15th February 2019. This page is still very much a work in progress…
King George III (1760 – 1820). ‘Cartwheel’ penny of 1797. 36mm, 27.6g.
January 13th, 2019. Just for fun, in the dark days of Winter, we decided to try to obtain a single coin from the reigns of as many British Kings & Queens as far back as possible, and write a bit about the history of the time &c. Of course, you can get coins of Celtic kingdoms going back before the Romans, to around 80 B.C. There’s only one snag: as you can well imagine, they are scarce & thus, expensive. OK; who cares? We’ll start in 1970 & go back some distance at least, & see where we grind to a halt. 8^) (This happened after about two months…) It will help pass the time until ‘the Lilac Blooms Again’, as it were. Any condition coin will do, as long as we are sure of the Monarch.
First off, though, we need to explain the old British currency of pounds, shillings and pence. Decimalisation of our money started on February 15th 1971, ending well over a thousand years of our traditional currency. Where did it come from?
Charlemagne & his son, Louis the Pious. (1).
It did not arise in Britain; it was worked out by the Emperor Charlemagne (742 – 814) who ended up running a huge Empire occupying most of Europe, though not Iberia or Britain. He needed a ‘European Currency’ that would work in all his territories, just as the Romans had, centuries before. And, indeed, as there is today – except for us in the U.K. Gold was scarce, as always, so Charlemagne’s answer was to adopt a pound of silver as the principal big unit, and subdivide it into 240 pennies. This was just as well, for most of the ordinary population had about as much chance of getting a gold coin as a snowstorm in Hell. Indeed, even the little silver penny was a substantial coin for centuries, as you’ll see below.
A coin of Offa. (2).
In Britain, King Offa of Mercia (??? – 796) adopted Charlemagne’s system, and while Mercia was only one of several Kingdoms in Britain at the time, it was an important one, and Offa was certainly a ‘big timer’ in his day. He did deals with the Pope, and got an Archbishop of Lichfield (up yours, Canterbury & York!) at least from 787 to 799, which was pretty good going. At any rate, 240 pennies to the pound was up & running in Britain.
Why were there 240 pence to the pound? Why not something simple, like 100, as we have now? Or maybe 1,000?
The answer is two-fold; if there had been 1,000 pence to the pound, the coins would have been impossibly small, and would have got lost very easily, falling out of coarsely stitched leather purses all over the place. Actually, even when there were 240 silver pence to the pound, the pennies were still pretty small:
Silver penny of Edward III (1327-1377). ~18mm, 0.9g.
So they were still pretty easy to lose, as you’ll see if you look for British silver pennies on ebay, where they are surprisingly abundant as metal detecting finds. It’s almost as if the serfs of Merrie England walked the fields they tended, singing ‘Heigh-nonny-no’, whilst inadvertently scattering silver pennies, silver pennies cut in half to provide half a penny, and indeed into quarters, which ended up as our farthing. (Fourthing – to divide something into four.)
Vikings arriving. Oh, dear. (3).
Now, as to 240. Imagine you’re a peaceable tenth century Saxon, and just happen to be carrying 240 silver pennies in your scrip. You are taken prisoner by fierce Vikings (yes, we are indeed watching Season 3 of ‘The Last Kingdom’ at the moment), and you have to yield up your money to them; then, they will let you go free, albeit skint. Your life depends upon how many fierce Vikings are in the band. If there is only one (and that’s more than enough), he will take all your silver pennies, and let you go free. If there are two, they will divide your pennies into two lots of 120, and let you go. If there are three, they will have 80 pennies each and let you go. Four fierce Vikings can have 60 pennies each; five can have 48 pennies each; six can have 40 silver pennies each – and let you go free. True, there’s a problem if there are seven Vikings; but if there are eight, each can have 30 pennies. Nine is also a problem, but ten is fine – 24 pennies each. 11 is bad, but 12 is good – 20 pennies each.
You see? Any number up to seven is fine; and quite a few others too, up to 120 – moreover, a band of seven Vikings is bound to have a leader – who would of course claim the extra pence left over as his own little bonus. Therefore, an argument among the Vikings is unlikely to occur. If one did, it would almost certainly result in you being killed in the general mêlée, at least if ‘The Last Kingdom’ is anything to go by. Old Charlemagne certainly knew what he was doing. In short, 240 is a very useful & flexible number, while 100 is not – except to mathematicians, scientists, and well-intentioned but misguided rationalists. 8^)
The images below are heavily doctored by exaggerating the brightness and contrast of the scan. This is only to bring out the design & lettering better; the actual coins don’t really look like that; they are usually much darker. The diameter is taken from the particular example illustrated, as is its weight in grams.
Lastly, we have obtained a vast amount of info. from a really great site run by Tony Clayton. There you will find history, information, size & weight of many hundreds of British coins and images of them. We thank him for this marvellous resource, a link to which will be found at the foot of this page. Having said that, anything that is wrong on this page, is down to me; for which, I apologise in advance. 8^) We’ll start with the bronze or copper penny as our standard coin.
Some illustrations have been taken from Wikipedia; the small numbers
give the credit for these, to be found at the bottom of the page.
Queen Elizabeth II.
(1952 to date)
Penny, 1970. 30.8mm, 9.7g.
The latest date to appear on a British ‘old penny’ was 1970. 750,000 of these were minted, as ‘proof’ (high quality examples), with a mirror sheen, not applied to normal coins. These were intended to be included in coin sets to commemorate the ending of our old currency, after nearly 1,200 years. Doubtless many were; but even after nearly 40 years, there are always examples of this ‘proof’ penny available from dealers at no excessive cost. So we bought one in, and re-discovered how difficult it is to make a scan of a shiny object. Therefore, above you see the immaculate penny as a photograph; and even then, our modest abilities cannot give you a decent image of it. But take it from me, it’s really nice & shiny & a super thing to have. All the other images on this page were done on a cheap scanner/printer/fax machine & adjusted with Gimp.
Penny, 1967. 30.8mm, 9.1g.
Here is the almost incredibly ubiquitous 1967 penny, the last date to appear in the regular date sequence. Many millions were minted in 1967, and more even after that year, thought these were still dated 1967. With a mintage of over 650 million, the 1967 penny is, by far the most prolific coin in British history – four times as many as any other penny! Interestingly, at the top of the obverse (what I used to call the front) is a small cross, and we noticed that many very old coins used to have that cross there. A tradition re-introduced. However, the bust of the Queen was made by Mary Gillick (1881 – 1965) and she took a more ‘modern’ in approach when she designed it in 1952 – Wikipedia says the Queen was ‘uncrowned’. This puzzles me, because the three previous monarchs, going back to 1902, didn’t have crowns either, as you can see. But what do I know about anything? 8^) The reverse, of course, has Britannia, the female embodiment of Britain, who first appeared on a half penny coin in the later 1600s. In the background is a lighthouse.
Penny, 1953. 30.8mm, 9.2g.
Queen Elizabeth II succeeded to the throne on 6th February 1952 at the age of 26, and was crowned on June 2nd, 1953. I remember it well; we had a day off school, and the chocolate firm Cadbury’s gave every schoolchild in Birmingham a commemorative tin containing chocolate bars. The tin was of a size that could be used later for holding pencils, and also pens, for in those days, dip-in pens and inkwells were till widely in use. Of course, the Coronation was televised, and I remember watching a good deal of it on the Philips ‘projection-type’ television. These had, for the time, a very large screen, though the picture was still rather diffuse, and you still had to draw the curtains to watch the tv in those days! There were plastic boxed sets of the new 1953 coins – nine in all – and many kids were given one, including me. Unfortunately, the temptation to spend them proved too great (as also in the case of the commemorative Coronation Crown – a big five-shilling piece, then worth 60 pennies (now 25p) which of course was legal tender). However, one can still find such sets on ebay, which are quite reasonably priced. The head on the 1953 penny, above, proved to be rather too shallow, and wore quite quickly, so later pennies were minted from dies with higher relief. Lastly, the 1953 penny carried a different – longer – Latin inscription than later pennies, and this might be a good place to deal with these, since Latin had been on our coins for many centuries. The words are often abbreviated. On this penny, we have, starting at the cross and going clockwise: ELIZABETH DEI GRATIA : BRITTANIARIUM : OMNIUM : REGINA FIDEI: DEFENSOR : The letters in red give the full words. It means: ELIZABETH, BY THE GRACE OF GOD, OF ALL THE BRITAINS, QUEEN. DEFENDER OF THE FAITH. It could be translated in several ways, of course. ELIZABETH, BY GOD’S GRACE, QUEEN OF ALL THE BRITAINS; DEFENDER OF THE FAITH is more succinct. I dare say there is an official translation, but this paragraph is long enough already! However, all later pennies omit the BRITT : OMN. Perhaps a faint hint of devolution to come?
King George VI.
(1937 – 1952)
Penny, 1949. 30.8mm, 9.6g.
King George VI died on 6th February 1952. We were having a ‘Music and Movement’ BBC radio programme at school; you know: ‘Now children: skip round in a circle with your arms held up in the air. Are you ready? Here is your skipping music!’ when suddenly the radio went silent. The mistress in charge waited for a bit, then thought the BBC had had a breakdown, or the radio had gone wrong, so took us back to our classroom. Otherwise we would have heard the dolorous ‘This is London…’, followed by the announcement of the King’s passing. I think we might have been sent home for the rest of the day, but can’t remember. We put up a 1949 penny because that was the first year I was aware of, if you see what I mean. Actually, it might have been 1948, but what the heck. 8^)
Penny, 1944. 30.8mm, 9.1g.
All this stuff about me is just padding, really; and before 1944 – the year I was born – we won’t be able to write any more reminiscences! (Sorry, I was wrong, as you will see…) However, Tony Clayton’s site tells us that the pennies of 1944 into 1945 were made of a slightly different alloy than others, and although I won’t be putting in much of this fine detail, I did work in the Birmingham metal industry back in the days when it was still burgeoning. So we will report that the above penny consisted of 95% Copper, 2.5% Zinc and 0.5% Tin, this being a ‘low tin bronze’. Before & after there was appreciably more Tin; 3 or perhaps 4%. Note that this coin has in the legend IND : IMP. ‘INDIAE IMPERATOR’ – Emperor of India, a title that had been in place on British coins since 1876. India became independent in 1947, hence no IND : IMP on the 1949 penny above.
Penny, 1937. 30.8mm, 9.4g.
The coins of King George VI bore a bust by Henry Paget, OBE (1893 – 1974). Paget had also created the bust of Edward VIII (below), though no coins of that reign were officially issued in Britain. But the authorities were so impressed by his work that they commissioned him again for George VI. His initials are to be seen at the upper end of the truncation of the bust. The reverse has a lighthouse. There had sometimes been a sailing ship to the right of Britannia (see Queen Victoria, below), and it was suggested that a modern warship be placed there. However, with the rise of Nazi Germany, and consequent unrest in Europe, this was deemed to be provocative and the idea was abandoned. There are minor varieties in these pennies; one of the more obvious is a double line above the date on pennies of 1940 and after; so this 1937 example only has one. I’ve explained this backwards, because it involves the esoteric word ‘exergue’. We had to look it up, and it is ‘a space at the bottom of a coin or medal, in which a date is frequently located’. ‘Exergue’ is a great word, because it only has 7 letters; whereas my above definition of it has fifty-eight letters. 8^) But now we all know what an exergue is, so we can say that the above penny has only one line at the top of the exergue, as opposed to the two on the 1944 & 1949 pennies further up. Mind you, you may need a lens to see the two lines. The King’s head faces the correct way – left – thus obeying the tradition flouted by Edward VIII – see below.
King Edward VIII.
1½d was the basic letter rate in 1936. (It was the same from 1923 to 1940!)
It is, of course, rather silly to present a postage stamp instead of a coin; but then, King Edward VIII wasn’t around for very long. But his stamps – at least the lower values – were put into circulation. The Royal Mint was of course preparing designs & trials of the intended coins, but none were ever issued in the U.K. Nevertheless, a small number – five, seven, perhaps ten of the novel 12-sided threepenny bit ‘escaped’, and have become legendary – and naturally extremely valuable. There is much info. (and dis-info!) floating around on line. Apparently, replicas of this 1937 ‘coin-that-nearly-never-was’ have widely been manufactured in China. Incidentally, as you will see if you work your way down this page, there was a tradition that on coins, each successive monarch faced the opposite way; thus, Edward VIII was scheduled to face right, his father George V having faced left, see below. This had been in place for over 200 years; but Edward thought his left profile was better than his right, so he insisted on breaking the tradition. Tsk, tsk…
King George V.
(1910 – 1936)
Penny, 1936. 30.8mm, 9.4g.
Here is a nice crisp penny of King George V, who succeeded his father Edward on 6th May 1910. Alas, 1936 saw the end of his reign, as he died in the January of that year. The bust was created by the Australian sculptor Sir Bertram Mackennal (1863 – 1931). His initials are on the upper end of the truncation of the bust; this part tends to get worn, so they are probably not visible on poor examples. There is no longer a lighthouse on the reverse. For long, George V had the reputation of being a gruff, taciturn fellow, but has I think, been much rehabiliated in recent years. For instance, he was very fair to the election of a Labour government in 1924; this was still a time when the few remaining Monarchies of Europe (and especially their hangers-on) were terrified of the March of Socialism that had wrought so much change in the years from 1914 onwards. He wrote in his diary something like: ‘They seem to be well intentioned & ought to be given a fair chance.’ Again, he was personally blamed for at first offering, but then withdrawing, asylum to the Russian royal family after the 1917 Revolutions. All seven of them, plus attendants, were murdered by the Bolsheviks; but a recent book, based on Government Files just released under the 100 Year rule, rather shows that the affair was vastly more complicated, and George V was more or less left carrying the can! In happier times, he was a great philatelist, and the Royal Collection (in existence for many years before 1910) has long been the most comprehensive assemblage of British stamps and postal history – an entirely fitting asset for Britain, which created the postage stamp in the first place.
Penny, 1911. 30.8mm, 9.3g.
This earlier example, you’ll notice, has a larger bust the one above. Apparently this caused some problems in production; a faint ‘ghost’ image of the bust sometimes appeared on the reverse. This was cured by tweaking the bronze composition, and making the bust smaller. This happened in 1926, and yet another bust was introduced in 1928. There are many other varieties, but the best-known George V ‘specials’ are the pennies minted in my home city of Birmingham, in 1912, 1918 and 1919. In 1912, the Royal Mint struck 48 million pennies, but evidently this was not enough, for just under 18 million more were outsourced from the Heaton mint – better known as the Birmingham mint. These were distinguished by a small letter ‘H’ to the left of the date in the space at the bottom of the reverse. Hang on – that’s the exergue, isn’t it? Come along, Field; we must use the terms we are learning! The Heatons had metals businesses in Birmingham, and in 1850 they bought in steam-operated presses when the old Matthew Boulton factory in was sold off (more on Boulton below) and began to make punched metal of various shapes, one obvious one being a circle… Q.E.D. By 1860 they had a large new factory in Icknield Street (just a name – it’s not on the line of the Roman road) and were making coins for the Royal mint and other countries, world wide.
The Birmingham mint. Happily, the facade is preserved. (4).
Again, in 1918 and 1919, further quite large quantities were of pennies were struck here, and also at the nearby Kings Norton Metal Co. Those, naturally have KN in the er… exergue, again to the left of the date. As Decimalisation drew near, there was a great craze to find H and KN pennies, as they were more collectible than normal pennies. Taking 1912, 1918 & 1919 together, the Royal Mint had made roughly 246 million pennies, while the combined output of H and KN coins was only about 25.5 million. We made ourselves a pain in the neck at our banks, getting several 5 shilling bags of pennies, and sorting through them for H & KN pennies. We found hardly any; far less than the expected ratio of about 1 in 9. Of course, the banks had got fed up of the nuisance, and kept handing out the same bags that other people had just brought back. How naïve we could be in those days. 8^) However, other searchers were more efficient and persistent, and it is apparently the case, that so many 1912H pennies were asided & kept before Decimalisation, that today the 1912 plain penny seems to be harder to find than a 1912H. In other words, the original ratio of 3 : 1 has actually been more than extinguished! Before proceeding, we should mention another mint in Birmingham: the Kynoch Mint at Witton, eventually part of ICI Metals Division and later IMI. We worked at IMI for nearly 10 years in the 1960s, but in the Titanium & Zirconium division.
King Edward VII.
(1901 – 1910)
Penny, 1902. 30.8mm, 9.2g.
Albert Edward (1841 – 1910) came to the throne in January 1901, on the death of Queen Victoria. He was her second child and first son, and accordingly became Prince of Wales. His coin bust was designed by George William de Saulles, who was the last ‘Engraver of the Royal Mint’, an important post that had existed, in one form or another, for hundreds of years. As we have seen, later Monarchs were illustrated by independent artists, either by invitation or by competitive submission. (The post was re-established around 1960.) The portrait occupies a large area of the coin, and problems were encountered with ‘ghosting’ of the head on the reverse. There are few varieties except for 1902, where the sea level on the reverse is different. For obvious reasons, these are referred to as ‘High Tide’ and ‘Low Tide’. The sea level is not visible in our grotty image above, but it is just below the point where Britannia’s left leg goes behind her right leg. This is a ‘Low Tide’; on the ‘High Tide’ the sea level is at the point where her legs cross. The difference in real terms is about a millimetre, but such things are very important to serious numismatists, and are also most interesting to a dilletante such as myself. Edward was 59 years old at his accession, and had lead a somewhat gaudy life, though he was generally popular with the public. He spoke fluent French and German, and made many visits to European countries, which gave him the reputation of an Ambassador of British Goodwill, and the important Anglo-French ‘Entente Cordiale’ is credited to him. However, recent opinion (see Wikipedia) seems relatively reserved on this matter. Nevertheless, his reign encompassed the culmination of the Belle Époque, and nine European Monarchs attended his funeral, on 20th May 1910 – a scene that was to be almost totally swept away by the Great War of 1914 – 1918.
(1837 – 1901)
Penny, 1899. 31mm, 9.3g.
It’s often fun, at least to me, to imagine what life span might contain the greatest range of technological progress. Alexandrina Victoria lived from 1819 to 1901, and is an obvious candidate for such a distinction. When she was born, there were no steam railways; all ships were driven by sail, as they always had been; the use of electric current was in its infancy; there was no photography; there was no sound recording – and so on. By 1901, Britain had 22,000 miles of railways, and for many decades we had been building them for other countries all over the world. By 1901, most ships were powered by steam engines, and the British Navy and Merchant Navy were by far the largest in the world. By 1901, reliable transatlantic electric telegraph cables had been in place for 35 years, and wireless telegraphy – radio – was already in extensive use, as was the telephone. By 1901, photography was highly developed, and indeed there had been moving pictures – cinema – for several years. By 1901, sound recording was well in place, though alas, we do not have a proven or at least convincing recording of Queen Victoria’s voice, though she did send a voice message to the Emperor of Abyssinia on a cylinder record in 1898, viz: https://www.jstor.org/stable/614000?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents . What an incredible change! She came to the throne in 1837, and the ‘Veiled Head’ penny above appeared in 1895.
Penny, 1891. 31mm, 9.3g.
Here is the previous design, which had been a revolutionary change. It appeared in 1860, and was made in bronze instead of copper, as were all subsequent pennies (and half pennies, and farthings). It was rather smaller and much lighter than its precursors, as you will soon see. Note the lighthouse and ship, flanking Britannia. This new size and weight (one third of an ounce) was to persist until the démise of the ‘old penny’ in 1970. 110 years is surely a very respectable existence for a basic coin, by any standards? This might also be the place to reminisce again. As long as these old pennies were legal tender, as they were in my youth, it was always amazing to me how long some of them had been in circulation. Actually – it only comes to me now as I write – it is highly likely that some pennies had probably been in circulation for ALL THAT TIME! Of course, by the 1960s, most Victorian pennies were well worn, to the extent that most dates were unreadable – but not on all of them. I distinctly remember pennies in circulation on which dates in the 1860s were still just legible, 100 years on. It was certainly the policy of the Royal Mint to withdraw worn coins, but they seem to have been very relaxed about it. It certainly underlined a sense of continuity in our British culture. “A penny is a penny, is a penny, is a penny.” &c.
Penny, 1874-H, detail.
In 1874, the Heaton Mint in Birmingham (see George V above) was called on to supplement the output of pennies from the Royal Mint. Indeed, Wikipedia tells us that Birmingham produced more pennies that year than did London. 5,621,865 from London, yet ~ 6,666,240 from Brum. The above shows part of the exergue (how readily we take to new terms!) with the H underneath the date. Heaton also produced pennies in 1875, but only about 750,000; but in 1876, for whatever reason, Heaton made all the pennies that year, no less than ~11,074,560 of ’em. Fascinating stuff. They also made more than London in 1881, and made all the 7.5 million 1882 pennies. I really must start collecting Heaton pennies; they can’t be terribly expensive, surely? <8^) But as long as we have a nice enlarged image of the edge of a penny, we might as well deal with the border. You will see that the border of the penny has a series of tooth-like projections going inwards. Reassuringly, this is termed by numismatists a ‘toothed border’. The alternative to a toothed border is a ‘beaded border’, and you will be reassured still further, when I tell you that this consists of a series of little round beads, inside but separated from, the edge of the coin. As far as I can make out, there is only one sort of beaded border; but there are two sorts of toothed border. One of them has teeth longer than the other. And sometimes, the mint has got it wrong, and there is, e.g., a toothed border on one side of the coin and a beaded border on the other. Such things tend to be very scarce, thus desirable and therefore expensive. This automatically puts them outside the scope of this exceedingly modest page, sorry! 8^)
Penny, 1855. 34.25mm, 19g.
I have seen all these previous pennies happily circulating side by side in my lifetime. But now, we really do start to get into the more distant past. This is the early Victoria penny, and is certainly a coin to be reckoned with. It’s over 10% larger in diameter, and twice as heavy as its slimmer successor of 1860. It is made of copper, not bronze. Even if you only had six or eight of these as your entire capital, it would have been unwise to jingle them in your pocket to keep up your spirits as you walked along, for they would quite soon have worn through it, and fallen on the road. They might have made a noise as they hit the pavement – so you would have realised you had dropped one. But having said that, we are now in a period when most of the population did not yet live in towns & cities, but in the country, where roads were of course still quite rudimentary, and usually unmetalled, so you wouldn’t hear the sound of a falling penny. Be warned! The bust was created by William Wyon (1795 – 1851) the Official Engraver of the Royal Mint, and it really is a handsome & elegant coin. Indeed, Tony Clayton, whose website we have continually consulted, considers this coin to be one of the all time classics – though he adds that a really fine example is required for the full appreciation of it. The one above is highly mediocre… but the next Birmingham Coin Fair is a week tomorrow… who knows what may emerge? The date is now on the front – oops, the obverse; and the exergue (he said, confidently) on the reverse is filled with a pattern of rose, thistle, leek and shamrock, symbolising the Four Countries that made up the vast majority of Britain.
Queen Victoria, Prince Albert & children. Winterhalter, 1846-7. (5)
Although photography had arrived in 1839/40, it was still in its infancy, and was only tiny & monochrome; so the best thing by far (if you were very rich) was to get a really good portrait of you & your family painted by a top guy. At the time, that top guy in Europe was, without question, Franz Winterhalter. The marvellous result, you see above. I love his portraits of the 19th Century ‘great and the good’, because he really does make them look marvellous. They’re all imposing and beautiful, even though many of them were actually quite short, dumpy, and not terribly prepossessing per se. I don’t mean to imply that they were stupid or anything like that (though some of them doubtless were); no: he made them look good as well. Of course, he was vilified by his fellow artists, (b) because he had ‘sold out’, and (a) because he made an enormous amount of money painting the nobility. Millais suffered a similar thing here in the U.K. But I digress…
King William IV.
(1830 – 1837)
Penny, 1834. 34.1mm, 18.9g.
We should have told you before now, that Queen Victoria was the last Monarch of the House of Hanover, which had reigned here since 1714, so we will redress the balance by saying that King William IV was the last-but-one of that House. He was born in 1765, a younger son of George III, and was the oldest person ever to come to the British throne when he did so in 1830 at the age of 64, following the death of his older brother George IV. Many earlier heirs to the throne had been murdered, poisoned, banished, beheaded or had just died anyway by that age. Though his reign lasted only until 1837, he seems to have been held in reasonable respect by the ordinary citizens of Britain, a welcome change from the previous reign. A good deal of his earlier life had been spent in the Navy, and he was popularly called ‘The Sailor King’. Wikipedia tells us he was a well-meaning sort of chap, if rather dull & unenterprising, who tried to steer a diplomatic course between getting on OK, and the pressures of Politics – the latter principally concerning the vital necessity of Reform of the electoral system, which, to be fair, had become hopelessly corrupt over the centuries. There was considerable progress on this during his reign; there was a Reform Act in 1832, plus restrictions against Child Labour, and in 1833 Slavery was abolished in most of the British Empire. When we imply that William IV was an ‘OK guy’, we don’t mean that he was free from certain human failings, associated with powerful & rich people of his time; far from it. He had ten illegitimate children by his long-term mistress, Dorothea Jordan, but had no surviving legitimate children – which is why, upon his death, the throne passed to Victoria, his niece.Indeed, we might well describe William IV as ‘A Good King’ – see below.
King George IV.
(1820 – 1830)
Penny, 1826. 33.9mm, 17.9g.
Caution: this paragraph is serious and rather sombre! In the well known comic view of history “1066 And All That” (Sellar and Yeatman, 1930), Monarchs were often described as ‘A Good King’, or ‘A Bad King’. George IV is the nearest thing to a ‘Bad King’ we have come across so far, as we journey back in time. He was born in 1762, his father being George III; and Wikipedia tells us that “His charm and culture earned him the title “the first gentleman of England”, but his dissolute way of life and poor relationships with his parents and his wife, Caroline of Brunswick, earned him the contempt of the people and dimmed the prestige of the monarchy… …George’s ministers found his behaviour selfish, unreliable and irresponsible. At all times he was much under the influence of favourites. Taxpayers were angry at his wasteful spending during the Napoleonic Wars. He did not provide national leadership in time of crisis, nor act as a role model for his people. (Lord) Liverpool’s government presided over Britain’s ultimate victory, negotiated the peace settlement, and attempted to deal with the social and economic malaise that followed. After Liverpool’s retirement, George was forced to accept Catholic emancipation despite opposing it.” He was a spendthrift and a glutton, becoming very obese & suffering from attendant ill-health in his later life. I suppose in his defence, it might be said that his long period of being heir apparent – he was in his late 50s when he became King – had promoted his decadent life style, which he could not readily throw off, even had he wanted to? H’mm.
King George III.
(1760 – 1820)
Penny, 1806. 34.2mm, 18.9g.
The copper coinage of George III was distinctive in several ways. For example, his was the first reign which had copper pennies. All pennies before this had been silver, for nearly a thousand years, including George III’s early pennies. And as we have travelled backwards in time, illustrating only bronze and copper pennies as our ‘standard coin’, this is the end of the line – while also being the start of it! 8^) But I like this this 1806 copper penny a lot; it’s a chunky, jovial sort of coin, and though the one above has been bashed around quite a bit, it still looks quite reassuring, and ready for further adventures! Note the empty exergue – it looks quite odd, doesn’t it? And Britannia is facing the other way. These copper coins were produced in my home city of Birmingham, by the famous Matthew Boulton concern.
Matthew Boulton (1728 – 1809)
Boulton was, without doubt, one of the key figures in the Industrial Revolution in Britain. The textile trade saw the first big increase in ‘machinery’ – but for a good run-down, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Revolution . After mechanisation using water power, steam power rapidly came to the fore. Boulton and James Watt provided steam engines at first for pumping water from mines, but for our purposes the important aspect was steam powered presses which could mass produce good, uniform metal stampings: e.g., coins. Boulton’s factory (and his fine house) was built in the 1760s, at Soho, part of Handsworth. This is to the north of Birmingham, but was not then part of it. (I have given up trying to discover the origin of ‘Soho’, having wasted half an hour looking for it. Just like Soho in London, the origin is uncertain.) At any rate, the factory was based on an existing water mill, but soon became vastly larger as time went on. In the mid-1800s, the factory was demolished and built over, but the house survives as a splendid Museum – well worth a visit, if I say it myself!
In the late 18th Century, the British coinage was in considerable disarray, and a major re-hash was needed. About four years ago I wrote an amateurish web page on the plorifer… profiler… sorry, proliferation of tokens, like you put in the car wash. These were made by private companies and even individuals, as a way of getting over the shortage of reliable coins. Nobody has complained about that web page’s inaccuracies as yet, so you may care to take a short excursion there, which can be accessed here. Mind you, that lack of adverse comment might be because (b) there were too many inaccuracies about which to inform me; (a) nobody has ever read the page anyway; or (c) an indeterminate ratio of (b) to (a). 8^)
To cut a long story short (something we have always found very difficult), it was decided to stop having increasingly small silver pennies, & make them of copper instead; and (v. important), the copper penny would actually consist of one penny’s-worth of copper. This was a great idea, as it had always been the fundamental concept behind coins, that they actually were (or should be) worth their face value. To be sure, this laudable principle had often been flouted over the centuries; so it redounds greatly to the credit of King George III and his Parliament, that they chose this way forward, especially as we had been involved in a complicated War since 1793, which was to last, almost uninterrupted, until 1815.
To attain this recoinage meant a truly vast effort; but happily, Boulton’s Soho factory proved worthy of it, and their steam-powered presses poured forth countless tons of new copper pennies, and also of the magnificent, enormous two pence piece you see below.
‘Cartwheel’ two pence, 1797. 41mm, 55.6g.
‘Cartwheel’ penny, 1797. 36mm, 27.6g.
This King George III section has become over-long; but you’ll notice that the 1806 penny is a lot smaller & lighter than the 1797 ones (which, incidentally, were minted for several years after, but still dated 1797). The reason is, the price of copper rose due to the War &c., so for once, coins became worth more than their face value!
After all this, there is no room to comment on the very long & eventful reign of King George III himself; so if you would like to know of this basically good & well-intentioned King, see:
King George II.
(1727 – 1760)
Half penny, 1732. 27.8mm, 9.1g.
As remarked above, the pennies before George III were still made of silver, as they had been for many centuries. However, it would seem there must have been enough silver pennies of previous monarchs going around, for the sole silver penny minted in George II’s reign seems to have been the the 1754 ‘Maundy Money’ penny – at least, if I have interpreted Tony Clayton’s website correctly. We have not mentioned ‘Maundy Money’ so far, so will briefly say that Maunday Thursday is a religious ceremony on the day before Good Friday, in which early monarchs (not just in this country) followed the example of Jesus Christ, by washing the feet of poor people, and giving them charitable gifts – shoes, material for clothes &c. If you look at
you will find that the ceremony – which still continues today – has undergone a very complex evolution, which came to include gifts of money. Eventually coins were specifically minted for the ceremony, and while they always were legal tender, their low mintage has ensured they have always been scarce and expensive; in effect, they very much stand aside from the standard currency of Britain.
By contrast, copper half pennies of George II are extremely abundant, as ebay readily shows. The coin was simple & straightforward in design, and the inscription is very laconic; no ‘DEI GRATIA’; perhaps, after all the complexities of the previous few decades, the concept of Divine Right of Monarchs had quietly been laid aside for the present, to be on the safe side?
George II came to the throne at the age of 43, and initially gained favour in Britain by not going to Hanover for the funeral of his father, who had died there. However, he did visit this ancestral home (see below) for long periods – possibly because he enjoyed great executive power there, as opposed to the now very limited authority allowed to British Kings & Queens. In 1743, he led soldiers at the Battle of Dettingen in the War of the Austrian Succession, making him the last British monarch to lead an army in war. Two years later, the Jacobite Rebellion took place, taking advantage of the fact that most British troops were still in Europe. This was an attempt by Charles Edward Stuart, grandson of James II/VII, to regain the British throne for his father, also James. Mustered in Scotland, their army reached as far south as Derby before deciding to retreat. In April 1746 the Scottish army was defeated at the Battle of Culloden, near Inverness; it is regarded as the last true battle on British soil; around 1,500 Scots and 300 Royal troops were killed.
For many years George II was regarded as a ‘Bad King’ owing to his lack of intellect, short temper, and his immorality (he had many mistresses); but as in other cases, Wikipedia remarks that he has been somewhat rehabilitated in the last few decades.
King George I.
(1714 – 1727)
Half penny, 1718. 26.4mm, 9.3g.
George Louis (born 1660), had become the ruler of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg – better known as Hanover – in 1698. He and Queen Anne were second cousins, and by the Act of Settlement (see below) he succeeded her on the British throne, also remaining King of Hanover. There had been many years of tumult, and Parliament was ever more determined, once and for all, to limit the power of the sovereign, and establish its supreme authority in the kingdom. It was in this reign that considerable progress was made; and government by a ‘cabinet’ of senior Members of Parliament, headed by a Prime Minister was largely attained. Robert Walpole (1676 – 1745) is credited with being the first British P.M. (Here summarise Wikipedia on G1).
(1702 – 1714)
Shilling, 1707. 22mm, 2.9g.
In 1701, Parliament had passed the Act of Settlement, which decreed that only those of the Protestant Faith could become King or Queen of England. As a result, very many Catholic descendants (Wikipedia says around 50) of earlier monarchs were barred from the succession.
WILLIAM III and MARY II.
(1689 – 1702); (1689 – 1694)
William & Mary farthing, 1694?. ~22.8mm, 5.1g.
Bought 10-02-2019. I agree, we need something a bit better than this! Honestly, there really are are two people on it…
William III Shilling, 1696. 25mm, 5.6g.
JAMES II (& JAMES VII of Scotland).
(1685 – 1688)
Half crown. 1685 – 1688. ~32.75mm, 13.1g.
James II was the first Monarch we came to, where it proved quite difficult to find a ‘cheap coin’. Remember, our sole criterion is that the King or Queen be identifiable; the date doesn’t matter. So the partial ‘JACOBVS – II’ on the left of the obverse is entirely satisfactory. The trouble was, both that James II didn’t reign for very long, and the vast majority of his coins, on ebay at any rate, are the ‘Gun Money’ coinage. A succinct description and images of these of this can be seen at http://www.mernick.org.uk/bexley/article7.htm . They were minted in Ireland after James had been deposed by Parliament, so he was no longer King. The fact that he believed he was still King, by Divine Right, was encouraged when the Irish Parliament declared for him. But surely, by any strict definition, the Gun Money is not British coin? It was to pay mercenary troops James had engaged to regain the throne from William and Mary, whom Parliament had installed as joint Monarchs in February 1689. James had converted to Roman Catholicism, which was why he was deposed. Mary was his daughter, and the Dutch Prince William of Orange was her husband. They were both Protestants, so were made joint monarchs by Parliament. The whole conflict was extremely complex (see Wikipedia), but essentially the questions were: (a) was it Parliament, or the Monarch, that enjoyed supreme authority? And (b) was Britain to be ruled by a Catholic Monarch when around 75% of the population were not of that Faith? Laying aside these truly portentous questions with some relief, we acquired this extremely worn half crown. The reverse has almost entirely disappeared, but the design is essentially the same as the shillings above: the three lions of England in the top position, the Scottish lion rampant at the right, the fleur-de-lys of France at the bottom, and the Irish harp on the left.
(1660 – 1685)
Farthing, 1674. ~22.5mm, 4.7g.
This is the Introduction of the Wikipedia Article on Charles II, which we have simply copied &, and naturally pay sincere thanks and acknowledgements to their excellent organisation, to which I have made a number of contributions over the years, so it’s OK, really?
Charles II (29 May 1630 – 6 February 1685) was king of England, Scotland, and Ireland. He was king of Scotland from 1649 until his deposition in 1651, and king of England, Scotland and Ireland from the 1660 Restoration of the monarchy until his death.
Charles II was the eldest surviving child of Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland and Henrietta Maria of France. After Charles I’s execution at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War, the Parliament of Scotland proclaimed Charles II king on 5 February 1649. However, England entered the period known as the English Interregnum or the English Commonwealth, and the country was a de facto republic led by Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell defeated Charles II at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651, and Charles fled to mainland Europe. Cromwell became virtual dictator of England, Scotland and Ireland. Charles spent the next nine years in exile in France, the Dutch Republic and the Spanish Netherlands. A political crisis that followed the death of Cromwell in 1658 resulted in the restoration of the monarchy, and Charles was invited to return to Britain. On 29 May 1660, his 30th birthday, he was received in London to public acclaim. After 1660, all legal documents were dated as if he had succeeded his father as king in 1649.
Charles’s English parliament enacted laws known as the Clarendon Code, designed to shore up the position of the re-established Church of England. Charles acquiesced to the Clarendon Code even though he favoured a policy of religious tolerance. The major foreign policy issue of his early reign was the Second Anglo-Dutch War. In 1670, he entered into the Treaty of Dover, an alliance with his cousin King Louis XIV of France. Louis agreed to aid him in the Third Anglo-Dutch War and pay him a pension, and Charles secretly promised to convert to Catholicism at an unspecified future date. Charles attempted to introduce religious freedom for Catholics and Protestant dissenters with his 1672 Royal Declaration of Indulgence, but the English Parliament forced him to withdraw it. In 1679, Titus Oates‘s revelations of a supposed Popish Plot sparked the Exclusion Crisis when it was revealed that Charles’s brother and heir presumptive, James, Duke of York, was a Catholic. The crisis saw the birth of the pro-exclusion Whig and anti-exclusion Tory parties. Charles sided with the Tories, and, following the discovery of the Rye House Plot to murder Charles and James in 1683, some Whig leaders were executed or forced into exile. Charles dissolved the English Parliament in 1681, and ruled alone until his death in 1685. He was received into the Catholic Church on his deathbed.
Charles was one of the most popular and beloved kings of England, known as the Merry Monarch, in reference to both the liveliness and hedonism of his court and the general relief at the return to normality after over a decade of rule by Cromwell and the Puritans. Charles’s wife, Catherine of Braganza, bore no live children, but Charles acknowledged at least twelve illegitimate children by various mistresses. He was succeeded by his brother James.
Commonwealth, or Republic: 1649 – 1659 or 1660…
This interregnum is outside the scope of this page, for there was no Monarch at the time.
(1625 – 1649)
‘Rose’ Farthing, no date. ca.12-14mm, 0.8g. This is a token, not a true coin?
Obtained from the Birmingham Coin Fair, 10-02-2019. These were issued in the latter part of his reign. They were minted privately, and later examples (apparently not including the one above) had a brass wedge inserted to prevent counterfeiting. The inscription on the obverse is given as CAROLU DG MA BRI; the reverse has: FRA ET HI REX. (In full: CAROLUS DEI GRATIA MAGNAE BRITANNIAE, FRANCIAE ET HIBERNIAE, KING. Literally: Charles, by the Grace of God, (of) Great Britain, France and Ireland, King’.) The ‘privy mark’ is ‘Mullet/crescent’. Spink 3206 is also given; as is BMC 344, which latter must be a mistake.
JAMES I (& James VI of Scotland).
Silver penny, ca.1587-9. ~15mm, 0.8g.
Bought 10-02-2019. Reverse: two fleur-de-lys for France and two English triple lions. Mint Mark is a crescent, and ‘LON’ is seen at the bottom left of the reverse, which of course continues with ‘DON’ – London mint. The significance of the two dots to the right of the bust are unknown; not all Eliz. I silver pennies seem to have them?
Silver threepence, 1596. ~25mm, 2.3g.
Bought 10-02-2019. This coin seems OK, and is about 3 times the weight of the of the penny coin above, wch is reassuring! Almost obliterated is a rose to the rear of the bust; this I think distinguished it from a sixpence, which apart from its larger size, had no rose. Reverse same as the coin above, but unlike the penny, the threepence is dated.
(1553 – 1558)
Silver groat(?), no date. 23mm. 1.2g.
Bought 10-02-2019. The obverse (or what is left of it) has been colour reversed in Gimp, to better show the letters A, R, I, A on the upper right of the obverse, wch can only be the concluding letters of MARIA, so it seems OK. It is a coin of Mary I, wch is all that is required of it, on this page. Again the fleur-de-lys & triple lions on the reverse.
(1547 – 1553)
(1509 – 1547)
Silver Half Penny, no date. 10mm. York Mint.
Bought 10-11-2019. Born in 1491, he was the second of the Tudor dynasty, founded by Henry VII. His life and times were so complex & flambuoyant, that no short summary can possibly suffice! Best see Wikipedia… The pennies & half pennies at this time carried their place of minting on their long cross reverse. A coin minted in London would have ‘Civitas London’ (Civitas = city). It was split between the four arms of the cross, as CIVI ■ TAS ■ LON ■ DON, beginning at the first quadrant from the top, clockwise. In the case of the above half penny minted at York, it would have read: CIVI ■ TAS ■ EBO ■ RA, or possibly RAC, from Eboracum, the Roman name for York. There is little of all this to be seen on the tiny coin above, but we have absolute faith in the dealer’s attribution.
(1485 – 1509)
(1483 – 1485)
This young king reigned only for threee months. He was deposed by being found illegitimate. It seems there are no coins that may safely be attributed to him.
(1461 – 1470, & 1471 – 1483)
Silver Half Penny, no date. 11-12mm.
Bought 10-11-2019. We are now in the times of the Wars of the Roses, another complex period in English history. Yet again, the Wikipedia article is recommended; for example, and with acknowledgments to Wikipedia: Edward was an extremely capable and daring military commander. He crushed the House of Lancaster in a series of spectacular military victories. He was a popular and very able king, despite his occasional (if serious) political setbacks—usually at the hands of his great Machiavellian rival Louis XI of France. He did lack foresight and was at times cursed by bad judgement, but he possessed an uncanny understanding of his most useful subjects, and many who served him remained loyal until his death.
(1422 – 1461)
Silver half penny, no date. 13.4mm, too light to measure here.
Bought 10-02-2019. Vendors attribution, adding ‘long pellet issue, London’ which is fine. Some of the cross on the reverse appears to have bled through to the obverse? This at least indicates there was no fixed orientation at this time, between the two faces of a hammered coin. We had been wondering about that.
(1413 – 1422)
(1399 – 1413)
(1377 – 1399)
(1327 – 1377)
Silver penny. ~18mm, 0.9g.
This was our first silver penny, and is in terrible condition; but the advantage was (a) being knackered it was quite cheap, and (b) is definitely identifiable as a coin of Edward III, which meets out modest parameters. Mind you, at first we could only see which way up it went, by looking at on-line images in good condition. The name ‘Edwardvs’ begins after a small cross at the top of the obverse, and the D and W are quite legible; the first part of the A and the tail of the R are to be seen. D, V and S are OK too.
(1307 – 1327)
(1272 – 1307)
Silver Penny, no date. 18mm.
Bought 10-11-2019. There are very many varieties of these pennies. Another comlicated and eventful reign. The following is from a footnote in his long Wikipedia entry: “G. Templeman argued in his 1950 historiographical essay that ‘it is generally recognized that Edward I deserves a high place in the history of medieval England’. More recently, Michael Prestwich argues that ‘Edward was a formidable king; his reign, with both its successes and its disappointments, a great one,’ and he was ‘without doubt one of the greatest rulers of his time’, while John Gillingham suggests that ‘no king of England had a greater impact on the peoples of Britain than Edward I’ and that ‘modern historians of the English state… have always recognized Edward I’s reign as pivotal.’ Fred Cazel similarly comments that ‘no-one can doubt the greatness of the reign’. Most recently, Andrew Spencer has agreed with Prestwich, arguing that Edward’s reign ‘was indeed… a great one’, and Caroline Burt states that ‘Edward I was without a doubt one of the greatest kings to rule England.’ ”
There is nothing I can meaningfully add to that!
(1216 – 1272)
Cut half silver penny, no date. 18.2mm, too light to measure here.
Bought 10-02-2019. Vendor’s attribution: Canterbury Mint. If we’ve got it the right way up, the obverse seems to show ‘CUS REX’ wch would fit HENRICUS REX. What would be the correct orientation for the reverse, we have no idea.
(1199 – 1216)
Cut silver farthing, no date. Orig. prob. 18mm. Can’t weigh this item.
Bought 10-02-2019. Vendor’s attribution. There is practically no detail on the portion of the obverse to allow further research on our part. This is the first short cross penny (or portion of one!) that we have acquired.
(1189 – 1199)
Cut silver half penny, no date. ~18mm, can’t weigh it.
Bought 10-02-2019. Vendor’s attribution: Ricard on London. We could not possibly find out any more, and don’t even know whether our orientations are correct!
(1154 – 1189)
Cut silver half penny, ca.1174 – 1189?. ~18mm, can’t weigh it.
Bought 10-02-2019. The vendor marked this ‘Tealby’. We discovered that this was a new sort of penny, introduced by Henry II after a period of Civil War – ‘The Great Revolt’ of 1173-74 – as a new, dependable currency. It was made at thirty different mints. Having looked at images of high quality Tealby pennies on-line, it would appear that I might have got the obverse above right by pure luck: many of them show the King holding a sceptre with a cross at the top of it, which cross appears to the left side of his head – that’s our left side of his head, not his. Amazingly, you will see that ‘Maltese Cross’ in the upper half of the obverse. (MEMO: I must be very careful not to get drawn into coins; my specialism is ‘Early British Gramophone Records: 1898 – ca.1926′, and this must surely prevail; even though both are round, and interesting…) As to who, or what, Tealby was, we are still ignorant. STOP PRESS! Tealby was – is – a place; a small village in Lincolnshire, about half-way between Lincoln & Grimsby, on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds. Near Tealby, a vast hoard of over 5,700 Henry II silver pennies was discovered in 1807. Unfortunately, only a few hundred were deemed worthy of keeping, so the other 5,000 were melted down for the silver. Aargh!!
(1135 – 1154)
(1100 – 1135)
(1087 – 1100)
(1066 – 1087)
Edward the Confessor
(1042 – 1066)
For a truly vast amount of knowledge on Coins of the U.K., and hundreds of images,
visit Tony Clayton’s site. We have got almost all the info on this humble page from
this magnificent site; many thanks, Tony.
Images 1-5 above were taken from Wikipedia.