Scotland’s Deanston Cotton Mill Tokens

Finished in 1785, the Deanston Cotton Mill in Pirthshire, Scotland was built alongside the River Teith to harness the river’s power. Before modern automation, child labor laws and safety regulations, in its early years very young children worked at the factory …
Aerial View of Deanston Cotton Mill and Village

Aerial View of Deanston Cotton Mill and Village

Erected from 1784 to 1785, the Deanston Cotton Mill in Pirthshire, Scotland was constructed by the Buchanan brothers of Carston and designed by Sir Richard Arkwright. Also known as the Adelphi Cotton Works, the mill was built alongside the River Teith so that it could utilize its flow to power its works.

During its first two decades, the cotton mill was operated using significant manual labor.  But sometime around 1807 power looms were installed, and its need for human operation was lessened. In 1808 the mill was sold, and James Finlay & Company purchased the operation.

The firm of James & Finlay was quite innovative for their era. Upon acquisition, the mill was further modernized, and quickly it became an industrial leader of its time.  Among the innovations that Finlay added was a 1500-yard millrace.

Despite Finlay’s efforts, older workers at the mill resented the modernization efforts.  Interpreting the firm’s moves as endangering their jobs, its workers attempted to wreck the mill’s machinery in 1812. Their efforts were unsuccessful.

In addition to the mill’s works itself, the firm introduced other innovations to the operation. James Smith, a manager who went on to run the mill for decades, introduced the idea of divisions, whereby each floor of the mill was provisioned to perform specialized tasks for the mill’s manufacturing processes.

A novel and new idea of the time, his efforts at partitioning the mill’s workflow processes proved quite beneficial. At its heyday, the mill employed upwards of 1000 workers.  In addition to improving manufacturing, Smith also installed a larger waterwheel to power the factory. Known as “Hercules,” the wheel was the largest of its kind in Europe.

Divisions at Deanston c. Mid-19th Century

Divisions at Deanston c. Mid-19th Century

Surrounding the mill-works was the village of Deanston itself. It was there where the majority of the mill workers resided and lived. Houses for the workers were built by the firm, and rents charged for them were low compared to other cotton-mill towns like Glasgow.

19th Century Map of Deanston Cotton Works and Vicinity

19th Century Map of Deanston Cotton Works and Vicinity

However, along with the cheaper rent its workers were paid quite miserly. Spinners at the mill earned from 10s to 13s per week, while piercers earned 2 to 4ps per week.

In contrast, spinners in Glasgow learned from 23s to 30s per week.  Such disparities in wages did have an impact on Deanston’s workers. Although rent was indeed less expensive, the cost of living otherwise paralleled Glasgow, and workdays were just as long.

Cotton Workers Lining Up for Pay

Cotton Workers Lining Up for Pay

As with other mill towns, children usually worked alongside their parents in the factory. In other cases, parents sold their children into servitude, and the children were forced to work.

Mother Selling Child into Servitude

Mother Selling Child into Servitude

In the Deanston Cotton mill’s early years, very young children worked in the factory, yet safeguards were sorely lacking.

Child Labor in Cotton Mill

Child Labor in Cotton Mill

To improve working conditions, in 1802 a Parliamentary Act was passed. In 1819 a second was passed which specifically addressed child labor in the mills. Despite this, conditions for children working in mills did not improve. Neither of the two Acts were enforced, as no inspectors were hired to enforce them.

It wasn’t until thirteen years later that conditions for child labor were finally improved. A Royal Commission in 1832 investigated many of the ongoing problems within the cotton-mill industry; Child workers were found to be regularly beaten, injured, as well as locked inside the factories. Safety practices in the mills were abysmal, as it was not uncommon to encounter children who were missing fingers, or crippled from crush injuries.

In A Cotton Factory

In A Cotton Factory

At last, the Factory Act of 1833 made a regulatory impact. Only children over the age of 9 were eligible to work, and meal-breaks of 90 minutes per day were mandatory. Mill employers were required to provide two full days and eight half-days of holiday per year, and children who worked part-time were required to be furnished with an education.  Most importantly, inspectors were finally hired, and all mills and factories could be inspected at any time without notice.

For the next 130+ years the Deanston’s mill continued producing cotton goods. In 1965 the mill closed. From 1965 to 1966 the mill was renovated, and was transformed for use as a malt whisky distillery.

In its reincarnation, the distillery produced enormous outputs of liquor. By 1976 its output had exceeded over 3.4M litres of spirits. Briefly shut down again during 1980s, the distillery was put back into service in 1990.

Reincarnation into a Distillery

Reincarnation into a Distillery

Numismatic Specimens

There are three varieties of Deanston Cotton Mill tokens, struck on a variety of host coins. Like other businesses at the time, counterstamps were used as a means to advertise a business and its products.

Gregory Brunk in his Merchant and Privately Countermarked Coins reports that two of the varieties are contemporary, while the third is a modern fantasy or restrike. Struck sometime during the 1930s, it is theorized that such specimens were made with an unused die that had survived from the 19th century.

The varieties are the following:

Deanston Cotton Mill Counterstamp Varieties

Deanston Cotton Mill Counterstamp Varieties

Pictured below is a Brunk D-223 variety. Countermarked on an English halfpenny, the specimen was struck off-center on a host coin too worn to discern.  Relatively, the Brunk D-223 is the variety most frequently encountered in numismatic venues.

Brunk D-223 Deanston Cotton Mill Token

Aaron Packard [End Mark]

Notes and Sources

  1. The Philosophy of Manufactures, Andre Ure, 1885, pg.414-415
  2. Lancashire, Leo H. Grindon, McMillan And Company, 1892
  3. The Chemical Revolution, Archibald Clow, Nan L. Clow; Taylor & Francis, ©1952, pg.168,171
  4. Doune Historical Notes, Moray S. MacKay, Forth Naturalist and Historian Board, ©1953, pg.44
  5. Deanston Mills, Cotton Mill View from NW John R Hume, ©1965-66
  6. The Making of Scotland: A Comprehensive Guide to the Growth of Its Cities, Towns and Villages, Robin Smith, Canongate U.S., ©2001, pg.243
  7. The Gillespie Family in Kilmadock, Perthshire, Scotland
  8. Scotland’s Places, UK Government Digital Archives
  9. Noble Numismatics PTY LTD
  10. Merchant and Privately Countermarked Coins, 2nd Edition, Gregory G. Brunk, World Exonumia Press, ©2003

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The author has over 30 years experience in North American numismatics. He is the author of numerous articles about exonumia, including those about tokens, scrip, and the public who used them. He is a member of the ANA, VNA, ACC, C4, CWTS, TAMS, MD-TAMS, AVA, NSCA, and NumisSociety.

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