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The Silver Coins of England

Edward Hawkins, 1841
Mint Marks

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Mint Marks

In former times it was customary to grant to various individuals, in different parts of the country, the privilege of coining and issuing money in the name of the reigning sovereign. The pieces so issued were to be of a prescribed type, size, weight and standard, that there might be one uniform appearance in the coins circulating in the kingdom. It is probable that in many instances the dies were actually made in London and transmitted to the various mints where they were to be used. To prevent fraud, it was necessary that the coins issued from every mint should be tested, and for this purpose the Trial of the Pix at Westminster was established, whereby pieces taken at random from the whole mass coined at each mint were melted and assayed, and, if found to be of the prescribed weight and fineness, the moneyers, masters, and workers of the mint received their quietus, and were freed from all charges which might thereafter be brought against them, grounded upon any imputed failure in the execution of the contract under which their privilege had been granted to them. It was probably in order that each moneyer's coins might be separated at these trials of the Pix, and that each might be responsible only for his own works, that the names of the moneyers, or of the mint, or both, were stampt upon the coin and formed a part of the type.

As these trials of the Pix were only occasional, and took place at irregular periods, sometimes very frequently and sometimes very rarely, it became necessary that there should be upon the pieces, coined at different times and perhaps under different contracts, some distinctive mark, "that so the moneys from which the contracters were not discharged might be distinguished from those for which they had already received their quietus." These marks are usually called privy, or mint marks; a fresh one was adopted after every trial of the Pix; and each new mark was continued upon the coins of each mint until a fresh trial of the Pix took place. During the period that mints were established in a variety of places, different marks would of course be used concurrently; but upon coins issued from the same mint the marks would indicate a succession of coinages, and, had proper registers been kept and preserved at our several mints, they would have answered the purpose of dates in controuling the arrangement of a cabinet. The mint marks upon the Durham episcopal coins are generally derived from the armorial bearings of the Bishop for the time being, and are consequently as well susceptible of a strict chronological arrangement as if they had actually borne a date. There are however some exceptions to such a general rule, when, even in the same mint, there are two concurrent marks. upon the sixpences of Queen Elizabeth we may find not unfrequently the same date with two different mint marks; this in general arises from the circumstances of the trial of the Pix having taken place in the middle of the year, one mark having been used in the beginning, another towards the close of the year: as for instance the portcullis may have been used at the beginning of 1566, the lion at the end, and again the lion at the beginning of 1567 and the coronet at the end. But there are some irregularities for which there is a difficulty in accounting; the sword was used in 1582, so also was the bell which continued to be used in 1583, the letter A was also used in 1582 and 1583, so that at least two mint marks were used concurrently; the same circumstance occurred in 1595 with the ton, woolpack, and key; the want of proper records prevents our obtaining an explanation of these anomalies.

The piety of our ancestors induced them to make a cross, variously modified and decorated, a conspicuous part of the type of their coins; and also to place a cross at the commencement of the legend, sometimes on the obverse, sometimes on the reverse, and sometimes on both; and it was very frequently made to serve the double purpose of being the Christian symbol and the last letter of the word Rex. But when mint marks, properly so called, came into use, they usurped the place, at the beginning or end of the legend, which had been usually occupied by the cross.

When the names of the moneyers and of mints were of general occurrence upon coins, mint marks were less necessary, and, if there were any further indications of peculiar coinages, they have escaped detection, or at least have not been recognised as such; there are however peculiarities upon some coins for which it seems difficult to account, but upon some such principle. See Rud. xviii. 28. xix. 15. xx. 21. 22. 23. and other coins of the reigns of Eadred, Eadwig, Eadgar, &c. &c. Of such, as they occur only occasionally and somewhat rarely, it would not avail to any good purpose to enter into a detailed statement; but it may be of some interest to have an account of such marks as we know to have been intended to distinguish between different coinages, and we have to express our regrets that want of leisure prevents our making such an investigation into the minute details of History, as might enable us to explain the meaning and the origin of many of them. We feel satisfied that a great number of them were not mere forms accidentally adopted, but were symbols or badges of some illustrious patron, or some distinguished personage connected with the mint where they were used, or of the place where the mint was established. Of such a description of marks we have conspicuous and well known examples in the armorial bearings upon the coins of Durham, the cardinal's cap on some coins of York, the ton upon the coins of Abp. Morton, and the knot upon those of Abp. Bourchier. This last, from what of attention to the feeling which frequently prompted the adoption of peculiar marks, has generally been called a crown of thorns. There are some others whose import we may be able to explain in the subsequent pages, and there are doubtless many more which will be elucidated by the perseverance and research of numismatists now that their attention has been directed to the subject; and we are convinced that these labours will be rewarded by the many interesting particulars, which will be brought to bear upon the history of our national coinage.

It was not until the reign of the first Edwards that the regular mint marks began to be adopted, and we need not therefore look back to a remoter period, and endeavour to draw conclusions from the indefinite marks, which appear upon some coins; such as the letters which follow the moneyers' names upon the coins of Henry II. But besides those objects which are usually called mint marks, and which are generally ranged with the line of the legend, there are various marks which are modifications or variations from the ordinary types, or are additions thereto, and all of which have the effect, even if they were not intended to have the object, of enabling us to separate one coinage from another, and which therefore we think it will be interesting to point out.

The first instance of the substitution of any object for the usual Christian symbol occurs in the reign of Henry III., but with what view the change took place there does not seem to be any means of ascertaining. Upon some of his coins, a mullet or a star appears above his head at the commencement of the legend; and upon others the star is represented between the horns of a crescent. This badge was borne by Richard I. and appears upon his great seals; it was adopted by John, for we find it upon his Irish coins; and it was continued by Henry III., for we know that none but menials of his own household were allowed to wear it. See Rot. Parl. Vol. III. p. 4776. This combined mark is a symbol of the Turkish empire, even down to the present day; we find it upon the golden medals presented by the Sultan to the English officers who served in the Egyptian campaign in 1802, and we find it emblazoned on the shields of some families, whose ancestors are said to have distinguished themselves in the course of the crusades. Whether the adoption of this mark upon the coin, at the particular time when it was struck, had any allusion to these paroxysms of enthusiasm it is difficult to say, but Henry III. did certainly, at least at one time, urge his barons to grant him a liberal supply of money under the plea of undertaking a crusade; and it s not impossible that he might have stampt such of his money as was issued at that period with the Turkish badge in token of a conquest, which he never achieved, nor even intended to attempt.

Victoria | Table of Contents | Mint Marks, Edward I and Edward II

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