Co-op Checks & Tokens

The three main types are as follows:- 

Dividend checks

These are discs bearing the name of the society and a monetary value and are often made from tinned iron in a bracteate form.  As societies got richer, better checks were produced from brass and bronze.  Metallic checks were introduced in the mid 19th century by co-operative societies to enable members to obtain their dividend from purchases made at the store.  The system was simple to operate.  Checks were issued equal to the sum spent in the store, and were retained by the member until the quarterly or half yearly dividend was declared, the checks were then taken to the co-op office to be redeemed for cash.  If the dividend was declared at 2/- in the pound, £5 in purchases would result in 10/- in coin of the realm.

This type of system also gave an accurate reading on the day to day takings, the monetary amount of checks issued should be the same as the cash in the till, of course that was not always the case, as one has to allow for human error and not all shopmen were honest, many early societies were closed through dishonesty by shopmen.  Sometimes some members held back their checks at the end of the quarter hoping for a better dividend in the next quarter, this of course could upset the balance sheets, if a low dividend of 3% was declared and two thirds of the members withheld their checks until say a dividend of 6% was declared, the society would end up paying double on checks that should have been redeemed at 3%, in small societies this practice could cause serious financial problems, another hazard was created by affluent members buying the poorer members checks and holding these back for good dividends.

One serious problem that caused many societies to abandon metallic checks was the forging if high value checks, those of 10/-, £1 and £5, after paying out the dividend many societies found themselves deeply in the red through this practice.  A man in halifax was sent to prison in 1881 for forging high value co-op checks from many different societies.  A few societies that used checks also used a members book system where their purchases were recorded, this of course gave an accurate account of how much dividend they were entitled to, the book and the checks had to, tally and both had to be brought in for the dividend, this system was also abused by alterations in the book and check buying.

Not all societies used metal checks although it was probably the most popular system in victorian times, some scottish societies used early plastics for their dividend checks e.g. Vulcanite and Bakelite.  Most societies abandoned their metallic checks for the ‘climax’ triple paper counterfoil system before 1920 an exception being the royal arsenal society whose checks were in use till 1960, that’s why they are so common.

Prepayment tokens

Similar to dividend checks but could have dairy dept, milk dept, bakery etc.  Together with a monetary value or usually the commodity is clearly stated such as milk, bread, coal etc.  These type of tokens started to come into use after world war I.  The earlier ones being made from tinned iron, brass, copper or bronze, or aluminium later examples are usually plastic.  These tokens could be purchased at the local co-op as required, or in bulk and the value credited to your dividend account. 

The tokens could be left out or given to the delivery man, deliveries were speeded up as no cash was involved or change given.  When the price of the commodity was altered a token of a different shape or different colour was usually issued to denote this.  2006, I know of only one society that still uses milk tokens!!

Mutuality tokens

Sometimes called club change or P.B.A. (Personal Buyers Account) tokens.  These tokens were given in change for loans taken out by members to buy furniture, clothing etc.  The society issued a cheque to a member to be spent in the store, if the cheque was for £10 and only £9-16-0 was spent the 4/- remaining would be given to the member in mutuality tokens which could be spent anywhere in the store.

Other tokens that do not fall into the above categories are internal tokens, such as canteen tokens, time and tool checks etc.

Useful References and Links:

For a more in depth description of checks and tokens and a brief history of the co-operative movement obtain a copy of Co-operative checks, tickets, tokens & coins by P.S. Waddell.
An excellent invaluable booklet for the historian or co-op collector.

D.R. Rains
November 2006