Category Archives: London Coffee House Tokens

Here are listed some some of my brief reseach notes on a random selection of 17th century London Coffee House tokens.

Howard’s Coffeehouse in New Street, Covent Garden

A penny token issued by Joseph Howard in 1671 for use in his London Coffee-house.
A penny token issued by Joseph Howard in 1671 for use in his London Coffee-house.

The above brass penny token measures 24.3 mm in diameter and weighs 2.71 grams. It was issued by Joseph Howard, a London coffeehouse proprietor, in 1671.

The design of the token may be formally described as follows;

Obverse: (cinquefoil) IOSEPH (cinquefoil) above an arced underline. Below, the depiction of a half-length figure of a man holding a cup. Above a hand issues from a cloud holding a coffee-pot which pours into the cup below. Adjacent is a table or cabinet on which there are two clay pipes and what appears to be a tobacco roll.

Reverse: Legend in five lines surrounded by a radial arrangement comprising a sexfoil and ten cinquefoils HOWARD / COFFE . HOV / SE . IN . NEW / STREET / 1671

There are several “New Streets” in and around London so attributing this token to one of them in particular without any additional evidence is difficult. However, nineteenth century token researchers (1) ascribed this token as being issued by a coffeehouse in New Street (now renamed New Row), off Covent Garden in Westminster. While this location appears perfectly plausible, and possibly more so given the less salubrious alternative “New Street” locations in the capital, I can find no contemporary evidence for it or its proprietor, Joseph Howard other than the evidence left in the paranumismatic record. This comprises two varieties of the above token. Both of these are dated 1671 and struck from very similar yet different sets of dies (Note 1). The existence of two die varieties of this token suggests they were issued in some considerable numbers. This is further confirmed from their relatively high survival rate in modern collections of this token series.

New Street, Westminster (c.1720) pff the west end of King's Street in Covent Garden.
New Street, Westminster (c.1720) pff the west end of King’s Street in Covent Garden.

Approximately 80 different coffeehouse tokens were issued in London during the period 1663 to 1672 with the majority (at least 50%) of them being attributed to the brief period 1669 to 1671(2). Nearly all of them were valued at either a half penny or penny. The comparative large size of Joseph Howard’s token suggests it to be of a penny denomination. Penny tokens appear late (i.e. post 1668/9) in the issuing series of mid seventeenth century tradesmen’s tokens which extended from 1649 to 1672. This example is clearly dated 1671.

As in this case many of the tokens issued by coffeehouses illustrated a hand or person serving coffee from a pot (invariably of the Turkish-ewer type) into a cupped dish or cup.

The Coffeehouse Revolution of the mid-17th Century

The last ten years has seen a rapid increase in the popularity of London’s coffeehouse culture with branded establishments offering comfortable surroundings in which to buy hot beverages and catch-up with the latest news and gossip. However, the real coffeehouse revolution in the city took place in the mid-1600s to early 1700s. During this period as many as 1,000 such establishments played host in the capital to caffeine-fuelled debate, wheeler-dealing and gossip-mongering usually in smoke filled surroundings. While the coffeehouses were predominantly a male abode they catered for all classes of society as long as all obeyed certain basic house rules of etiquette.

The first English coffeehouse was opened in Oxford by a Lebanese Jew by the name of Jacob who traded from the sign of the Angel in 1650(3). The exact origins of the first London coffeehouse are a little confused. However, by combining the evidence presented by several early sources it is possible to piece together a credible account of its opening and the interrelationships of the various persons associated with it.

In 1651 Thomas Hodges, a London grocer and Turkey merchant, welcomed a young draper and Levant Company merchant by the name of Daniel Edwards into his home in Walbrook with the prospect of the young man marrying his daughter. Edwards had returned from Izmir with his Greek servant Pasqua Rosee with a habit for drinking coffee, the principle ingredient for which, the coffee bean, he also brought back home in quantity. The novelty of coffee at Hodges’ home, which attracted many friends and neighbours who soon got the taste for the new drink, impeded the family’s work, so Edwards and his now father-in-law set up Rosee in a stall in St. Michael’s churchyard, Cornhill to sell coffee to the public (4). This was the first coffeehouse in London and traded under the sign depicting the head and shoulders of its proprietor, Pasqua Rosee (5). The sign of “The Turk’s Head” (although not necessarily that of Rosee) would soon become synonymous with coffee-houses through England and the sign image was often reproduced on the obverse of many of the tokens issued by such establishments.

Rosee proved to be a shrewd businessman and popularised his new business by issuing printed handbills that which made some extravagant medicinal claims about the new wonder drink, “coffee”. He claimed it helped cure hangovers, cured dropsy, gout and scurvy, helped prevents miscarriages and even facilitated the breaking of wind!

Pasqua Rosee's handbill of the 1650s advertising the virtues of the new wonder drink
Pasqua Rosee’s handbill of the 1650s advertising the virtues of the new wonder drink “Coffee” and its availability at his establishment in St. Michael’s Alley, Cornhill.

Ale seller’s close by Rosee’s stall, presumably angry at his new business stealing some of their traditional customers, queried his right as a foreigner to trade in the City. This issue was overcome by Rosee going into partnership with Christopher Bowman. Bowman had been apprenticed to Hodges until 1654 when he gained his freedom from the Worshipful Company of Grocers. Their business continued to flourish and by 1656 had moved into enclosed premises in nearby St. Michael’s Alley. However, the partnership was short lived and Rosee and Bowman ended up running rival coffee-houses on opposite sides of the alley to each other. Rosee shop traded under the sign of his own head and shoulders while Bowman’s operate under the sign of a coffee pot (6).

It is believed that Rosee left London for The Hague to set-up business there on his own (7) while Bowman continued to trade on his own in Exchange Alley until his death in 1663. While this first coffee-house didn’t survive the ravages of the Great Fire of London in September 1666 a further establishment, the Jamaica Coffee House was built on the same plot in 1667. Today this historic location in St. Michael’s Alley is marked by the later built Jamaican Wine House together with an official City of London plaque commemorating the spot of London’s first coffeehouse.

The Jamaica Wine House in St. Michael's Alley, Cornhill occupies the spot of London's firsr Coffee-house. The commemorative plaque (see inser top right) was errected in 1952.
The Jamaica Wine House in St. Michael’s Alley, Cornhill occupies the spot of London’s firsr Coffeehouse. The commemorative plaque (see inser top right) was errected in 1952.

The popularity of the new drink soon encouraged similar businesses to spring up throughout the capital and by 1714 it has been estimated that there was 1000 coffeehouses in London, Westminster and their immediate environs (8).

Prior to the advent of the coffee house men had gathered in taverns to do business and exchange ideas. However, such establishments were often unpleasant, rowdy and, owing to the effects of the ale they sold, were unproductive venues. Coffee, on the other hand, as Pasqua Rosee’s advertisement for the new beverage put it “will prevent drowsiness and make one fit for business”.

Soon, intellectuals, professionals and merchants thronged to the coffeehouses to debate, read and distribute pamphlets, do deals, smoke and, of course, consume one of the new imported hot beverages on offer. Amongst these were tea, imported from the East Indies; chocolate, first introduced from South and Central America by the Spanish; and coffee introduced to Western Europe by traders returning from the Ottoman Empire. Additionally it is clear from the paranumismatic evidence that some 17th century coffee-houses also offered a further imported beverage in the form of sherbet. Sherbet was another import from the Ottoman Empire and comprised a drink made from diluted fruit juice and sugar and cooled with fresh snow or crushed ice when possible.

The reverse of a London Coffee-house penny token of the early 1660s advertising the various commodities on offer to its patrons. As stated in the central field of the token these included
The reverse of a London Coffeehouse penny token of the early 1660s advertising the various commodities on offer to its patrons. As stated in the central field of the token these included “Coffee, Chocolat, Tea, Sherbett & Tobac sould in Exchange Alley”.

Newsletters and gazettes (the precursors of newspapers) were distributed in coffeehouses which also functioned as reading rooms and notice boards announcing sales, sailings, and auctions to the businessmen who frequented them. The coffee houses were commonly referred to as “penny universities”. As for the inclusive admission charge of a penny, a suitably dressed man could gain access to the well-heated and furnished premises where he could expand his mind by choosing to enter into discourse with his fellows or reading one of the many pamphlets and newsletters on offer. The coffeehouses offered all this in addition to a dish of hot coffee and a clay pipe full of tobacco (9).

A contemporary print depicting a typical 17th Century London Coffee-house.
A contemporary print depicting a typical 17th Century London Coffeehouse.

The best known began to attract a distinct clientele. By the late 1680s, Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House on Tower Street, had earned a reputation as the place to go to organise marine insurance. It later evolved into world-famous insurance market, Lloyd’s of London. In 1698, the owner of Jonathan’s Coffee House in Exchange Alley began to issue a list of stock and commodity prices entitled “The Course of the Exchange and other things” so starting of the London Stock Exchange. The auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s had similar coffeehouse origins.

Certain coffeehouses attracted likeminded professionals and traders. For example physicians frequented Batson’s coffee house in Cornhill which doubled to many as a consulting room. The Chapter Coffee House, at the corner of Chapterhouse Court, on the south side of Paternoster Row was the chosen meeting place for publishers and booksellers. Scientists and members of the newly inaugurated Royal Society, such as Sir Isaac Newton and Edmund Halley preferred the Grecian on the Strand. While the wits of the day, including the playwright Dryden, gathered at Will’s coffee house in Russell Street, Covent Garden.

However, not everyone was in favour of the new wonder drink or the almost exclusively male establishments from which it was sold. Those that lived close by to coffeehouses often complained about the continual polluting smell of beans being roasted. Tavern keepers were also raised apposition to the new coffee houses as they threatened their business. One contemporary satirical poem referred to coffee as “syrup of soot” or “essence of old shoes”. Many women also objected to the amount of time their husbands spent in the new “penny universities”. In 1674, a pamphlet entitled “The Women’s Petition against Coffee” was published in which it was said that coffee, “made men as unfruitful as the deserts whence that unhappy berry is said to be brought”.

A pamphalet of 1674 entitled
A pamphalet of 1674 entitled “The Women;s Petition Against Coffee”.

This was answered almost immediately by the male supporters in a reply pamphlet entitled “The Men’s Answer to the Women’s Petition Against Coffee”.

A pamphlet of 1674 entitled
A pamphlet of 1674 entitled “The Men’s Answer to the Women’s Petition Against Coffee”.

Another opponent of the new coffeehouses was King Charles II. Despite earning substantial revenues from the sale of coffee, in 1675 he attempted to ban the establishments, condemning them as, “places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of his Majesty and his Ministers(10). However, the popular outcry generated from the king’s attempt to outlaw the coffee house movement soon caused him and his government to back down from their proposals.

By the mid-18th century, coffeehouses began to wane in popularity as the nation’s tastes turned to drinking tea which was becoming far more affordable given the increased trade with the East Indies. Those coffeehouses that remained began to attract a more gentile and select clientele, with many of them charging membership fees. And so was born the Gentleman’s Club.


1)      Examples of both token die varieties can be seen in the Museum of London’s on-line collection (see collection items numbers NN17949 and NN17948).



1) Akerman, J.Y. – Tradesmen’s tokens current in London and its vicinity between the years 1648 and 1672. (London, 1849).

2) Berry, G. – Seventeenth Century England: Traders and their Tokens. (London, 1988).

3) Wood, A. – Athemae Oxonienses. An Exact History of Writers and Bishops who have had their education in the University of Oxford. Vol. I. Edited by Bliss, P. for the Ecclesiastical History Society. (Oxford, 1848)

4) Thompson, R. – London Coffee-House Tokens. The Journal of the London Numismatic Club. Volume VIII, Newsletter No.10 (2007)

5) Cowan, B – Rosee, Pasqua. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (On-line edition, Oxford University Press, 2004-14).

6) Ibid.

7) Ukers, W. H – All about Coffee. The Tea and Coffee Trade Journal (New York, 1922).

8) Brandon, D. – Life in a 17th Century Coffee Shop. (Sutton Publishing, Stroud, 2007).

9) Cowan, B. – The Social Life of Coffee – The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse. (Yale University, 2005).

10)  Anderson, A. – An Historical and Chronological Deduction of the Origin of Commerce from Earliest Accounts. Vol. II (London, 1787).

Further Reading:

Brandon, D. – Life in a 17th Century Coffee Shop. (Sutton Publishing, Stroud, 2007).

Cowan, B. – The Social Life of Coffee – The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse. (Yale University, 2005).


Filed under London Coffee House Tokens, Tokens from West of the City Walls