By Frank Palmer The token pictured on this page is a 1652 issue by William Keye. It is about the size of a farthing and was produced at the Tower Mint,London.

In the 1640s and 50s William Keye (or Key) was the owner and master of a ship the providence of Rye. He had been made a freeman, in 1624, and was a contractor to the government taking quantities of great shot from the iron furnaces in Sussex through Rye to the Tower of London at £13-10s per ton also supplying the navy and forts with cables, anchors and shot also Sussex corn for the navy, and bringing back black powder for the Rye Garrison.

Rye Token 2
Rye Token 2

A serious shortage of small change resulted in some tradesmen issuing small tokens, used in lieu of currency. William Keye issued his farthing token in 1652. This token was one of five issues in Rye; the others being Rye Corporation, Michael Cadman at the Mermaid, William Boyce grocer and Thomas Tutty a brewer. Tokens were issued throughout Britain in almost every town and village. The legend (the inscription round the edge of the coin) on Keyes token reads “William Keye at the” and a sailing ship under full sail and continues on the opposite side “sheepe in Rye” 1652 (spelling a bit erratic at this time) and the initials of Keye and his first wife K.W.I. His second wife was Anne the sister of Samual Jeake.

In 1894 F A Inderwick QC (the MP for Rye 1880-1885) wrote two articles for the Sussex Archeological Society “The Rye Engagement” and “Rye under the Commonwealth”: he incorrectly gives the legend of Keyes token in both articles as “Sheepe Inn Rye” and describes him as the landlord of the Sheepe Inn. Ever since, guide book writers and historians have described this token, as issued by William Keye inn keeper of the Ship Inn although all the information we have on him points to the fact he is master and owner of a ship. Research has failed to find the existence of a Ship Inn in Rye at this time, mid 17th. Century and no record of Keye being an inn keeper has been found.

It is now thought that this token was issued by a ship owner of Rye i.e. William Keye, possibly to pay the men who loaded and unloaded his ship at “Mr. Key’s Dock” in the Strand (see Jeakes map of Rye 1666/7)

The tokens were not minted in Rye as is sometimes suggested but at the Tower Mint, London and came to an end with the new copper coinage of Charles II in 1672.

From “Rye’s Own” August 2004 issue,