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  • British Copper Coinage: Introduction
  • British Silver Coinage: Introduction

    English Coins


    What follows is a brief discussion for each coin denomination minted in England during the American colonial period from James I through George III. The denominations are categorized from largest to smallest.

    Five Guineas valued at 105 shillings was the largest denomination of the milled gold coins. It was first produced in 1668 under Charles II and continued until 1753 when it was stopped by George II.

    The Triple Unite was the highest denomination gold coin produced during the hammer strike era with a value of sixty shillings. It was produced under Charles I from 1642-1644.

    The gold Two Guineas valued at forty two shillings was first minted in 1664 under Charles II and ended in 1753 under George II.

    The gold Guinea with a value of twenty one shillings was first minted by Charles II in 1663 replacing the Unite Laurel Pound. It continued through 1813 under George III. Interestingly in 1817 George III replaced the Guinea with a new version of the Unite Laurel Pound known as the milled gold sovereign.

    The Ryal was a gold coin with a value of ten shillings introduced by Henry VII (1485-1509) to replace the Noble (which had been valued at 6s8d). The coin was unpopular and was replaced by the Angel. Mary (1553-1554) and Elizabeth I (1558 1603) struck a fifteen shilling ryal. James I produced a Rose Ryal, which was actually a two ryal piece valued at twenty or twenty two shillings and a Spur Ryal valued at fifteen shillings but in 1612 increased to 16s6d as the price of gold increased.

    The Unite Laurel Pound, also called the Sovereign or the Double Ryal, was a gold coin with a value of twenty shillings. The Unite was first produced by Henry VIII (1485-1509) and continued through 1662 when the last of these hammered coins was produced by Charles II. The coin was reintroduced as the milled gold sovereign by George III in 1817 and continues to be minted as a proof coin.

    The Mark. Althouth never minted as a coin, the British used a Mark as a unit of account. It was equal to 13s4d (160d) or two-thirds of a pound.

    The gold Half Guinea valued at 10s6d was first produced by Charles II in 1669 and continued through 1813 under George III.

    The Half Laurel, Half Sovereign or Double Crown had a value of ten shillings. The double crown was first produced by Henry VIII (1485-1509) and continued through 1662 when the last of these hammered coins was produced by Charles II. Some larger sized silver double crowns were produced under Charles I.

    The Angel was a gold coin introduced by Edward IV (1461-1470) with a value of 6s8d to replace the unpopular ten shilling ryal. The name for the coin comes from the obverse design showing St. Michael spearing a dragon. Under Edward VI (1547 1553) the value of the coin was increased to ten shillings. Angels continued to be produced under James I with the final issue minted under Charles I in 1643. In the colonies the Massachusetts ten shilling paper currency note from the October 14, 1713 emission was designated as an angel; this plate was reused several times for emissions up to 1740.

    The Crown,valued at five shillings, dates back to Henry VII (1485-1509), when it was made of gold. Edward VI (1547-1553) struck the first silver crowns in 1551-1553, which were over twice the size of his gold crowns. Both gold and silver issues continued to be produced through the Commonwealth period. Oliver Cromwell struck the last hammered gold crowns (1649-1657) as well as silver crowns (1649-1656) and the first milled crown (in silver) in 1658. The regular series of milled silver crowns began in 1662 under Charles II. At that time no more gold crowns were minted; the crown became the highest denomination silver coin. The crown continued to be minted throughout the American colonial period. The series continued until 1960 when the last crown was produced portraying an English monarch, namely Elizabeth II. The final crown issue was minted in 1965 bearing a portrait of Winston Churchill.

    The Half Angel was a gold coin introduced during the restoration of Henry VI (October 1470-April 1471) with a value of 3s4d. In 1526 under Henry VIII the value was increased to 3s9d. Production of the coin continued through James I, with the value raised to 5s6d in 1612. The final issue of half angel coins was minted in 1619.

    The Halfcrown, valued at 2s6d, was introduced as a gold coin under Henry VIII (1509-1547). Production of the hammered gold half crown continued into the reign of James I who minted gold halfcrowns (1603-1619) and also produced a larger sized silver halfcrown (1603-1625). The minting of hammered silver halfcrowns continued through Charles I, with the last hammered halfcrowns produced under Charles II in 1660-1662. The milled silver halfcrown was first produced by Oliver Cromwell in 1656 and 1658 during the Commonwealth, but the first standard regal issue was under Charles II in 1663. Production continued throughout the colonial period with the last halfcrown minted in 1970 under Elizabeth II when Britain changed to a decimal system.

    The silver Shilling dates back to Henry VII (1485-1509) when it was known as the "testoon." By the early Seventeenth Century it became a important coin with several issues minted. The final hammered shillings were produced by Charles II in 1660-1662. The first milled shilling produced by Cromwell in 1658. The regular series of milled shillings started in 1663 under Charles II and continued throughout the American colonial period. The last shilling was produced in 1970 under Elizabeth II.

    The silver Sixpence dates back to Edward VI (1547-1553). The first milled sixpence were produced by Elizabeth I during 1561-1571. She also produced a hammered version which continued under later monarchs. Large quantities of sixpence were produced by Charles I with the final hammered version produced by Charles II in 1660-1662. Milled sixpence were produced in 1658 by Cromwell. The regal series of milled sixpence started in 1674 under Charles II and continued throughout the colonial period with the last sixpence being minted under Elizabeth II in 1970.

    The silver Fourpence, originally called a Groat, goes back to Edward I (1272-1307). The last hammered groat was produced by Charles II in 1662, who also minted first milled fourpence coins in 1670. It is often thought the fourpence coin was part of the Maundy series. That is, part of a series of specially produced coins that were not made for circulation but rather were ceremonial. Maundy coins were (and are) special products produced for the ruler to distribute to the poor on Maundy Sunday; a ceremonial tradition that still continues in England. During the period from Charles II through George II the only true Maundy coin was the silver penny, and even this coin was minted for circulation as well as for the ceremony. The last of the regular series of fourpence coins made for general circulation was probably the 1763 issue under George III. Later issues were produced in much smaller quantities. The low mintage and the fact that surviving examples are usually found with little wear lead to the hypothesis that they were issued as Maundy coins. In 1822, under George IV, the silver fourpence,threepence, twopence and penny became the standard Maundy issue. The Maundy denominations are still produced.

    The silver Threepence was first issued under Edward VI (1547-1553) with milled coins being produced by Elizabeth I during 1561-1564. No threepence were produced by James I while under Charles I threepence were only in considerable quantities but only at provincial mints (i.e. not in London). The last hammered threepence was produced by Charles II in 1660-1662 with his milled threepence series starting in 1670. It appears the last regular minting of the threepence for circulation was in 1763 under George III. Later issues appear to have been produced for Maundy sets rather than for circulation (until its reintroduction under Queen Victoria). A brass threepence was introduced in 1936 and 1937 with the final brass threepence being produced in 1970 under Elizabeth II. The ceremonial silver Maundy threepence is still produced.

    The silver Twopence, originally called a half groat, was first produced in 1351 under Edward III (1327-1377). The last hammered groat was produced by Charles II in 1662, who also minted the first milled twopence coins in 1668. It appears the last regular minting for circulation of the twopence was in 1760 under George II. For this denomination even the first issue of George III in 1763 is less common. Apparently all George III twopence and later issues appear to have been produced for Maundy sets rather than for circulation. In 1797 at Matthew Boulton's Soho mint George III produced a large and rather thick (41mm, 5mm thick, 56.7 grams) copper twopence known as the "Cartwheel." This coin was produced only for one year. A new base metal twopence coin was reintroduced in 1971 as part of the decimal series and is still minted. The silver ceremonial Maundy twopence continued to be produced and is still minted annually.

    The silver Penny appear to have been first introduced into England during the reign of King Offa in 757. For centuries it was the only coin struck in the realm with some 70 different mints producing the coin during the rule of William the Conqueror (1066-1087). No other denomination was produced in England until the short lived 20 pence coin under Henry III (1216-1272). Charles II produced the final hammered silver pennies in 1660-1662 and around 1664 or 1665 minted the first (undated) milled pennies. Although this coin was used in the Maundy ceremony it also was used in circulation until the reign of George III, when it appears to have become primarily a Maundy issue. The silver ceremonial Maundy penny is still minted. The large copper penny was first minted by George III in 1797 and became a regular series coin in 1825 under George IV. The series ended in 1970 under Elizabeth II with the introduction of a small base metal penny in 1971 that is still produced.

    In recent years a few silver Halfpence have been uncovered from the period of Henry I (1100-1135) and Henry III (1216-1272) but the series did not become a regular issue until Edward I (1272-1307). The last hammered halfpence were produced during the Commonwealth (1649-1660). Charles II did not produce the very small silver hammered halfpence but rather completely changed the coin into a larger size copper milled product. The first copper halfpence were produced in 1672. Production of the coins continued on a regular basis through the end of the reign of George II in 1754. Under George III regal halfpence were only produced 1770-1775, 1799 and 1806-1807 (throughout the entire century and especially during George III's reign many counterfeits were produced). The series was occasionally produced under George IV and William V. It was revived as a regular issue in 1833 by Queen Victoria who added the denomination name to the coin for the first time, calling it a Half Penny. This coin continued to be struck until 1967, with a proof coin struck in 1970 as part of the final issue of old style denominations. With the advent of decimal coinage in 1971 a small base metal half penny was produced from 1971-1984 when the series was suppressed.

    Recently a silver Farthing from the reign of Henry III (1216-1272) has been uncovered, but the series did not become a regular issue until Edward I (1271-1307). The last silver farthings were minted under Edward VI (1547-1553). The series was then suspended as the coins were so small they were difficult to mint and were unpopular with the public as they were frequently lost. When the series was renewed by James I the farthing was a larger coin minted in copper, or occasionally tin. However these hammer struck coins were not royal issues but produced by individuals who obtained a royal license to mint them such as Lady Harrington and the Duke of Lennox. The practice of issuing royal licenses to mint farthings continued under Charles I. During this period farthings averaged about 17 mm in diameter and about 9 grains in weight. No farthings were produced for circulation during the Commonwealth. Under Charles II the farthing was changed into a milled copper coin slightly larger than and about ten times the weight of the earlier licensed products (averaging about 22 mm diameter and about 89 grains in weight under Charles II). They were first produced in 1672 and continued in regular production until the end of the reign of George II in 1754. Under George III farthings were only produced during 1771-1775, 1799 and in 1806-1807. The series was revived as a regular issue under George IV in 1821 and continued until under Elizabeth II in 1956.


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