Communion Tokens, pp.340-344.

[Scottish National Memorials Contents]

   COLLECTION OF COMMUNION TOKENS as used generally in the Parish Churches of Scotland from seventeenth and eighteenth century till present time; also varieties as used by the several Dissenting Presbyterian Churches in Scotland, England, Ireland, and Colonies, and a Collection of Scottish Town and Tradesmen’s Tokens, Pence, Half-pence, and Farthings, as used in Scotland during latter end of eighteenth and early part of present century. 

(1374) Lent by J. H. PRATT. 

   Metal tokens, tickets, or badges are of considerable antiquity, and have been used for many purposes. The most familiar form of them is that known as the Communion token. 

   In Scotland the Presbyterian ministers took peculiar pains to ensure that no person, unworthy in their estimation, should be admitted to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and the term ‘fencing the tables’ was no metaphorical expression, nor was it confined merely to words of warning and threatening, but it was literal in the extreme. The table was generally, in olden times, a literal table specially made for the purpose, and sometimes separated from the other portions of the church by a wooden barrier or, as it is termed, ‘ane travess1 for holding furth of the non-communicants,’ and to this table none were admitted except those who produced their tokens. 

   The tokens were generally distributed at a time and place appointed by the Session. In 1572 the Kirk Session of St. Andrews appointed the communicants to receive their ‘tikats fra the clark of the quarter quhair they dwel or minister.’ In 1574 the Session of Edinburgh2 ordained that the ‘haill communicants cum in proper person upon Friday next, at twa hours efternoon, and ressave their tickets in the place of examination.’ The Session of Galston in 1673 ‘laid down a way how to distribute the tickets to those that are to communicate,’ and that was to give to the elder of each quarter a certified list of all the communicants within his district, and as many tickets as there were names upon his list. In Fenwick, the Kirk-Session in 1698 met a week before the Fast Day ‘for the judicial distribution of the tokens,’ and the following year it was minuted that the Session divided themselves into committees in order to the admission of persons to the Lord’s Table.’ In more recent years advantage has been taken of tile Sacramental Fasts, and other preparation services, to distribute the tokens. 

   The first mention of a token, in connection with the Reformed Church, occurs in the Register of St. Andrews Kirk Session,3 on the 2d May 1560 – ‘Walter Adie delatat with thir wordis, Wille Mayne, will ye give me ane techet to be served the Divellis dirt?’4 No tokens of the sixteenth century are known to exist, but some of the first decade of the seventeenth century are still extant. The oldest ones consisted of a rough and often somewhat irregular piece of metal, in form either circular, triangular, square, oblong, or heart-shaped, and varying from a quarter of an inch to an inch and a half in diameter. 

   The earliest device affixed to these tokens appears to have consisted merely of the initial letter of the parish, to which was afterwards added on the reverse the initials of the minister, and sometimes the date. Frequently the letter K for Kirk was added (see Figs. 278, 279, 282), or P for Parish, and occasionally the principal letters of the name of the Parish were substituted for the mere initials (see Figs. 276, 280, 281, 284.). Other devices were also often added, such as a cup, a heart, a cross, the burgh arms, or a view of the church (see Figs. 278, 283, 285, 286), or a rebus, as in Melrose (see Fig. 287). On some tokens there was inscribed a text of Scripture, and on others there will frequently be found a numeral (usually from 1 to 6) to denote the table to which the communicant was to be admitted. 

   Up to the commencement of the nineteenth century, and in some instances even later, most of these church tokens were very rudely made, and appear to have been manufactured principally by unskilled hands, such as the village blacksmith, although there are records which show that occasionally a plumber, and even a goldsmith, was commissioned to make them. They were very often made by the ministers themselves. 

   In general, two methods were employed in manufacturing them – (1) Casting. Many parishes possessed iron moulds of the form of the ordinary skellet for casting them in, but, as only one could be cast at a time, the process must have been very tedious. In old Session Records, where inventories of church property are detailed, the token-mould is often mentioned. The moulds were not, however, always made of iron, or even of metal. In 1768 a set of moulds, or cams, made of Water-of-Ayr stones, was presented to the Session of Mauchline for casting the tokens. (2) Striking. Some parishes possessed an apparatus consisting of an iron box to contain the disc of metal, and a punch which fitted into it to strike the device. The tokens made thus bore a sharper impression than the cast ones.  

   Besides these two methods, it is evident, from the irregular form of many of the tokens, that they were made separately by hand, probably chiselled from a sheet of metal, and had the initials struck by a punch. 

   Sometimes, although rarely, they were made of brass, but most commonly of lead and tin. Mr. W. Ivison Macadam has made exhaustive analyses of tokens of different periods.5 From these it appears that lead was almost exclusively used in the tokens between 1700 and 1745. Between 1745 and 1800 an alloy of lead and tin was employed, by which a sharper and more durable impression was obtained, and the tokens made of this alloy will be found in a better state of preservation than those made exclusively of tin or lead. Tin was sometimes, although rarely, employed alone. 

   From an examination of the workmanship alone it is impossible to determine the antiquity of any of these tokens, and in no sense can they be said to reflect the state of the arts in Scotland at the time they were made. 

   But church tokens were not always made of metal. The Communion tickets of St. Andrews,6 in 1656, were ordered to be ‘written by the clerk’; and it is recorded that when the Lord’s Supper was first dispensed to the Secession congregation at Ceres,7 in 1743, two thousand tokens were distributed, which, according to tradition, were circular pieces of leather about the size of a shilling, with a hole perforated in the centre. It may be also worthy of note that the first Presbyterian Church of the city of Charleston,8 U.S., used paper tickets until the beginning of this century, when elaborately engraved silver tokens were adopted. 

   Exclusion from the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper invested the person so excluded with the character of a pariah, and it was not unusual, as Dr. Edgar records,9 for persons under scandal to force or fraudulently find their way to the Lord’s Table. There are at least two instances of men being summoned before the Session of Mauchline for returning small pieces of coin instead of tokens to the elders at the Communion table. One gave a farthing and another a sixpence. In 1775, at a meeting of the same Session, it was reported that a woman under scandal had been seen at the table, and that she had a token. In 1647 a man was called before the Session of Galston for ‘giving a ticket to a strange unknown woman to whom the minister refused a ticket for manifold reasons,’ and the woman was also called before the Session for accepting and using the ticket. The Kirk Session of St. Andrews in 1572 ordained that those who presented themselves at the Communion without a ticket ‘sal mak public satisfactioun, and upon thair kneis ask God and the congregation forgifnes.’ Wodrow relates the following circumstance which occurred at his own communion at Eastwood in 1711. Two or three English soldiers presented themselves at that communion, and one of them came forward without a token. He happened to be seated near the upper end of the table, within whispering reach of Wodrow himself, who, seeing that he had no token, desired him to come out to the churchyard, where he asked him why he had presumed to seat himself at the Lord’s Table without a token of admission. ‘In my native country,’ replied the soldier, ‘there is no such custom as you refer to, and if I have given offence it was not of intention, but in ignorance of Scottish ways.’ Wodrow then examined him, and being well satisfied with his answers, gave him a token, and told him he might go forward to the next table. 

   The Reformed Church of Scotland cannot claim to have invented tokens, or even to have been the first to have applied them to ecclesiastical purposes. As early as 1502 leaden badges were used as the distinctive marks of the licensed beggars (see page 255). The reference, moreover, to tokens in the Records of the Church is so early – May 1560 – as lead to the inference that their use was the survival or continuance of a Pre-Reformation custom. Mr. Cochran-Patrick states that leaden counters were used in the Catholic Churches10 before the Reformation, and adds that he has some in his collection with emblems on them which could hardly have been in use in the Presbyterian Church in the seventeenth or eighteenth century. Another writer also refers to what are known as ‘Abbey tokens’11 – made of lead and pewter, and quite distinct from the copper coins known as ‘Abbey pieces’ – which were given to the frequenters of the sacraments. He refers to the tokens still presented to the members of many (if not all) of the Roman Catholic confraternities on their reception: to those of the Templars and secret societies of the Middle Ages, and to the traces of their use as badges of membership in the mysteries of paganism. The Rev. Andrew Fleming, of Blairs College, mentions that the custom of giving tokens or tickets to those going to the Communion at Easter, when all Catholics are obliged to go, was observed in the Catholic Church of St. Andrew’s, in Glasgow, some forty years ago, but is now abolished. Me also states that tokens, or rather tickets, are still used in Rome, but they are given to the communicants at Easter after they have been at the Communion, and not before. 

   In the Book of Common Prayer, intended for the Church of Scotland, and written in the reign of James VI., it is ordered12 that ‘So many as intend to be partakers of the holy communion, shall receive there tokins from the minister the night before.’ And Dr. Sprott,13 in one of his editorial notes, says that tokens ‘have always been used, too, in the Episcopal congregations of old standing in the north of Scotland.’ They were also used in England. Cardinal Pole is said to have employed them in Queen Mary’s time, in order to know who conformed and who did not. The token-books of St. Saviour’s, Southwark,14 extending from 1592 or 1593 to 1630, are still preserved. In 1596, 2200 tokens are accounted for at twopence each, and in 1620, 1862 tokens at threepence each. They are mentioned in the churchwardens’ book of the parish of Newbury in 1658, and in the parish account-book of St. Peter, Mancroft, Norwich. Perhaps the most interesting reference to their use in England occurs in the trial in 1634 of John Richardson, Esq.,15 who farmed the tithes and oblations of ‘the chapelrie of Sct. Margaret’s in Durham.’ He was charged with disturbing divine service on Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Day, by his irreverent manner of collecting the dues. One witness deponed that, at Easter time and on Communion days, Richardson’s predecessor ‘tooke Easter reckeninges of such people as received the holie communion, and there accompted with them, and delivered and received tokens of them as is used in other parishes, as examinate beleveth.’ Another testified that Richardson, or his under-farmers, usually write down ‘the names of all the then communicants not householders, and att the time of writinge there names dow deliver them tokens, which in the tyme of the administracion of the sacrament’ they ‘call for againe, to the end they may knowe whoe doe pay their Easter offeringes and whoe doe not.’ And another explained that sixteen or twenty years previously he had seen ‘Richardson at Easter time goe upp and downe amongst the communicants, and in time of receiving the holie communion receive of some communicants some monies, and take in certaine leade tokens (as the use of the parish is) from such as had formerlie by there maisters reckened and payed.’ And that he had ‘seene all whoe were under-farmors to Richardson since that tyme… doe the like.’ 

   The Presbyterian Church has never charged dues for the sacraments nor sold her tokens. Printed tickets have now taken the place of metal tokens in many parishes, and the use of the latter is becoming more and more limited every year. [A. J. S. B.] 

1  Old Church Life in Scotland, Dr. Andrew Edgar (Alexander Gardner, Paisley, 1885), p. 138. 

2  Ibid. pp. 134, 135. 

3  Register of St. Andrews Kirk Session, edited by David Hay Fleming (Scottish History Society, 1889), vol. i. p. 34. 

4  A term used to express great contempt. 

5  Proceedings of the Soc. Antiq. Scot., New Series, vol. ii. p. 167. 

6  Lee’s Lectures, vol. i. p. 401. 

7  Mackelvie’s Annals and Statistics of the U.P. Church, pp. 126, 127. 

8  Register of St. Andrews Kirk-Session, Editorial footnote, vol. i. p. 34. 

9  Old Church Life in Scotland, pp. 238, 239. 

10  Notes and Queries, fifth series, xi. 515. 

11  Ibid. i. 201, 202. 

12  Scottish Liturgies of the Reign of James VI., 1871, p. 65. 

13  Ibid. p. 107. 

14  Notes and Queries, fifth series, x. 108, 109. 

15  Acts of the High Commission Court within the Diocese of Durham (Surtees Society), pp. 82-100. 

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