Not a case of the forgery of British hallmarks, but an interesting one nevertheless:
FORGING MEXICAN DOLLARS AT SHEFFIELD
John Hamon Sutton was charged with making and counterfeiting, at Sheffield, one hundred dollars, not the proper coin of this realm, nor permitted to be current within the same, resembling and intended to resemble and look like the silver coin of Mexico. Mr. Wortley and Mr. Pickering for the prosecution. Mr. Baines for the defence.
Mr. Wortley said the prosecution was of an unusual nature, such as he had never before known in the course of his experience. The offence charged in the indictment was made felony by the 37 Geo. III. c. 126, s. 2. The peculiarity of the case was that he should not be able to shew that the prisoner made the coins with his own hand, but it would be sufficient if he shewed that he had employed others to do so. He gave a summary of the evidence he should adduce, and admitted that the papers found upon the prisoner, and his coming direct to Sheffield when he found that suspicion was excited, made in his favour. He submitted, under the correction of the Judge, that it made no difference whether the prisoner meant to circulate the coins in this country or not, if they believed that his design was any where to circulate them as coin.
The first witness was Mr. Henry Briggs, who proved that on the 10th of December, the prisoner called at his master's warehouse, and said he wanted medals making. Witness could not answer his questions as to price, &c, but requested him to call again when Mr. Briggs was in.
Mr. Briggs proved that the prisoner came to him on the 11th of December, and said he wanted some medals striking, in hard metal, that would keep its colour. He said he was agent for some company in America, and wanted them to exchange for furs. He produced this medal, with a ring, and I told him I could not tell the price till I saw the dies, which he said he would send up, and would call again. Mr. Briggs recommended plated medals, on German silver, as the best. He came in the evening with a porter, carrying the dies in a small box. (Cooper produced the dies,) which he identified as the same. Witness then offered to stamp the German silver medals at 9s. or 10s. a dozen, and the plated at 18s. He said he should want German silver chains and rings for the medals, and Mr. Briggs said he would get them cheaper in Birmingham. The prisoner's order for 2400 medals was produced, to be packed in tin boxes. Prisoner gave him ninety sovereigns on account, saying he was going over to Ireland. The next day prisoner called to see a medal which Mr. Briggs had got stamped. He saw two or three. Mr. Briggs reported that the dies would not stand for the quantity required. In answer to the application of the prisoner Mr. Briggs recommended and sent for Mr. Brown, die-sinker, who undertook to cut new dies. The prisoner said he was to sail from London on the 27th of December. Prisoner offered to pay Mr. Brown's expenses to Birmingham to fetch the blocks for the new dies immediately. In the mean time the old dies were to be used. Mr. Briggs wrote to him in a few days that the dies failed, and the prisoner called in a day or two, not having got the letter. He reduced the order to 1500, and bought some other goods to the amount of 25l. The medals were to be wrapped in single papers, and Mr. Briggs recommended him to have them bored first, but the prisoner declined. The prisoner was particular about the colour, because he said the natives sometimes rubbed them on stones. Doubt arising about the object of the medals, Mr. Briggs caused an application to be made to the Mexican consul, and informed the prisoner, by letter, of his doubts. In prisoner's reply, he enclosed a letter from a Mr. Withers, in London, the cutter of the first die, stating that he had had enquiries made at the Mint as to the correctness of making the rim otherwise than plain. There was another letter from the same, saying, "The Mint say it is all correct." The prisoner wrote with them that he had apprehended some doubts might arise, and had taken the proper precautions to be assured that all was right. After a few days the prisoner came and assured Mr. Briggs that the medals were not to be used as coin. Mr. Briggs declined to proceed with the work, and complained of the loss he had suffered. The prisoner offered him 40l. in compensation, and 5l. for the trouble he had had as to the bowie knives. The prisoner was to come again for the balance of the 90l., but was apprehended on his way to Mr. Brown's.
Cross-examined by Mr. Baines. — The prisoner said he would get the medals bored and fitted with rings and chains at Birmingham. He gave me no direction as to the sending of the medals. There was nothing secret in the transaction.
Mr. James Brown, die-sinker, Sheffield, also proved his engagement with the prisoner to make a pair of dies for a medal. Becoming suspicious of their purpose before they were finished, he refused to deliver them. He finally gave them up to Mr. Briggs, having filed them across and made them useless.
Jeremiah Dukinfield, proved that he struck the medals for his master, Mr. Briggs.
Mr. James Wild, constable, proved the receipt of the dies and medals from Mr. Briggs, and the apprehension of the prisoner. He produced a letter found upon the prisoner, purporting to be from a friend and agent of his at New Orleans, informing him that he had concluded an agreement on his own behalf, with a respectable company, that he was to go to England to purchase medals and cutlery, suited to the trade with the Indians, and would probably afterwards have to go into the interior as far as the head of the Columbia River to conduct the trade.
A gentleman connected with the Mexican Legation, proved that its title was the Republic of Mexico, and that the medals were an imitation of the Mexican dollars.
Mr. John Francis Bacon, merchant of London, and acquainted with the Mexican coinage, also proved the similarity of the medals to the coinage of Mexico.
Mr. Baines addressed the Jury for the prisoner, a foreigner, most unexpectedly to himself, involved in his present difficulties. The question was, whether he had done this with a guilty intent, that they might pass as coin. If they were merely meant to pass as trinkets among the Indians, that was not the offence contemplated by the act. He argued that the act was designed to prevent the passing of fictitious foreign coin in England. He would not rest upon the legal points of the case, but he argued on the facts that these medals were never meant to be used as coin, but only as medals. He should call a witness, because his conviction was that the more fully the Jury knew the whole of Mr. Sutton's transactions, the more they would be satisfied with his bona' fide conduct. Mr. Sutton was a Canadian by birth, and his business had been to conduct trade with the Indians of the interior of America for furs. A sovereign with them would not pass as a sovereign, but as a toy, like beads, pictures, glass, &c. The object of the prisoner in coming to England was to provide himself with the proper articles for this traffic. He should call Mr. Withers, whose letters they had heard read, and who would shew them Mr. Sutton's design for a medal with a handle to it, which design was set aside by the difficulties which Mr. Withers raised as to its execution. That being thus set aside, the prisoner wished to have the medals stamped with a hole. He granted that if these medals were given to the Indians as being worth Mexican dollars, there would be a fraud, but he argued that that was not the design. Mr. Baines then argued, from the respectable house in Sheffield to which he applied, from the openness of his transactions, from his returning to Sheffield when suspicion had arisen, and from his whole demeanor, that it was impossible to suppose the prisoner had a guilty intention. He read the letters, shewing that they were not the language of a guilty man; and after the assurance he had as to the enquiries at the Mint, how could he have the least idea of his conduct being illegal?
Mr. Thomas Henry Withers, of 17, Princes-street, Soho, London, proved the application to him by the prisoner, for a die of medals, with a handle, and his uniform profession as to the object of them.
Mr. Wortley replied, and submitted that there was utility in having them made like Mexican coin, if they were meant to pass as coin, but no particular need for it if they were merely for trinkets. He did not wish to press hard upon the prisoner, but the minute imitation of the coin would be useless for trinkets.
The learned Judge summed up. He remarked upon the bona' fide appearance of the letter found upon the prisoner as to his engagement with the Indian traders. He mentioned the well-known inclination of savage tribes for showy imitations. With us, genuine articles were more highly esteemed; but for use, the taste of the Indians might be as good as ours. His Lordship minutely summed up. He thought it was a harsh construction to say that because the man did not order the medals to be bored at Sheffield, his design was bad, after the evidence they had of the way in which he wanted them made in London. He remarked upon the man coming to Sheffield as soon as he was written to by Briggs, and regretted that, without more evidence, the prisoner should then have been apprehended. He remarked that the other purchases of the prisoner confirmed his story, and thought it did not matter whether these medals were to be perforated or to be handed about as trinkets. To convict the prisoner, they must be satisfied there was no doubt these medals were to be used as coin. He thought it made out as clearly as the circumstances of the case admitted, that that was not the intention; and if the prisoner should be acquitted, every one must feel that it was most unfortunate he should have been so long confined on this charge.
The Jury immediately found the prisoner Not Guilty, which produced a demonstration of satisfaction in the Court; and he was forthwith discharged.
In consequence of a remark from Mr. Wortley, his Lordship said the Jury would understand that he did not deem it at all a trivial thing that coins should be made in this country to defraud the natives of other countries. But they had acquitted the prisoner of that design.
Mr. Wortley said he merely desired that his Lordship should make a remark on the subject for the justification of the prosecution with the public*
* This report is taken from a recent Sheffield Paper. We leave our readers to make their own comments on the extraordinary particulars it discloses, merely observing that the object for which these spurious pieces were struck must be obvious to every one.—Ed.N. C.
Source: The Numismatic Chronicle - 1841