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The Silver Coins of England

Edward Hawkins, 1841

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The desire to obtain information respecting any coins which may fall in our way, and especially respecting those of our own country, Is almost universal, and there is scarcely an individual who, at some period or other of his life, had not possessed a small hoard of curious coins or pretty money. Many of the possessors of these small and miscellaneous collections would be desirous of extending their acquisitions, of becoming better acquainted with the history and names of the treasures they possess, if means of information were within their reach, easy of comprehension, and at a reasonable price. It is the object of the present volume to supply, to each possessor of an English coin, a ready and sure mode of ascertaining its age, its denomination and its history; to furnish the collector with a guide to direct him in the acquisition and arrangement of such coins as he may find necessary to complete any series, be it contracted or extended, that may suit his views and his purse; and to provide the general reader with a tolerably compact account of all the coins, which have at various times formed the circulating medium of this country.

In this undertaking there will be little interference with the extended and standard work of Ruding; that is a history of the coinage, this merely of the coins. With the principles upon which a metallic currency is, or ought to be, established; with the nature or quality of the alloy which it may be expedient to employ; with the standard to be adopted, whether of gold or silver, or of both together; with the relative proportions between the nominal and intrinsic value of the coin; with exchanges, seignorage, and all the other arcane which regulate the circulating medium of the country, this work does not profess to have any thing to do.

It will be the object of this work, not to propound theories or discuss principles, but to state facts, and describe existing objects. Every denomination of coin in each reign will be specified, together with the weight, size and type. Authorized changes in the weight and fineness of the coin will be duly noticed; variations in the type will be pointed out; and attention will be called to any remarkable circumstances affecting the quality or appearance of the pieces. Some attempt will also be made to give an idea of the rarity of, at least, the more remarkable coins, though this will be attended with considerable difficulty and uncertainty. With regard to rarity, an accidental discovery of a parcel of coins not unfrequently converts a very rare into a very common coin; and, on the contrary, it sometimes, though not frequently, occurs that coins tolerably common become somewhat rare. While common they have been neglected, and thrown into the crucible, till they are so far reduced in numbers that there are not sufficient remaining to supply the wants of a rising generation of collectors. It is extremely difficult to give any accurate notion of the market value of coins; because it is influenced by a great variety of circumstances, by the real or apparent rarity of the piece, by the greater or less demand for it amongst collectors at any moment when it is offered for sale, and especially by its greater or less state of preservation.

Persons residing in the country, who have not the opportunity of attending sales, or examining the choicest collections, are exceedingly liable to deceive themselves and others with respect to the pecuniary value of coins. Referring to a paragraph in a newspaper, or a priced catalogue of some distinguished collection, they find that certain coins have been sold for certain sums, and immediately conclude that every piece of a similar description must be worth as much or perhaps more; not adverting to, or not being aware of, the circumstance that the unusual state of its preservation, or some accidental competition between rival collectors, has carried up the price beyond all ordinary limits.

It is quite unnecessary here to expatiate upon the pleasure or information to be derived from the study and collecting of coins; because it is presumed that all who refer to this volume have already felt some taste or fondness for the pursuit, and only want to have their way smoothed, and course directed, that they may pursue it with pleasure and success. To the utilitarian, who demands an explanation of the use of the study of coins, it is in vain to attempt a reply; the pursuit, it must be acknowledged, removes no physical necessities, supplies no animal wants; it neither clothes the naked, nor feeds the hungry; its votaries are content with its affording them an agreeable and innocent occupation for their leisure hours, while at the same time it is illustrating and embellishing history, that old almanac, the contempt of modern economists, but the mine from whence rich stores of wisdom and knowledge are extracted by the sage and the philosopher.

A necessary, but not an agreeable part of our labours is to detect and point out the mistakes and errors of our predecessors. Snelling’s plates are slightly and rather coarsely executed, but they are accurate, as far as such slight workmanship can be so in the minuter details, which are sometimes of great importance, in ascertaining a particular type or coinage. Sometimes, on the coins themselves, mint marks and other slight peculiarities, which indicate a peculiar coinage, are very faint, or double struck, or obliterated; and without very minute attention, and sometimes even in spite of it, one object is mistaken for another: and in the engraving appears the essential mark of a coinage, which perhaps never existed. This source of error is common in a greater or less degree to most plates; in Snelling, it must chiefly be attributed to the slightness of his workmanship, and to the want of information respecting mint-marks, a defect still to be lamented even in these days. Snelling was perfectly honest, and any inaccuracies which may be detected in his work, and they are very few, must be attributed to error not to design. The Pembroke plates are still more slight than Snelling’s, and must not be referred to for accuracy of detail; but the collector may depend upon their general faithfulness, and that the coins do, or did, actually exist in the collection. The cabinets were, for may years, deposited for security at Lord Pembroke’s bankers; the chamber was unfortunately very damp, and some of the cabinets were much injured and almost ready to tumble to pieces. In removing them some of the thin Saxon pieces slipt through the crevices; when missed, an accurate examination of the room led to the discovery of most of the stray coins, but, if the author’s memory is correct, two or three were not recovered. The crown of Henry VIII. is not now in the collection. In the catalogue, which seems to have been compared with the collection previous to its deposit with the bankers, this piece is crossed out, but no accompanying remark testifies whether it had been inserted by mistake, or whether the piece had been afterwards lost or given away.

The plates called Withy and Rial’s are not to be depended upon; they are supposed to have been engraved under the inspection of Mr. John White, and coins are represented which either never existed, or were altered by his ingenuity, to suit his fancy and impose upon collectors. These falsifications have destroyed all confidence in the work, which cannot be referred to as a proof of any rare peculiarity.

Ruding’s plates were engraved at various times and under various circumstances, and are consequently entitled to various degrees of credit. Those which represent British coins 1-5, sceattae and Saxon coins 1-30, were engraved under the inspection of Mr. Taylor Combe, and upon them, therefore, the most implicit reliance may be placed, both for minute accuracy in the details and the general character of the resemblance. They are also made directly from the actual coins. The Supplement, Part 2, is also in general accurate, but some few pieces have been admitted, which have been taken from drawings of doubtful authenticity, without reference to the coins themselves; and upon others though the details are correct, and the engraving may be sufficient to identify the coin, the expression of the whole is not satisfactory. Of the 67 plates belonging to the Society of Antiquaries, the six supplementary plates are the most accurate. The 42 plates of silver, and the 19 of gold, which were prepared under the inspection of Martin Folkes, are in general accurate, but sill with many exceptions; for some are copied from inaccurate drawings, some are partially taken from real coins, with the mint marks and dates altered; thus representing coins which might have been, but which really are not. These errors it will be our endeavour to rectify in the progress of this volume. In the edition of Ruding, which is now in the course of publication, many additional plates will be included, which there is every reason to believe will be fully entitled to the confidence of the collector; to these plates, as far as they are complete when our volume is committed to the press, we shall carefully refer.

As some guide to the rarity of particular types we have annexed to each description the letters MB, with figures, to indicate the number of pieces of each in the British Museum. This will not always be a correct criterion, because, as the Museum does not retain duplicates, except in the case of presents, a type may be common and still the Museum possess only one specimen. It will, however, be a tolerably correct guide in the earlier reigns, where the variation in the spelling of a moneyer or a mint creates a variety proper to be retained.

To have given engravings of every type in each reign would have swelled the size, and enhanced the price, of the volume beyond all reasonable bounds; but we have endeavoured to select such, and as many, as were requisite to give a general idea of the current coins of each king. We have, as far as possible, made choice of our specimens from the collections of the British Museum, because that repository is more certainly and permanently accessible than any private collection can be, and it is desirable that the accuracy of any representation of a coin of more than ordinary interest should be tested, without inconvenience or uncertainty, by reference to the original. We have also generally made a point of engraving such coins as do not appear in Ruding’s plates, that my means of the two works the collector may have an opportunity of seeing a greater variety of known English coins. To our notice of each type we have added references to Ruding’s plates and to Snelling’s, because they are the most extensive series which have been published. And because the works are almost necessarily to be found in every extensive public and private library, as well as in the limited bookshelves of most collectors; so that every incipient numismatist may have almost certain access to their pages, for consultation.

In order to bring under the eye in one view the changes that took place from time to time in the weights of the different coins, we have subjoined a table, taken from Ruding, but modified in form, to make it more generally intelligible.

A Table
of the weights of the different denominations of silver coins.

¼d. ½d. 3/4 d. 1.d 1½d. 2d. 3d. 4d. 6d. Shil. ½ Cr. Cr.
William I106622½
William II1087--
Henry I1100--
Henry II1154--
Richard I1189
Henry III1216--
Edward I1272--
28th do.1300112288?
Edward II1307------
Edward III1327------
18th do.134451020¼
20th do.1346----20
25th do.13519183672
Richard II1377----------
Henry IV1399----------
13th do.14123 3/415306-
Henry V1413----------
Henry VI1422----------
Edward IV1461----------
4th do146436122448
49th Henry VI. restored1470
Edward V1483
Richard III1483----------
Henry VII1485----------
18th do.1504------144
Henry VIII150936122448
18th do.1527510½21¼42½
34th do.1543----102040120
Edward VI1547------------
3rd do.154980
6th do.1552118244896240480
2nd do.15604------------
3rd do.1561--6--12--------
43rd do.16013 3/415½22¼3146¼92 3/4232¼464½
Such continued to be the Weights of the several Coins until the 56th George III., when at the great recoinage the following weights were established:--
56 George III1816--------40 1/380 2/3201 4/5403½

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