Before the age of detectorists there was a band of happy people called coin collectors or numismatists. It now seems that they are quite literally a dying breed. But coins really do hold the key to a fascinating hobby.
The earliest coins used in Britain came from Northern France and were probably copies of the gold stater of Philip II who was king of Macedonia in ancient Greece. However these first Celtic coins were quite crude and made of cast bronze and probably were minted around 80BC. A few examples have been found in Kent and were known as ‘Thurrock type.’
By 55BC gold and silver Staters were being produced but the king’s head and horse motifs had become somewhat abstract in their design.
The arrival of the Romans in 43AD brought a new coinage to the country. The beautiful gold Aureus and the silver Denarius were complemented by the much lower value Sesterius and the Dupondius. These last two coins were made from an alloy of copper, zinc and tin which was called archalcum.
The Romans left around 450AD and the British went back to the barter system. Even with the arrival of the Anglo Saxons things didn’t change much until around 600AD when coins started to slowly re-
The most long-
Following William II (William Rufus), Henry I, Stephen and Matilda, Henry II came to the throne in 1154 and found that the quality and fineness of the coins had deteriorated. In order to restore confidence, a new coin type was introduced in 1180 known as the Short Cross penny (from its reverse design) which was of a good weight and fineness of silver, and a better style.
The Short Cross penny design was continued for nearly 70 years by Richard I and John with unchanged obverse legend, still reading HENRICUS REX (“King Henry”), and for the first 30 years of Henry III’s reign. It was discontinued in 1247 and the reverse design changed to the Long Cross type with the cross extending to the edge of the coin to discourage clipping. Henry’s title was extended to include III or the word TERCI (Third).
Only the silver penny and a very few half-
By Edward I’s accession in 1272, there was a need for other denominations and in 1279 Edward commenced a major recoinage. The basis of this was a redesigned penny minted in millions, and three new coins, the Groat (valued at four pence), Half-
It was not until 1351, in the reign of Edward III, that the groat reappeared, together with a half-
The year 1279 is also significant because prior to this the coins usually had abbreviations of the name of the moneyer and the mint on the reverse. After the re-
Until now all English coinage had been in silver. Several European countries were already minting gold coinage and it was decided that England should follow. The first gold coins minted were by two Florentine engravers in 1343 and were called the Florin or Double-
The following year Edward tried again, this time successfully, with the gold Noble which was the first popular and successful English gold coin, valued at half a mark or six shillings and eight pence (80 pence). It replaced the double-
The new system of gold and silver coinage continued virtually unchanged during the reign of Richard II until 1412, in the reign of Henry IV. A shortage of bullion forced an approximately 10 per cent reduction in the weight of the gold coinage and a 16 per cent decrease in the silver, bringing the English coinage into line with prevailing Continental standards.
These remained the standards until 1464 when the cost of the interminable wars coupled with another shortage of bullion caused Edward IV to make further reductions. All the gold coins in circulation were revalued upwards, the noble to eight shillings and four pence, the half-
Adapted from B S Sharples 16 June 2009