Thomas Holloway: more money than sense?

Besides founding a university, Holloway invented his own currency. 

By Elena Rossi

Holloway’s Hidden Histories

Let me introduce my column. As part of the 2016 Play! Festival and Royal Holloway Fresher’s Week, the History Society put on Holloway’s Hidden Histories Tour. The tours took people all over campus and characters from the university’s past told a variety of fantastic stories about Holloway. As well as painting myself white to be one of the statues telling Holloway’s tales, I also visited the archives to find the information for the tours. There were so many fascinating stories and facts that I had never heard of before, and I am sure you haven’t either. So, I thought it would be a good idea to take all the interesting information and turn it into a monthly column for The Founder.

The Holloway Coin

My first hidden history for you is the Thomas Holloway coin. Used as small change in British colonies, they demonstrate Holloway’s ambitious marketing success. In his article, ‘The Tokens of Thomas Holloway’, R. C. Bell highlights that while some regard these pieces as medals, they possess the qualities of a coin, including the name of the issuer and their dating. Bell also states that the coins were used as actual currency in London, although the majority of them were sent to Australia and formed part of their currency. Atkin, in The Coins and Tokens of the Possessions and Colonies of the British Empire, states that the tokens were used as small change in the colonies. Whilst these pieces were not the dominant coinage of the British Empire, their presence as small change in Australia illustrates Holloway’s vision. Thomas Holloway was notorious for his pills and ointments, but these coins show that their success also depended on a grand advertising scheme, which broadcast his products across the world.


In 1857, Thomas created these coins, including a penny and a half-penny. The coin features Holloway himself, on the obverse. Thomas is depicted as a Roman emperor, Roman nose and all. Interestingly, many monarchs and leaders throughout history have used this Roman aesthetic to portray their power and influence. The Holloway empire was so impressive, it only seems fair for Thomas to adopt the image of the mighty Romans.

Despite having no qualifications, Thomas adopts the title of ‘Professor’ for the coin. Considering this was before his decision to found a college, it is ironic Holloway decided this was a fitting entitlement. The name of the craftsman of the coin is also included on the piece, below Thomas Holloway’s neck, ‘J. Moore’. Although Moore is far from the royal mint, he must be credited for his art.

On the back of the coin, there is Hygieia, the goddess of health, cleanliness and hygiene. She is also the daughter of the God of Medicine, Asclepius. The presence of Hygieia is extremely fitting for Holloway’s coins, especially considering the reverse of the coin includes ‘Holloway’s Pills and Ointments’.

Although the coins were never the mainstream currency, their presence in Australia as small change stresses how successful Holloway was in being present across the world. We may not consider the founder of our university a well-known name to all, but Thomas Holloway definitely made a name for himself throughout the Victorian empire.

“The Late Mr. Thomas Holloway” in The Illustrated London News, Jan. 5, 1881

I found out about this fantastic item at a talk at the picture gallery by Harriet Costelloe, the archivist at Holloway, and Laura MacCulloch, the Picture Gallery curator. There are regular talks throughout the term by Laura, who gives a really interesting insight into the collection, which are absolutely fantastic and I would recommend them to everyone. You can find the dates for these talks under Royal Holloway Events on the university website.

If you have had any questions about Royal Holloway or Bedford College’s History, feel free to email me and I will see if I can find any answers for you. Email:

Read more Holloway Histories.

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