Other Coins

British Plugged Coinage
Setting our time machine for the 17th century, we can find the elementary process of coin production allowing anyone with blacksmith talents to produce mint quality coins.  This problem motivated English coiners to add plugs and "splashes" to make counterfeiting harder -- this in turn created a 40 year span of circulating bi-metallic coins.  Add the extensive territory of the 17th century British Empire and you find these coins circulating not only in Britain, Ireland and the Isle of Man but also the British Colonial Province of New Jersey as discussed below.

Great Britain (1644-1692). A copper rose farthing with a large brass wedge insert was first issued during the reign of Charles I in 1644.  Its name comes from the beautiful double rose design on the reverse of the coin. Twenty eight years later, the Royal Proclamation of 1672 authorized Charles II to strike both farthings and halfpennies to decrease the shortage of low denomination coins.  However, he issued only tin farthings in 1684 with a central round copper plug to bolster the ailing Cornish tin mines.  James II added the tin halfpenny with a square copper plug to assist the still ailing tin industry.  William and Mary likewise issued tin halfpennies and farthings with copper plugs.  Their farthing issue followed the design of the halfpenny, but the caricatured monarchs portrait was replaced in 1690 with a more conventional one.

1684 Charles II Farthing, Tin w/Copper Plug

1685 James II Farting, Tin w/Copper Plug

1691 William & Mary Halfpenny, Tin w/Copper Plug

By 1692 the public felt tin coins had no intrinsic value plus they exhibited a tendency to corrode and were actually easy to counterfeit.  All tin issues were discontinued by 1694.

New Jersey (1682).  Mark Newby born in 1638 Earsdon, England set out on the ship "Ye Owners Adventure" from Dublin, Ireland in 1681 with an unknown number of copper St. Patrick halfpennies and farthings for the Colonial Province of New Jersey.  In 1682, he became a member of the Legislature and that spring the General Assembly voted the Newby halfpenny legal tender.  Since, they did not specify size; only that it would be worth a halfpenny in trade, many more farthing size pieces tended to circulate.

St. Patrick Farthing w/Brass Splash

St. Patrick Halfpenny w/Brass Splash

Depicted on the halfpenny is a standing St. Patrick with a staff in his left hand and a shamrock in his right hand.  The farthing shows St. Patrick driving away serpents and holding a cross in his left hand.  Both size coins can be found with a brass splash (unlike a plug, a splash is only on one side), usually on the obverse where it gave the crown a “golden highlight”.   There are a small number of halfpenny varieties, but over 200 different varieties of farthings.Where did these coins originate?  Various possibilities have been suggested including...

• Tower Mint, London (1640’s)
• Earl of Glamorgan, Ireland (1642ish)
• Arthur, Earl of Essex, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1672-1677)
• Isle of Man demonetized coinage (1679)

Ireland (1689-90).  James II returned to Dublin, Ireland in 1689 to regain his throne from William III.   Needing funds to support his army, he soon discovered coins were in short supply because there was little precious metal to strike them.  A plan was devised to mint and exchange ‘emergency’ base metal coins for silver money after he regained the throne. These coins were made from any brass object that could be melted down. They became known as "gun money" because folk lore suggests they were made from melted cannons; however, church bells were a more likely source.

The June 1689 issue consisted of the 6 pence, shilling and half crown.  A small unknown number of ‘trial’ half penny, penny and crowns with brass plugs and splashes were also struck.    A second issue adding a reduced sized crown denomination was authorized in April/June of 1690 just prior to William III of England arriving in Ireland to personally command the campaign against James.  James defeated withdrew to France, where he spent the remaining years of his life. Dated issues of gun money are known through October 1690.  These late pieces most likely were struck in Limerick, for Dublin and its mint had fallen several months before.  King James’s flight to France and the subsequent defeat of his Irish supporters meant his emergency coinage would never be redeemed for full value.  Eventually the English honored some of it, although they set its exchange rate so low in relation to English money (a large half crown could be turned in for three English farthings).


Cartwheel Penny

The 'Cartwheel Penny' was the first British copper penny to be produced. It was struck by Matthew Boulton at the Soho works in Birmingham. The word SOHO appears in letters 1/2mm high below Britannia's shield. The coin is 36mm diameter, weighs exactly one ounce (28.3g) and was issued, with no change of date, until about 1806. The one below is a standard copper coin which has been gilded.

Matthew Boulton was the partner and supporter of James Watt, and the partnership is perhaps better known for the steam engines they built. He was a staunch believer in an honest currency at a time when counterfeiting and debasing were common, and gave much thought to perfecting a coining press. By means of a special collar applied to the dies, Boulton succeeded in producing coins of a standard size and weight which exactly fitted a tubular gauge, and which enabled spurious money to be more easily detected. He then started to manufacture coins for abroad of such excellence that the Government promised him a contract. The Royal Mint, who otherwise had a monopoly on U.K. coin production, succeeded in delaying the order for ten years, until 1797. Boulton's description of his mint at Soho, Birmingham, in 1792 states:

'The mint consists of eight large coining machines, which are sufficiently strong to coin the largest money in current use, or even medals; and each machine is capable of being adjusted in a few minutes so as to strike any number of pieces from 50 to 120 a minute. Each piece being struck in a steel collar, the whole number are perfectly round and of equal diameter."

Boulton's presses could manufacture as much as 1200 tons of coins a year. At one date he even outran the supply of raw copper. His first official contract for the British Government was for two penny pieces, pennies, halfpennies and farthings. It amounted to 4200 tons between 1797 and 1806. Some examples were gilded at the Mint, and some were struck in gold or silver as presentation pieces. The above coin is not from one of the dies known to have been used for such purposes, and was probably gilded after it left the mint. The various dies from which these coins were struck show minor differences, particularly in the branch which Britannia is holding, and the rigging of the ship near her feet.


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