"Tokens" for Supermarket Trolleys.

This article of mine (less illustrations) was originally from WBCC Newsmail 134, Item 11.
It was then entitled "Bi-metallics used by Supermarkets?"

The other week I came across a few examples of something new and Bi-metallic most probably of British origin. With the same bags full of bulk coins/tokens I found a holed "token" that did have a legend - this was unlike the Bi-metallic. Were it not for this legend on the holed piece I perhaps would not have had such a good idea about the use of the Bi-metallic. For this reason I shall first describe the similarly sized holed piece.


The holed piece I got looks cheaply made, it is Aluminium, and has a central hole of 5mm diameter. The finish (machine markings) on both sides gives the impression that the planchet was made on a lathe. Each side has the legend "SOMERFIELD" stamped onto it. Three facts lead me to a surmisation of the intended use of this piece (1) "SOMERFIELD" is the name of a supermarket chain in this country, (2) The piece is a very similar size to our 1 Pound coins - the token has a diameter of 22.35mm and a thickness of 3.15-3.20mm - the 1 Pound coins have a diameter of 22.50mm and a thickness of very close to 3.20mm and (3) Quite a number of supermarkets in Britain have trolleys for shoppers that use simple mechanical coin-operated locking mechanisms To take the trolley away from the trolley bay the customer puts a 1 Pound coin into the lock. When the customer takes the trolley back to the bay a catch from the trolley in front is inserted into the returned trolley and the customer gets his coin back. This is all a means of encouraging the customers to park their trolleys back in the bays with the other trolleys. The use of such coin operated machanisms is also knwo for a few other countries.

From what I was told by one of the supermarkets that was kind enough to reply to me on this, it is known that staff at some of the supermarkets using trolley locks have master keys for the locks which presumably push into the lock and fill the space in the lock intended for the coin. Looking at my holed token,  it seems that some supermarkets (or at least one of them) gives (or did give at sometime) its staff tokens with which to operate the trolley locks. Of course if the staff were to use real coins, then using there own coins would cause confusion with so much other money around belonging to the supermarket and then if on the other hand the supermarkets' money was used, then it would have to be controlled as petty cash. So the tokens avoid either of these two complications.

trolley token ?

So, as for the Bi-metallics - well these have no legend - they are also cheaply made, again these are very similar in size to our 1 Pound coins - they have a diameter of 22.50mm and varying thicknesses of 2.95-3.15mm - so it would seem that the pieces could well be tokens for supermarket trolleys too. The pieces are rather odd and rather ugly. The planchets must have been made by sawing into short (approx. 3mm) sections a length of lead-filled copper piping - seemingly piping as used for household water pipes and the like. It seems that the raised central circle on one side of the pieces (the only design element on the whole piece) had been applied by striking, this would also explain the absence of rough saw marks. Presumably a disc of just lead would have soft edges which would soon become squashed and thus prevent the use of the pieces in the trolley locks. All the same we have an odd combination and indeed an odd manufacture method. Of course you should also be wondering about the use of lead in food premises - perhaps some large non-food stores have trolleys with these locks - perhaps the pieces were soon taken out of use - who knows ?

Finally, you may be thinking that the two pieces I have described could be pieces made to fool things like vending machines or even people through the fact that they are very similar in size to our 1 Pound coins. But both pieces to me seem as though they have been carefully made to NOT look like 1 Pound coins, either to a person or the "eyes" of a vending machine. Both tokens are decided different in colour to the 1 Pound coins which are nickel-brass. The 1 Pound coins are neither holed nor are they Bi-metallic. The holed token has a mass of 3.12 grams, the Bi-metallic pieces have a mass of around 12grams, the 1 Pound coins have a mass of 9.50 grams. The three pieces are bound to have significantly different across-diameter electrical resistances.

Could anyone have any other suggestions ?

(A slightly updated version of the above has recently appeared in the "Token Corresponding Society Bulletin".)