cumberland, and Derbyshire. One of the most famous of this series of tokens is that issued by the Shallcross family on behalf of their small coal pits near Buxton in Derbyshire. Such tokens formed part of a plethora of privately minted halfpennies and farthings most of which date from the 1640’s to 1660's. They were commissioned by tradesmen, innkeepers and some local authorities in response to a shortage in the circulating levels of officially minted small change. Mining related issues only represent a very tiny fraction of the tokens produced during this first great epoch in the history of Britain’s token coinage. It wasn’t until much later during the period 1787 to 1819 that Britain was again to resort to the wide scale use of a commercial token coinage. The two short intervals from 1787 to 1797 and 1811 to 1819 in particular were to represent the most prolific issuing period for tokens in British history. As had been the case in the mid seventeenth century it was private traders and industrialists who brought about the revival in the use of token coinage in Britain during the late 1780s. The reasons for resorting to a token coinage was again due to a dearth in the circulating levels of regal copper coinage. For various reasons the British government of the time was reluctant to enter into new and consistent coining contracts with the Royal Mint. However, unlike the earlier token series of the seventeenth century, of which only a very small percentage were mining related, those re-introduced in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were directly initiated by Britain’s mining industry whose token issues are highly represented in the overall series. Such had become the importance of the metals and coal trade to Britain during its celebrated period of industrial revolution.
Obverse & reverse of a coal carrier’s token from West Cumberland. Obverse design depicts the family crest (a dragon) of the collier owning Lowther family who issued the token c.1690. Reverse bears the legend "LOWTHER" in cypher fashion. (Actual size 22.5mm Æ)

A carriers or possibly a truck token issued by the coal master Allison Crosthwaite during the period 1781 to 1831. The token's obverse depicts a full coal wagon or "chaldron". Its reverse shows the head frame and steam winder serving the Jane Pit of Boon Wood Colliery at Distington (not to be confused with the nearby Jane Pit at Workington) in West Cumberland (Actual size 31mm Æ).

Obverse & reverse of one of the Queenborough Copperas House tokens. The monogrammed initials "RAF" & "RK" are believed to be those of Ralph Farr & Roger Kemp who were granted the lease to collect copperas stones on the beaches around Minster  between 1676 and 1706. The token undoubtedly dates from that period. (Actual size 25mm Æ)
Reverse of an Associated Irish Mine Company Halfpenny token of 1789  (Actual size 29.5mm Æ).

The quantity in which the Parys Mine Company tokens were made and circulated attest well to their general acceptance within Britain’s commercial and industrial sectors. Over the full period of their minting over 250 tons of pennies and 50 tons of halfpennies were struck in the name of the Parys Mine Company.

A truck token issued by the owners of Balls Hill Colliery, West Bromwich in 1819.  The legend in the token's obverse centre field reads "WASTE NOT WANT NOT". (Actual size 32mm Æ).

Probably the most commonly collected type of mining paranumismatics are known by several names depending on which coalfield or even region of a coalfield they emanated. Common names for suck items include "Checks", "Tokens", "Tallies", "Motties", "Pins", "Tickets" or "Passes". In the following brief description they will be referred to by one of their more common titles, i.e. "Pit or Colliery Checks". Although the vast number of such checks emanate from the coal mining industry they were also used in some metalliferous ore mines and some stone quarries. They were used for a wide variety of identification and tallying purposes
Obverses of two pre 1947  brass lamp tokens from Co. Durham. The first from Auckland Park Colliery, the second from Seaham Colliery.  Actual Sizes are  42mm and 39mm respectively. "B.V." are the initials of   Bolckow Vaughan & Company (later to become part of Dorman Long) the Teesside base Iron makers who owned several collieries in Co. Durham plus Ironstone mines in Cleveland.

Most of the early checking systems employed only one token (usually of brass) per collier. This token was often referred to as a lamp check/token and was often taken home with each collier at the end of each working day. Such lamp tokens were handed in to the lamp room attendant at the start of each shift in exchange for a safety lamp bearing the same identification number as that on the collier's personal check. At the end of his shift the collier would retrieve his check from a tally board in the lamp room or alternatively directly from the lamp room attendant in exchange for the safe return of his lamp.
Gibfield Colliery (Lancashire) lamp room 1905. Note the brass lamp checks hanging from chains and string in the place of the certain numbered safety lamps that have been withdrawn from the lamp cabin for service by colliers on shift

The precise method of use of the colliery check system varied quite considerably between coalfields and with the passing of time. Some areas operated a two check system others a three check system. Many mines  also used additional pay checks/tokens for identification purposes for workers collecting wages. In some areas the checks were used only for lamp issuing in others they were used in conjunction with surface and underground manpower deployment boards. 
Banksman's token collection box from an unknown Colliery in central County Durham plus a brass "check torpedo" used to transfer checks via a pneumatic conveying system between the banksman, lamp room and time office. This particular example was used at Wolstanton Colliery in North Staffordshire.

Colliers leaving the double decked cage and handing in their pit checks to the banksmen at Vane Tempest Colliery (Co. Durham) c.1993. (Photograph courtesy of Ron Hindhaugh collection).

A set of three emergency organisation or rescue checks (each 32 mm diameter) from Fryston Colliery in Yorkshire. The checks are complete with their original envelope and instructions for issue/use.
  • Explosives Container identification tallies
  • Shot firing sentry identification checks
  • Tub tokens/checks (often called putters and hewers tokens in the North East)
  • Morphia Key tallies/fobs
  • Railway and bus free travel passes/tokens 
Obverse & reverse of a Harton Coal Company Railway Pass plus a combined Railway & Lamp Pass. These passes were used on the Harton Coal Company's private railway line between South Shields and Whitburn Colliery. These  date roughly to the period 1900 to 1947. Actual sizes 50mm & 53mm by 31mm respectively.
  • Canteen checks/tokens
  • Pithead baths tokens and identification checks
  • Cycle shed tokens - for the identification of individual bicycles
  • Wood Removal passes/tickets - These were used in certain Welsh pits prior to 1947 as a gate pass to prove that wood off cuts were not being removed from the colliery premises illegally 
Obverse of a brass Durham Miners' Association check  (c.1910-30) from  Hamsteels Colliery Lodge. These early union membership badges were sewn onto the miners' jacket lapels or caps to indicate to others that they were paid up union lodge members. Actual Size 51mm.
  • Miners Association membership checks/badges
  • Emergency rescue team deployment tallies
  • Work tool identification/issuing tokens
  • School payment fee tokens (North Derbyshire Coalfield only)
A brass 2 penny colliery school token issued to Pilsley colliers c.1880-1900. These tokens would be presented by the collier's children each week at school. The local school board would then submit the collected tokens back to the coal company who would exchange them for payment in legal tender. Actual Size 28mm.
  • Commemorative and/or promotional checks/fobs
  • Stall checks
  • Concessionary coal delivery checks
Obverse of a brass 1 cwt concessionary coal delivery check. These checks were issued to those colliers who were entitled to a weekly concessionary house coal allowance.  On arrival of the mining company's  coal delivery wagon at each collier's house the householder would submit the check to the delivery men. They would then unload the quantity of coal allowance indicated on the token. This example is from Co. Durham and dates to the post 1947 N.C.B. period. Actual Size 64mm.

The final group of mining paranumismatics commonly encountered can loosely be described under the title of "Medals & Awards". 
This final category includes a diverse range of items including;
  • Mines Rescue or First Aid/Ambulance Team Long Service Medals. These awards typically commemorate 5, 10 and 15 years continuous service as a member of an mines approved rescue or ambulance team etc. Mines rescue and first aid competition winners medals etc. also make up a large proportion of this particular grouping.
Obverses of two Mines Rescue long service awards.  Bronze 5 YEAR  medal awarded to a Cleveland Ironstone Miner from North Skelton Mine , dated 1947. The silver 15 YEAR medal was issued to a County Durham collier from Morrison Busty North Pit, dated 1963. (Actual size 33mm).
  • Commemorative medallions to celebrate a certain event in a company's or mine's history, e.g. a visit of dignitaries, the celebration of a  record production tonnage, the sinking of a new shaft or the first poring of metal etc. Also mine centenary or closure commemorative medals.
An enamelled membership fob of the North of England Institute of Mining & Mechanical Engineers. Note the central image of the Stephenson flame safety lamp. Actual size 26 mm by 38 mm. Hall marked silver. 
  • Mining Institute membership fobs and past president medals.
Obverse of a tin medallion bearing the image of a typical Cornish engine house. This medal was one of many issued to raise funds for the unsuccessful attempt to financially rescue Cornwall's last tin mine, South Crofty,  in 1997 (Actual size  35 mm in diameter by 5 mm thick). 
  • Medals issued by miners groups in commemoration or support of a strike or union struggle. 
  • Mine closure medals.
White metal medal/ticket of 1858 to commemorate an ox roast feast paid for by local subscription for striking colliers in the Oldham district of Lancashire. The obverse displays an ox accompanied by the legend "The Labourer Is Worthy Of  His Hire" plus "Roast Whole Nov. 22nd 1858". The reverse bears the legend "In Commemoration Of The Feast To The Colliers Given As A Mark Of Public Sympathy & Respect For Their Conduct On Strike". (Actual size 31.5mm).
  • Presentation medals for long service, retirement or even as a mark of service to the country (.i.e. in honour of miners returning from the Great War of 1914-18).
  • Presentation medals for service to the mining industry, presentation of technical papers at industrial conferences, conference attendance medals and academic achievement awards.
A white metal  presentation medal bearing the obverse legend "NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF COLLIERY MANAGERS" plus the manufacturers signature "VAUGHTONS BIRM" (Actual size  56 mm in diameter by 5 mm thick). 
  • Awards for bravery in the event of a mine disaster or subsequent rescue attempt.
  • Commemorative medallions issued by individual mines or mining companies to celebrate a local or  national event (e.g. a monarch's Jubilee/ Coronation celebrations or the ending of a war etc.).
Obverse and reverse designs of a white metal alloy medal commissioned by the Denaby Main Coal Company in commemoration  of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee celebrations  of 1887. (Actual size 38.5mm).

In addition to those types of mining memorabilia described on the preceding  pages there is a huge range of miscellaneous mining artifacts that are either well established collecting/research themes or are becoming of increased interest to many. These additional groups include;
  • Postcards with a mining theme. In particular collieries or Cornish tin/copper mines.
  • "In Memoriam" souvenirs. In the event of a pit disaster it was once common for the local community or miners' union lodge  to commission commemorative postcards, decorated serviettes, inscribed glassware and even printed poem sheets bearing the names and ages of those killed plus the mine name and date of the disaster. These items were sold to raise funds for the bereaved families. In the case of the 1909 West Stanley Colliery disaster small miners lamps/lanterns were also sold to raise funds. In addition it was common practice for the relief organizers to issue the bereaved families with an inscribed bible listing the names of all those who had lost their lives. 
A postcard sold to raise funds for the eight bereaved families of the fatal mine cage accident at the Busty Pit  (Medomsley, Co. Durham) in 1923.
  • Colliery commemorative china plates.
  • Enamelled mine cage or haulage call bell signs and notices.
  • Mining company share certificates.
  • Mining paper ephemera, especially mining company letter heads plus coal delivery or coal wagon identification slips.
  • Mining related blasting and explosive equipment.
A 5lb capacity explosives carrying canister of the standard N.C.B. design.  Note the standard N.C.B. type of  identification tally/tag on the canisters' lid. These canisters were usually constructed of plied rubber/canvas conveyor belting material. The lids were lockable and could only be opened using a brass shot firers key. This example is one of two found by NMMA members during a field visit to the now closed private drift mine of "Cwm Glo" near Blaenavon, South Whales. No doubt it  originated from the near by N.C.B. "Big Pit" colliery. 
  • Mines rescue equipment.
  • Named/stamped Colliery house bricks plus "Scorrier Bricks" made from the waste slag of iron, copper or tin smelting. The latter slag bricks often bear the name of the company who produced them and are common in areas such as Cornwall.
Two house bricks made at the colliery brickyards of  the (S.M.C.C.Ld.) Southmoor Coal Company Ltd. (Co. Durham) & Bretby Colliery (South Derbyshire).
  • Colliery or N.C.B. owned farm milk bottles  plus other stone or glass bottles with a mining theme in their embossed or pictorial designs.
  • Mining related tools plus miscellaneous items of equipment.
  • Antique books, prints and photographs depicting mining scenes.
A hand coloured engraving from The Illustrated London News of 28th of February 1857. The title is "LUNDHILL COLLIERY, BARNSLEY, THE SCENE OF THE RECENT EXPLOSION"
  • Pit pony related items.
  • Welsh Colliers' Snuff & Twist Tobacco Tins/boxes.
  • Colliery owned/operated Railway & Bus Tickets.
A selection of Colliery Railway & Bus Tickets. Note the special tickets used for Dogs plus Bicycles and prams! Five out of the six illustrated examples were issued by the Harton Coal Company (which after 1947 became part of the N.C.B.) for use on their privately owned/operated railway and bus services serving the route between South Sheilds and Whitburn Colliery (Co. Durham).  The remaining example was issued pre 1947 by the Ashington Coal Company (A.C.C. Ltd.) for workmen traveling between Ashington and Ellington Colliery (Northumberland).

Flame Safety Lamps - These are the most recognizable types of miners lamp.  They come in various shapes and sizes. Their invention is generally attributed to Sir Humphrey Davy in 1815. However, Davy's was just one of three safety lamp designs that were developed almost simultaneously. The other designs being those of George Stephenson and Dr. William Clanny. 
Three early flame safety lamps - From left to right  Stephenson , Davy & Clanny Types. 
Although there were several subtle differences between the three early forms of flame safety lamp their designs all took advantage of one common principle. All three designs consisted essentially of a naked flame placed in a suitably constructed metal gauze funnel surround.  Even when placed in an explosive mixture of methane and air the safety lamp's flame will not be explosively propagated through the apertures of the gauze mesh. Thus any minor localized explosion of mine gasses within the safety lamp will be confined to within the gauze and thus can not spread to the surrounding mine galleries.
The earliest safety lamps lacked the familiar protective steel bonnet which was to become their trademark in later years.                        
A Bonneted Jack Davy lamp plus a Gauzeless Best lamp.
Although the comparative luminosity of the flame safety lamp was only between 0.1 and 0.8 of a naked flame candle they were to remain the only safe form of mine lighting in "gassy" mines for nearly 100 years after their invention. 
By the 1920s/30s the unchallenged reign of the flame safety lamp as the principle means of colliery lighting was rapidly coming to an end. This was  despite a last attempt to promote their continued use via the introduction of improved higher luminosity types offering a lighting equivalent of 3.0 to 3.5 (or 4.0 to 5.0 with a flame reflector) candle power.
Even after having lost their premier position as the preferred choice of mine lighting the flame safety lamp continued to be used routinely thereafter by colliery officials as a reliable means of underground gas testing. In the presence of varying amounts of methane in the mine's atmosphere a safety lamp's flame will take on a very distinctive shape and form which is indicative of the levels of methane in the mine's atmosphere. Above 5% methane levels the safety lamp's flame will become explosive and likely to self extinguishing.  
The principle features of the Naylor (Wigan) High Candle Power Flame Safety Lamp

Electric Safety Lamps - By the early 1910s  the role of the flame safety lamp as the only safe means of underground lighting in "gassy" mines was challenged for the first time. A new miner's light was starting to be introduced in the form of the electric safety lamp. Not only were the new  wet cell electric lamps safer but they also offered higher levels of luminosity than had been previously possible with flame safety lamps.
Putter Boys from Addison Colliery (Co. Durham) c.1920s with electric safety hand lamps and naked flame "Midgie" lamps.
Initially such electric lamps were heavy hand held types which made them relatively cumbersome and unpopular in many coalfields. However by the 1940s the lighter weight and more familiar electric cap lamp, with its waist mounted battery pack, started to appear and was fairly rapidly accepted in most mining regions. 
Ceag type self-servicing electric cap lamp & battery pack.
This lighter weight, more reliable and robust form of miner's light was to become the standard form of safety lamp in nearly all of Britain's Coalfields thereafter.  
Concordia type officials inspection lamp & safety torch.

Naked Flame Lamps - Prior to the introduction of specially designed forms of miners' lamps the tallow candle was the principle type of mine illumination. This continued to be the case in most metalliferous mines and none "gassy" collieries (where explosive gases were rarely a problem)  for many centuries until the introduction of higher luminosity forms of lighting. 
The methods of carrying or supporting such candles varied considerably between the mining regions. Some common methods included;
  • Affixing the candle to the miner's hat via the use of a soft ball of clay.
  • Affixing the candle to a wooden pit prop adjacent to the miner's work place using a simple spiked candle holder.
  • Enclosing the candle in a simple hand held tin box with a shrouded canopy (i.e. the so called "midgie" lamp).
Prior to the introduction of the flame safety lamp into collieries there had been little improvement in the safety aspects of mine lighting with the exception of the "Steel or Flint Mill". This simple device was the invention of Carlyle Spedding. Spedding was the principle colliery agent for the Lowther family's Whitehaven Collieries. These mines were notoriously "gassy" and were commonly known as "the most dangerous pits in all the kingdom". 
Carlyle Spedding's "Steel or Flint Mill". 
Although Spedding's invention was not intrinsically safe it was less dangerous option to the use of a naked candle. Writing nearly 80 year after the first introduction of the steel mill (c.1730) one eminent British mining engineer described it as follows;
"An instrument for striking light with flint and steel. A brass wheel about 5 inches in diameter, with 52 teeth, works a pinion with 11 teeth. On the axle on the latter is fixed a thin steel wheel from 5 inches to 6 inches in diameter. The wheels are placed in a light frame of iron which is suspended by a leather belt round the neck of the person who plays the mill. Great velocity is given to the steel wheel by turning the handle of the toothed wheel, and the sharp edge of a flint is applied to the circumference of the steel wheel, which immediately elicits an abundance of sparks, and emits considerable light."
Like the flame of safety lamp the sparks emitted by the Steel Mill changed in colour as the levels of methane in the surrounding mine gasses increased. This at least afforded the miner some form of warning. 
By 1800 some copper miners in Cornwall were experimenting with simple ceramic type "Tea Pot" lamps. Such lamps consisted of an oil storage reservoir (complete with lid) with a spout through which a woollen wick was pushed. Such lamps burnt both oil and tallow fuels and were small enough to be worn on the miners' hats in place of their traditional candles. By 1850 Scottish colliers working in none "gassy" mines were beginning to use similar oil wick lamps made of tin or brass. 
A Scottish Colliers oil wick lamp c.1860-1900. 
The oil wick lamp was to become very popular in Scotland and the use of such spout lamps was to continue in many places well into the 1900s. 
In the Welsh anthracite coalfields a slightly different oil cap lamp was to become popular around the turn of the twentieth century. This lamp was commonly know as a "Peg & Ball Lamp" and consisted of a bulbous tin or brass oil reservoir with wick that screwed onto a hollow tin spike which fastened onto the miner's cap. 
By the mid 1890s yet another form of naked flame miners light was to appear. This new device, the carbide lamp, produced extremely good illumination and was soon to become the standard form of miners light in most metalliferous mining regions replacing the use of candles and oil wick lamps. Such lamps were also to become popular in none "gassy" collieries and especially the anthracite pits of South Wales. The use of carbide lamps in many collieries continued well into the post nationalization era (i.e. after 1947).
A Premier carbide hand lamp & a Belcor No.1 carbide cap Lamp. Both 1930s.