Co-operative Tokens, Sports Direct and The Bristol Pound


A little while ago I put up the photograph above on Twitter of three Co-operative Society tokens I had found; in this case from the Pontycymmer Industrial and Co-operative Society for a large loaf and one pint and a half pint (presumably of milk).  These got me thinking – yes I know – and I asked Stephanie Letham (a PhD student of mine) to explore a little further.

She writes, drawing particularly on the pamphlet by Waddell (1993) and a conversation with David Rose:

“Many people may still have some of these highly collectable old tokens lying around the house somewhere, but they were very much used within the Co-operative Society Movement in the UK from the early 1850’s to the late 1960’s.

A customer goes into a local co-op and exchanges real money, getting back in its place a commodity token that may or may not come with a value printed on it but will display the commodity name itself, e.g. bread, milk or coal. Tokens could be exchanged inside a co-op store for the value of the milk, bread or coal or the customer would leave the tokens at their door step for collection when the products were delivered. Tokens purchased in this way were unique to each society as in the examples in the photo show (and as can be readily found online).   Other ways of obtaining tokens could be as part of the dividend distribution.

It is understood that the tokens allowed societies to calculate demand and delivery requirements from their customers. The money received for the tokens could allow the societies to order the raw materials that were required to make the goods.  There were also benefits from the delivery point as the milk men no longer had to handle money. However there were disadvantages from the use of tokens that included the price of the goods changing and different grades of the same goods being available.  When a society changed the tokens, this also involved the cost of new dies or new materials. At times the society would opt to use aluminium instead of brass or other materials – sometimes coloured.

There are many different tokens for different grades that can be found on commodity tokens for bread, milk, coal and even orange juice. Milk tokens were also printed to indicate that the milk could be free or at a reduced price. With this you could get, 1 WELFARE PINT, WFS MILK or FREE MILK, as examples”.

A full description of Co-op Tokens can be found in Waddell (1993) and there is also a useful section in the web-pages of The Token Society which sets them in the wider context of tokens generally.

Co-operative Societies of course came in to being in part to the fight against the ‘truck’ schemes of companies paying employees in their own money which was only redeemable at their own stores but at ruinous prices.  The Co-operative guaranteed fairness and equity even though the basic principle beyond the payment/money scheme is broadly the same.

This difference between the Co-operatives and the business owners (corporates) is an important one and in my view comes from the underlying principle and purpose behind the organisation.  Is this to extract the maximum profit from the situation or to be fair and equitable and to build a community?

So why the link in the heading to Sports Direct and the Bristol Pound?  I think we see the same underlying dichotomy at play today.  One of the key messages of the Select Committee report into Sports Direct was about its treatment of ‘workers as commodities’ and this included taking a fee for operating payment systems for them.  On the other side of the coin (sorry) we have the interest in and development of local currencies, including the dynamic and successful Bristol Pound  (a non-profit partnership between a Community Interest Company and Bristol Credit Union). Here, the motivation is to keep money circulating locally and to build the community of local citizens and organisations.

Bristol Pounds (e-currency also available)- photograph from

‘Money is the root of all evil’ is an old saying, but in these tokens and the dynamic local currencies (and the principles behind them) we are now seeing, it doesn’t always have to be so.


Waddell PDS (1993) Cooperative Checks: tickets, tokens and coins.  The British Association of Numismatic Societies Doris Stockwell Memorial Papers Number 5. ISBN 0 901603 02 3


About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
This entry was posted in Bristol Pound, Community Co-operatives, Cooperative Tokens, Cooperatives, Food Retailing, History, Local Currency, Local Multiplier, Localisation, Places, Retail Change, Sports Direct and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Co-operative Tokens, Sports Direct and The Bristol Pound

  1. Ron hughes says:

    Do you want any coop tokens I have many from nantymoel wales

  2. Leigh Sparks says:

    Ron, thanks for the tokens which arrived safely. Leigh

  3. Ron hughes says:

    Leigh glad you got them safe all the best Ron.

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