Similar but Different: Colliery Checks and Dies.
The lack of any published book on colliery checks presents a number of problems. The first is mode of description. Although there is no complete
standardisation in numismatics or paranumismatics, sufficient information is provided in authoritative reference books in order that an accurate description of an item is available. The material used, the production method (embossing with an incuse pattern die, or stamping with a relief design die), the shape, measurements, inscriptions and ornaments etc. are all noted. In this context, and for variance of method of description, it is worth referring to
"The Tokens, Checks, Metallic Tickets, Passes and Tallies of Wales" (Cox & Cox, 1994) and more recently
"Checks, Tokens, Tickets and Passes of County Durham and Northumberland" (Gardiner, 1996).
In my earlier article "Colliery Checks: An Introduction" (NMMA Newsletter No.9 Spring 1998) the large number of different shapes of check was referred to, even among those issuing from the same colliery. At the same time, some issues (usually of lamp checks), appear to be so similar that they would pass as having come from the same die, unless examined carefully. Whilst this difference would not escape a numismatist's and a keen token collector's examination, it appears from many lists passed between colliery check collectors that most of these often minute variances are ignored. It is the colliery, the area, the shape of the check and whether it is pre or post 1947 that, in general terms, guides the collector. But I think these divisions are necessarily self limiting simply because there is no published point of reference - and therefore no possible form of standardisation. Certainly many of the early pre-1900's copper checks or tokens are recorded, but they are published in numismatic or token specialist books that are unlikely to be read by persons whose interest lies principally in colliery checks of post 1900 date. Such collectors, due to lack of information, have a problem in being able to date only approximately, many of the different checks issued between the opening and closure of a colliery. The only sound and intermediate point of reference dating is 1947, when the Company name was replaced by the "N.C.B." (National Coal Board) within the check legend. In very general terms, the plainer and less ornate the check, the later the date of issue.
Figure 1 (a & b): Checks from Barrow Collieries and Barrow Colliery, Yorkshire.
1 shows two clearly distinct designs from the same colliery. The first is quite ornate, and clearly adapted from a previous issue that contained the Company name (Barrow, Barnsley Main Collieries Ltd. which comprised Barrow Colliery and Barnsley Main Colliery) and the second reflects the clear division between the two collieries established by the N.C.B.
Figure 2 (a & b): Checks from Grimetborpe Colliery, South Yorkshire.
Of the checks from Grimethorpe Colliery
(Fig. 2), 2a is assumed to be an earlier issue than 2b.
Figure 3 (a & b): Two checks from Fernhill Collieries Ltd. South Wales
Checks from Fernhill Collieries Ltd (Fig. 3) appear similar. But contrast the small star decorations, narrow lettering, and inner circle on 3a with the lozenge shapes decorations, rounded lettering, and lack of inner circle on 3b. Also, 3a has a beaded border on the reverse. Although the second has been issued three times and shows more wear, it is reasonable to assume that the first is an earlier issue. Both date to between 1920 - 1940 when battery hand lamps were used in many collieries, as can be seen in photographs of the times.
Figure. 4 (a & b): Two checks from High Moor Colliery, North Derbyshire.
Of the two variants from High Moor Colliery
(Fig. 4), 4a is slightly larger than 4b with a wider rim and word spacing. Check
type 4b with a wider rim but narrower letter spacing has the number impressed by automatic numbering machine suggesting that 4a should be the earlier issue.
Figure 3 (a,b & c): Three checks from Rufford Colliery, Nottinghamshire.
Figure 5 shows three variants from Rufford Colliery. Check type 5a has 17 beads along its left vertical edge, as does 5b, while 5c has 13 beads. Both 5a and 5b appear to be from the same die, though 5b has the number stamped by machine. It would appear that 5a and 5b were issued sequentially, followed by 5c - though an earlier style of numbers was used to counterman 5c. It seems that until more information on issues can be provided, probably by ex-miners / collectors, dating of colliery checks will only be a crude approximation and liable to error. It should be noted also, that two check issues could be in circulation at the same time because replacements were only made individually as it became necessary by wear and loss. Probably a period of ten years should be allowed when trying to ascribe check dates e.g. to say 1920's issue, or 1950's issue, or 1970's issue etc. would be as near as one could date, with any confidence.
There may be some check manufacturers remaining who hold records and who may be willing to search them. For Wales, Thomas & Williams of Aberdare made dies for some 300 collieries, but a fire in 1978 destroyed most of their records and much of their equipment. Nevertheless they do, at intervals, issue re-strikes from dies that they hold. Unfortunately I have been unable so far to obtain details of what they do have, or what records have survived. Perhaps other colliery check collectors can help to fill the knowledge gap?
Based on the author's original article first published in the Token Corresponding Society Bulletin Vol.5, No.12, Pages 471-474 & later by kind permission in NMMA Newsletter No.11 Mid Summer 1998 © David Shaw 1997.