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Coinage and Money in Later Stuart England

Until 15th February, 1971, Great Britain had much more interesting system of money, known as the pounds, shillings and pence system, or Lsd - the L coming from the Latin word libra (pound weight), the d coming from the Latin word denarius (a roman coin) and the shilling being an ancient English value. The penny has been the basic unit of currency since about 775AD. The L is almost always written as a fancy £. For example, four pounds six shillings and seven pence would be noted as £4 6s7d or sometimes 4-6-7 or 4/6/7. Fractions of 1/2d and 1/4d were used to designate a halfpenny and a farthing.

In the British system, there are so many different denominations and names for coins that one could easily become confused as to their relative values. This page hopes to clarify some of the more basic relationships.

The smallest denomination is a farthing. The next larger unit is a penny, or pence in the plural. Situated between these two units of currency is the most common small change coin of the period, a halfpenny. Two farthings equal a halfpenny and two halfpence equal one penny.

Other denominations produced were the half-groat or tuppence (twopence) worth two pence, the threepence worth three pence, the groat, worth four pence and the sixpence, worth six pence.

The shilling, equal to twelve pence, becomes the common base for the larger denominations. A crown equals five shillings. Situated between these two units is the half crown equal to two shillings and six pence. 

The next higher basic unit is the pound, which equals twenty shillings (or four crowns). The Gold sovereign (with a value of one pound) was not used in this period. The first gold sovereign was struck in 1489 for Henry VII, and sovereigns were also struck for Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, Elizabeth I, and James I, and had a value of one pound. They were discontinued after 1604, none were struck for Charles I, being replaced by the "unite", also with a value of one pound.

In the reign of Charles II, the guinea was introduced as the primary gold coin, with a value of twenty-one shillings. Guineas continued until 1813 in the reign of George III. The first modern sovereign was struck in 1817 also for George III.

The basic breakdown was 1 pound = 20 shillings = 240 pence

I. Hammered Coinage

Over the centuries the denominations of English coins have changed several times. During the rules of James I (1603-1625) and Charles I (1625-1649) coins were hammer struck rather than milled, with several denominations remaining from the Tudor era. Small copper change was supplemented by privately minted trade tokens in halfpenny and farthing sizes. Under Charles II several denominations were retired and new ones created with the introduction of milled coinage. Thus there is a basic change in English coinage around 1663.

II. Milled Coinage

Milled coinage, that is, high quality coins of uniform size and shape produced on a press using finely milled blank planchets, were produced on a limited basis by Oliver Cromwell during the Commonwealth (1649-1660). Under Charles II milled coin production greatly expanded and several coin denominations were revised. In fact, for several denominations Charles II produced the last hammered version of a particular coin, during 1660-1662, as well as the first milled version of the coin, during the later 1660's. Milled hand press coinage continued to be produced in England through the remainder of the period. It was not until the very end of the Eighteenth Century that the next major innovation occurred, namely the invention of the steam powered coining press at Matthew Bolton's Soho mint in Birmingham.

These coins were in use during the period 1660-1715:

Coin Value Made of:
Farthing a quarter penny brass
Halfpenny Half a penny Brass (silver for hammered versions)
Penny The basic unit of currency from around 775 AD silver
Two pence 2 pennies silver
Three pence 3 pennies silver
Groat 4 pennies silver
Sixpence 6 pennies silver
Shilling 12 pennies silver
Half crown 2 shilling & 6 pence silver
Crown 5 shillings Silver (some gold up to 1662)
Half Laurel 10 shillings Gold**
Half Guinea 10shillings and sixpence Gold**
Unite 1 pound Gold (production ceased in 1662)**
Guinea  21 shillings* Gold**
Two Guinea 42 shillings Gold**
5 Guinea 105 shillings Gold**

* The guinea was introduced in 1663, made in gold obtained from Guinea (Ghana) in Africa, its value being fixed at 21s in 1717 (before that date its value depended on the current price of gold).

** These Gold coins were quite rare compared to the lower value silver coins.

The Coins

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 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. 

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 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 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 Half-crown, 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 half-crowns (1603-1619) and also produced a larger sized silver half-crown (1603-1625). The minting of hammered silver half-crowns continued through Charles I, with the last hammered half-crowns produced under Charles II in 1660-1662. The milled silver half-crown 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. 

The silver Shilling dates back to Henry VII (1485-1509) when it was known as the "testoon." By the early Seventeenth Century it became an 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 silver Sixpence dates back to Edward VI (1547-1553). The first milled sixpences 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 sixpences were produced in 1658 by Cromwell. The regal series of milled sixpence started in 1674 under Charles II.

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 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. 

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. 

The silver Penny appears 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.

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.

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. 

A Brief History of British Regal Copper Production during the Late Seventeenth Century

On Thursday August 1, 1672, Charles II demonetized tokens and announced the government would begin making copper small change coins in a proclamation entitled "A Proclamation for making currant His Majestie's Farthings and Half-pence of Copper, and forbidding all others to be used" (printed in Peck, pp. 605-607). For centuries the crown had produced and continued to mint silver pennies, shillings and crowns, but they had never issued coppers. With the change from hammer coinage to the use of the screw press the king hoped to be able to profitably make a sufficient number of standardized small change coppers for the country. The first halfpence were to be produced at 40 to the pound avoirdupois or about 175 grains of copper per coin, with the farthing being proportional, which meant the copper content was worth about half the face value of the coin. As such, these coppers were the first royal coinage to have an intrinsic value less than their face value. For this reason they were technically considered to be tokens rather than coins and so were declared to be legal tender only in amounts of six pence or less. No one was obligated to accept more than twelve halfpence per transaction. Further, the minting of coppers was contracted by special arrangement with the mintmaster, as the production of silver and gold coins was considered to be the primary work of the royal mint. In fact, during the reign of William III coppers were produced by a private contractor rather than the mint. 

Charles II first produced copper halfpence and farthings in 1672. Minting began on August 5th with the production of farthings on four presses. A fifth press was used for halfpence but production of those coins did not begin until after Christmas. Interestingly, Charles displayed a bust right (that is, a right profile) on all his gold and silver coins but used a bust left on his coppers. He produced copper halfpence dated 1672, 1673 and 1675 and copper farthings dated 1672-1675 and 1679. In order to produce these coins the mint need blank planchets of the proper size and weight. However they did not have the capability of producing the rolled sheets of copper from which the blanks would be cut out. Therefore the mint was forced to import finished planchets, which they contracted with Abraham Cronstrom of Stockholm, Sweden. The initial run of coppers was produced at 40 halfpence to the pound, with farthings proportional. However, Cronstrom had contracted to provide the copper metal at 14.5d per pound but he discovered there was a Swedish export tariff of 2.5d per pound, raising the price to 17d a pound. The Mint would not revise the contracted price for the first shipment but they did agree to pay the increase for subsequent shipments. To offset this added cost the weight of the coins was reduced slightly during this first year of production (1672) so that halfpence were made at 44 to the pound. Near the end of his reign Charles began a process that would free the mint from dependence on imported copper. Hoping to assist the ailing British tin industry as well as obtaining a higher minting profit for himself, Charles began minting tin farthings. The contract (the document is actually called a warrant in Eighteenth century legal terminology) to produce these coins was awarded to the partnership of John Buckworth, Thomas Neale, Charles Dunucombe and James Hoare on June 20, 1684. A square plug of copper was added to the center as an anti counterfeiting measure. The tin farthings were produced from 1684 through 1685

James II started the production of a plugged tin halfpenny in 1685 and continued production through 1687. During his reign the warrant to mint tin coins was renewed by Duncome, Hoare and Neale on March 11, 1686. A few tin farthings were minted in 1684 with larger quantities produced in 1685-1687. Tin was a much less expensive metal than copper so that the intrinsic value of these coins was far lower. This yielded higher minting profits for the king, but the low intrinsic value turned public opinion against the coins. In order to make these tin coins more acceptable James returned to the heavier weight of 40 halfpence to the pound. As tin was cheap and readily assessable, a number of counterfeit halfpence appeared in circulation. James used a bust left for his gold and silver coins but like Charles used the opposite profile on his halfpence and farthings, which displayed a bust right.

William and Mary (1688-1694) continued the production of tin halfpence and farthings with copper plugs from 1689-1692 but lowered the weight to 42 halfpence to the pound. In 1691 the warrant to mint the tin coins was renewed by James Hoare in partnership with Andrew Corbett and Thomas Povey. By this time there were serious discussions about abandoning the tin coinage. Although minting profits were considerably higher, the effort had not revived the tin industry. Additionally, there was increased public pressure to stop the tin coins due to their low intrinsic value and the number of counterfeits that were appearing. Counterfeits especially hurt the poor, in that anyone who unwittingly accepted one might not be able to pass it on and therefore would get stuck with a worthless coin. Further it has been suggested by some modern numismatists that it became apparent tin was a poor metal for coinage as it did not last as long as copper due to corrosion.

In 1693 the monarchs reinstituted copper farthings and in 1694 produced copper halfpence and farthings. An act of April 17, 1694 stopped all production of tin coins and offered to exchange the less valuable tin coins for new copper coins. Within a month, by May 16, 1694, the government had received £40,000 in tin coins from this exchange, which was over half of the entire tin production of £65,000.

With the renewed production of copper coins a new arrangement was tried whereby the minting of coppers was contracted out to a private company working at the royal mint. In the past the mintmaster had contracted small change production, but for the most part, the contractors were salaried, so that profits went to the king. Now the entire operation was licensed to a partnership consisting of Joseph Herne, Francis Parry, George Clark, Abel Slaney and Daniel Bartow. They would sustain any loss or reap any profit from the enterprise. Under the terms of this warrant the blank planchets were to be produced at the mint. This meant the contractors were to purchase rolled sheets of copper in the required thickness and then cut out blanks of the proper diameter. As an economy measure the contractors did not produce blank planchets in the normal manner, rather they simply melted the copper ore then poured it into moulds producing cast blanks. These blanks were serviceable but produced a less uniform product with a pitted surface. During this period a large number of coppers were produced but of poorer quality workmanship. This poor quality was due to the poor production techniques and to the hiring of less skilled workman and diecutters to assist with the large production quotas. The authorized weight remained 42 halfpence to the pound but the actual coins were often much lighter. William and Mary displayed both of their profiles on their coins, using the bust right for all denominations. After Mary died of smallpox, William III ruled alone (1694-1701). During this period, which included a large contract copper production, coins displayed his bust right profile alone without Mary. Such a large quantity of copper halfpence (1695-1701) and farthings (1695-1700) were produced during this period there was no need for additional coppers to be minted during the reign of Queen Anne.

Under Queen Anne (1701-1714) no circulating halfpence were produced, only a few proof samples were minted. In the last year of her reign the London mintmaster, Isaac Newton, oversaw the production of a few farthings, most of which were proofs, but a few may have been made for circulation. These coins were slightly smaller that William's farthings but of a much higher level of craftsmanship. Newton produced a more uniform product with less of a weight range between examples and sharper reliefs on the images. Like all of Anne's other coins her coppers had a bust left profile.

Special types of Coinage

Gun Money.

This is the name given to coins issued in Ireland by James II from 1689-90, made of old brass cannons.

In April 1690 James was running short of brass and he reduced the size of the gun-money coins and issued a smaller shilling and half-crown, there was an overlap between the introduction of the small coins and the cessation of production of the large ones. The sixpence was not produced with the 'small' issue.

Following James II's defeat at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690 he fled back to France, but gun-money continued to be issued in his name in Limerick (the Dublin mint having been captured).

Vigo Coins

Following the capture of the Spanish treasure fleet at Vigo Bay in 1702, Queen Anne minted special runs of coins using the captured Spanish silver. This was a great boost to the English economy.

Coins in Circulation

Two major currency crises bedeviled the later Stuart reigns. The first of these occurred in the early years of the restoration. Although relatively easy to paint out Cromwellian inn signs and replace them with the King’s head or his Oak Tree, the restoration of his face to the coinage was a different matter. Although Charles wished to remove all traces of the Commonwealth, it’s coinage had to remain in use a little longer. More than a year after Charles’ return "the calling in of the money inscribed ‘the Commonwealth’ must be suspended awhile: there are great quantities of it, and the Mint is not yet supplied". (Samuel Pepys Diary, 7th June 1661)

The new currency arrived in 1662 and was a great improvement over the old type. The coins were now milled rather than hammered, which made coins (and pockets) last much longer. Unfortunately there was a severe shortage of these new coins, so older coins remained in circulation for many years. In February 1670, Lord Lucas delivered a speech to the House of Commons complaining:

"there is a scarcity of money: for all that money called ‘breeches’ (as fit for the coins of the old Rump) [i.e. the Commonwealth currency, which had been called in by then] is wholly vanished … and of his now Majesty’s coin there appears but very little; so that in effect we have none left for common use but a little old lean coined money of the three former princes [I.e. Charles I, James I and Elizabeth I] and what supply is preparing for it? I hear of none, unless it be of Copper farthings."

Coins of these ‘former princes’ continued in circulation until at least the end of the century, and coins of Charles II were certainly still in use by the reign of Queen Anne.

There was also a dire shortage of coins of small denominations, such as a housewife needed for everyday shopping, a problem that had been increasing since James I’s day. The few copper farthings produced were all under license to various nobles, and the supply of them was not sufficient to fill the demand. Shopkeepers evolved a pragmatic solution: trade tokens. In the 1660’s there were 3,543 ‘tokeners’ in the City of London, its suburbs and Westminster.

These tokens were usually made of lead, tin or copper, although some were of leather. They were usually worth a halfpenny or farthing (only the coffee-houses found it worthwhile to issue 1 penny tokens). They were small and came in a variety of shapes – round, heart-shaped, diamond, square or hexagonal. Shopkeepers kept boxes with compartments for each issuer (usually only for those tokeners in the same area, not all 3,543!) When they had enough they returned them to the issuer, who changed them for silver or notes of hand. In March 1668, Prince Rupert and the Duke of Norfolk suggested to the King that they should make ‘current farthings’ to prevent ‘the loss and inconvenience by private tokens in case of removals etc., as appeared in the late Fire of London.’ However, it was not until 1672 the mint started issuing the first copper farthings.

The second crisis came in the early 1690’s when the English coinage was systematically debased by coin clippers – rogues who sheared the edges off rimless pre-Restoration coins and sold them as silver clippings to equally unscrupulous goldsmiths. Clipping had been a well-organized and thriving industry since at least the 1670’s, but it was given a major boost by William’s wars abroad. The purchase of supplies for the army in Flanders required massive exports of English bullion to the continent, the rise in demand for silver bullion leading to an increase in the pace of clipping. It may well be that the rapid debasement of the coinage in the early 1690’s was all that sustained the requisite bullion exports.

As coin-clipping increased, public confidence in the coin was stretched to breaking point. By 1695 some of the silver coins had lost 40-50% of their silver content. In January 1696 parliament passed the necessary legislation for recoining by demonitization of the clipped coin, which would be melted down and coined, anew by the mint.

On May 4th 1696 the clipped coin was accepted for tax payments for the last time and during the interval between demonetization of the clipped coin and the minting of the new, the circulation of money virtually ceased. In some places even unclipped coin was no longer accepted as means of exchange for fear it would no longer be valid. In mid-June the JP Charles Price found that even coins not visibly clipped were being refused in south-east Wales:

"I was on Fryday last at Abergainy about the window tax & it being Markett day, & the town being great & Pompous the People were in A great Consternation About the Money, not being able to Have any Commoditys for it, tho much of it to my aprehension being good money. … to satisfy the people & to prevent an uprore I ordered the Beadle to Proclaime at the Markett Crosse that whosoever refused any sixpenny not clypped within the Innermost Ring, or any other punchable money, I would bind them over or Commit them."

Although by September some of the new minted coinage was in circulation, the newly struck money would not be widespread until 1698. Unclipped coinage of the earlier reigns continued to be used throughout this period, although in some areas merchants would only accept it if it were weighed first. By the time of Queen Anne’s reign much of the older unclipped coinage was still in circulation, although it was slowly replaced with the newly minted monies.

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