The image below is of a pretty beaten up coin that is actually a French 10 Centimes bronze coin from 1855. The unidentifiable imprint on it is an eagle with his head turned to the right while it clutches a quiver of arrows. The inscription, “Empire Francais Dix Centimes” that is embossed around the circumference translates as, “French Empire Ten Cents”.
Based on the condition as seen here, the value of this 145-year-old coin is about a buck.
The value of this coin, however, is based on which side you look at. Flip it over and its value shoots up 10,000% because stamped into the face of this coin is; “Mitchell, Saw Maker, Brighton”.
So what was ol’ Henry up to defacing Emperor Napoleon the III’s coins?
He was creating a “coupon”.
While throughout history, men have been putting one stamp or another in coins, during the latter half of the 19th century, this practice became a very common practice in commerce.
While the basis of offset printing was invented by Gutenberg way back in 1452, it was an extremely labour-intensive process, as was the paper that was printed. These two facts conspired to cause printing for basic advertising to be beyond the financial grasp of the average shop owner. While the Linotype machine was invented in 1886, it did not come into widespread use until the beginning of the 20th century.
The Linotype machine was a pretty fascinating piece of work, for those of you that are interested in machinery. Using a keyboard, the “Compositor” would punch in the text. The machine would then use that information to assemble a line of text using molds of each letter, called “matrices”, setting them side by side as needed. The machine would then cast that mold into a “slug”, which was one line of set text. It then assembled the slugs in the “galley”, assembling them in the required order so as to define the story. When the printing was completed, the slugs were melted down and the material used again for the next run.
Added to this labour saver was the cost cutting in the manufacturing of paper, switching from the standard practice of using linen fiber to using wood pulp.
So all of this helped reduce the cost of printing at the beginning of the 20th century, but that didn’t help poor ol’ Henry back in about 1870. In his shop on North Street in Brighton, he was producing everything from ultimate braces to saws, but remember, this was the latter half of the 19th century. One of his complex molding planes with a single blade would sell for less than 75 cents. To bring up his volume so he could purchase stock at better prices, Henry had to advertise.
Like many small businesses at the time, Henry turned to “Counterstamping” coins. Because it was against the law to deface the British currency, Henry brought in hundreds of 10centimes coins from France and beat the hell out of those. He then handed them out as change to put them back into circulation in the hopes that they would find their way to someone in need of a joining tool. When the coins were presented to Henry back at the shop, he would give the bearer credit for the value of the coin, worth about 3 British pennies. By today's standards, given the price of hand-made wood planes, that would equal a $30 to $45 discount, not a value to sneeze at.
I purchased this coin from Rich Hartzog who operates World Exonumia, a dealer in historical coins, medals and tokens. It is purported to have once been a part of Dr. Gregory G. Brunk’s collection, Dr. Bunk being a noted authority on counterstamped coins. Mr. Hartzog has published some of Dr. Brunk’s books on counterstamped coins and is currently assembling the second update of Brunk’s title, “Merchant and Privately Countermarked Coins”. From the research I have done, I do not believe there are too many of ol’ Henry’s French francs left.
While there is the acceptance that this coin has two values; one as a French 10centimes coin and the other as a Merchant’s form of advertising, I am hoping there is a third value to it now. Adding it to my small but growing collection of H.E. Mitchell planes and I am hoping it might have just increased the value of the whole lot by more than the value of the coin. That was the rational behind its purchase, but only time will tell if it is a workable one.
Profitable or not, I have spent a number of enjoyable hours this week researching the history of these coins and in doing so, I learned a bit more about ol’ Henry Mitchell. He was obviously a bit of a hustler.