The origin of the Elephant token is unknown. It has been conjectured they were first minted soon after the great London fire of 1666 because the motto on the reverse reads, GOD PRESERVE LONDON. However, there is no evidence to substantiate this claim. More likely the motto is simply a general petition for divine grace. Also, because of the elephant on the obverse, it has been suggested the tokens were produced for the Royal African Company, founded by the Duke of York in 1622; but Frank Steimle recently explored this question and states that although a relationship to the company is possible, there is no evidence linking the production of the coins to the company. It seems the elephant was used as an eye catching novelty rather than as a symbol for a specific organization.
All Elephant tokens have an obverse depicting a large tusked elephant. There was only a single elephant punch but two dies are known to have been produced from the punch. In one die (obverse 1) the elephant is more to the center of the planchet so that the tusks are away from the milled border, on the other die (obverse 2) the elephant is more to the left so that the tusks are quite close to the planchet border. In all there are seven varieties of Elephant tokens. Four have a reverse displaying the shield of the city of London (consisting of a cross with a sword that is usually in the upper left quadrant) and a motto that mentions London, and thus are called the "London elephant tokens." Three of these London varieties have the reverse motto GOD PRESERVE LONDON. These three types are distinguished by the shield, the most common variety, which comes in both thick and thin planchet versions, has the cross with the sword in the upper left quadrant; on the obverse the tusks of the elephant are near the rim on the coin. A rarer type has intersecting diagonal lines in the form of an X on the center of the cross (called the saltire cross), while another variety of saltire cross has the sword misplaced in the upper right quadrant. Both of these two variant styles have an obverse in which the elephant's tusks are further from the rim. The final London Elephant has the standard shield without diagonals but only has the one word motto LONDON. This variety has the obverse in which the tusks are close to the rim.
Three other rare Elephant varieties exist with the elephant obverse but with reverses that simply carry a motto and the date 1694, hence they have been called the 1694 Elephants. One of the 1694 Elephant varieties has the reverse motto GOD PRESERVE CAROLINA AND THE LORDS PROPRIETERS 1694. On the obverse the elephant's tusks are away from the rim. A second version of this variety was issued correcting the misspelling (TERS for TORS) in proprietors to: GOD PRESERVE CAROLINA AND THE LORDS PROPRIETORS 1694. The final variety is very rare, with only three examples known, and carries the reverse motto, GOD PRESERVE NEW ENGLAND 1694. In this variety the elephant's tusks are close to the rim. In the first part of the Norweb collection auction catalog (Bowers and Merena October 12-13, 1987), Michael Hodder listed the Elephant obverses and reverses as well as the known die combinations. That information is added here for those without access to the catalog. To view the listing of Elephant token dies and combinations, click here.
Recently Steimle and Gladfelter expressed the view that all of the Elephant tokens, both the London and the 1694 Elephants, were produced soon after each other because the same obverse dies were used throughout the series. They pointed out that obverse die 1, with the tusks away from the edge, is found on two London varieties and the 1694 PROPRIETERS variety, while obverse die 2, with the tusks near the edge, is found on the two other London varieties and the two other 1694 varieties. Also, both the London and 1694 Elephant tokens are found on thick and thin planchets leading one to suspect the same planchet stocks were used for both types. As three varieties bear the date 1694, it is now thought all seven varieties of these tokens date to that period. Previously it was believed the undated London Elephants were made soon after 1672. This was because two London Elephant tokens were discovered to have been struck over halfpence dated 1672. It had been thought the minter simply took two recently minted coins from his pocket and used them as planchets. However, Steimle has suggested this may not be the case, rather the minter was probably using two older coins instead of new ones. This seems likely since following the production of the Charles II copper halfpence of 1672-1675 (produced in 1672, 1673 and 1675) all royal halfpence were made of tin until 1694 (tin halfpence with a copper plug were produced 1685-1687 and 1689-1692). Thus, for any year in this period from 1672 up to the year of the 1694 dated Elephants, the most recent coppers available for use as planchets would be from the 1672-1675 series of Charles II.
The Elephant tokens were designed at the Tower mint in London for use in England, with the Carolina and New England tokens evidently serving as promotional pieces to increase interest in the colonies. In fact, as late as 1769, the numismatist Thomas Snelling stated he saw two obverse Elephant token dies in the Tower mint. Traditionally, the dies have been assigned to John Roettier, Chief Engraver at the Tower mint. Although they were probably created during his tenure, there is no evidence he personally worked on the design or cutting of these dies. It appears the tokens were neither made for nor intended for circulation in the American colonies. Indeed, the exact use of these pieces is unknown. They may not have been used as coins at all because of the great weight differentials between thick and thin planchets; some are over 200 grains, far in excess of the 152 grain halfpenny, while other much below the standard at 110 grains or less. Hodder has suggested they may have served as lottery tickets.
See: Breen, 32-33; Hodder refers to The Norweb Collection: Part 1 Early American and U.S. Coins, a public auction sale of October 12 and 13, 1987 in New York City by Bowers and Merena Inc., Wolfboro, N.H.: Bowers and Merena, 1987, pp. 357-362 with an introduction and lots 1227-1237 (on p. 10 of the catalog L. Arlin, R. Bagg, M. Hodder, D. Bowers, R. Merena and T. Becker are listed as the catalogers, I assume the colonial introductions and descriptions are by Hodder); Frank Steimle, "A Tricentennial Review and Comments on the 'God Preserve . . .' Elephant Token," The Colonial Newsletter 35 (April 1995, serial no. 99), 1481-87; and David Gladfelter, "A Tale of Two Elephants," The Colonial Newsletter 35 (July 1995, serial no. 100), 1511-14.
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