English Milled Coinage

of the 17th and early 18th centurIES

 

By Guy de la Bedoyere

 

 

By the King’s direction there were buried among the Ruins

a considerable Number of mill’d crown pieces of his

Majestie’s Coin, which haply, many Centuries hence when

other Memory of it shall be lost, may declare to succeeding

Ages that that Place was once a Member of the British Empire.

 

JOSIAH BURCHETT,

 

Member of the expedition to dismantle the Royal Navy’s base at Tangier, 1683

 

 

 Home Page

 

SINCE THIS PAGE WAS GETTING UNWIELDY I HAVE MOVED SOME OF THE SECTIONS TO THEIR OWN PAGES:

 

Engravers   a note about the men who designed England’s new coins

 

Errors at the Mint – examples of some of the amazing mistakes made by the mint in the late 1600s

 

Mint Machinery  - read an article from a 1761 magazine describing and illustrating how coins were struck

 

The 1696 Recoinage of William III – in 1696 medieval coinage was demonetised and millions of pounds-worth of silver was turned into coin. Read about the chaos.

 

(Other pages of coin interest: Britannia , Love Tokens and US Coinage )

 

 

************* ON THIS PAGE *************

Introduction

 

Denominations  Shipwreck Coins      Crowns of 1662    Books  Values (compared to today)

 

Sources of the metal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

William and Mary (1689-94), halfcrown of 1693. Diameter 35mm. The grade is between Very Fine and Extra Fine. The coin bears an error: the 3 in the date was impressed into the die upside down. A correctly-rotated 3 was then stamped on top of it. This is a common error type, however the coin’s condition is not at all common.

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

 

 

English coinage issued from early 1663 on is called ‘milled coinage’ because it was made in machines known as mills, though some examples had already been issued, most notably under Cromwell in 1656 and 1658.

 

Until then most English coinage had been ‘hammered’, a hand-made process that produced relatively crude and thin coins. They were easily damaged, bent and – most important of all as we shall see – clipped by people who wanted to help themselves to a little extra.

 

Milled coinage represents a radical change in the method of coin production, characterized on the whole by standard sizes and weights, as well as more consistent standards of minting. Each denomination was produced according to a stereotyped design, making them easy to recognize. The first were made under Oliver Cromwell (left). Cromwell’s milled halfcrowns of 1656 and 1658 are usually way over £2000 as a minimum but these are rather odd.

 

 

Since they were usually collected at the time and scarcely circulated, most of the surviving specimens are in VF or EF condition. This is exactly the opposite of other rulers where most of the survivors are in poor or Fine condition. In fact Cromwell’s halfcrowns are quite widely available. Funnily enough they’re about the same price as halfcrowns of other rulers in that grade. The difference is that you’d be pushed to find a low grade Cromwell at all and if you do, instead of it costing £40-100 like other rulers, it’ll cost you more like £1500.

 

 

LEFT: silver crown (5 shillings) piece of Charles II, struck in 1666. Diameter 40mm

 

When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 the Mint reverted to producing hammered coinage but in 1662 plans were made to produce new milled coins. However, with the new coins came uniformity. For collectors, this usually means looking out for rare years, minor variations and production errors at the mint, rather than for ‘interesting’ types. Since these coins were made for circulation and remained legal tender for decades if not centuries, they were prone to massive wear rates. Condition is therefore everything when it comes to the commercial collectors’ market.

 

A silver crown of Charles II in exceptional condition can easily attract a four-figure price tag, while a heavily worn one may be less than £100. Prices for milled coinage are skyrocketing though. Coins that cost £25 in 2003 have frequently doubled or tripled in price. You’d be lucky now to find a 17th century halfcrown in any grade for less than £90 while one in Very Fine (VF) might easily set you back more than £600. Move on to Extra Fine (EF) and something above £2000 is routine now, with many prices reaching £3000 or more.

 

 

WHAT IS AFFORDABLE?

If you’re on a budget the only possibilities now are usually William III halfcrowns, which are common and usually worn enough to be available for under £80. Ironically, crowns are easier to come by than lower denominations, especially under Charles II. If you can run to £150 per coin then there’s still a reasonable choice of coins in Fine condition. As a mark of prices a James II crown of 1688 (no stops on obverse variety) cost me £45 in 1997. Currently that variety is in the book at £350. The William and Mary 1692 crown pictured lower down the page cost me £170 in mid-2003. I think that’d cost you at least £400-500 now. So they are (or were) certainly a sound investment! Whether these prices can really be sustained waits to be seen.

 

Don’t make the mistake of believing that smaller denominations like shillings would be cheaper – since they tended to circulate more they are usually a) worn and b) rarer. A shilling of William and Mary is far more expensive than the halfcrowns, for instance, and the same applies to shillings of Charles II and James II.

 

Incidentally, if those prices sound insane, try looking at the price of the rare silver crowns of George I and George II. They’re almost impossible to find and start at around £600-700 even if you can locate one.

 

The harsh reality is that English milled coins were not struck in large numbers, and they were designed to serve a very much smaller population than today’s. In some years coin issues were limited or almost non-existent, with the result that some coins are extremely rare and even a worn example may be very valuable. Crowns of Charles II struck for 1666 (shown above), the year of the Great Fire, have a special attraction and this means that they are normally more expensive despite not actually being very rare. I think this one cost me about £75 in 2003 but that was a bargain, even then. Now you’d have to pay four to five times as much.

 

SITE FINDS

For archaeologists the same old pattern emerges. High value gold and silver are almost never recovered as site finds but worn, corroded and abraded copper (or tin) halfpennies and farthings turn up more frequently. But with similar designs, a heavily worn farthing may be impossible to pin down to a single year. Silver and gold are usually only found in quantity on shipwrecks, with that of HMS Association (1707) being one of the most famous. In general crowns and halfcrowns were taken care of (or melted down for their silver content), and were less likely to be lost, so they dominate the collectors’ market today whereas at the time shillings and sixpences would have been far more common. It only takes a glance at a metal-detecting webpage recording finds of milled coins (see Colchester treasurehunting) to see that everyday coin losses were made up of shllings, sixpences and smaller denominations – usually in horrendous condition.

 

 

CROWNS of 1662

 

 

One thing to bear in mind is that although Charles II’s first milled crowns bear the date 1662 they were actually struck in 1663 by our reckoning. The picture here shows the obverse of a 1662 crown (the rose below the bust indicates the silver came from the West Country), struck in 1663 from dies prepared in 1662. The reverse is from a very similar coin, which actually was struck in 1663. The diarist Samuel Pepys saw the new dies in late 1662, and was then shown the new coins in the spring. However, in those days the New Year was usually counted from 25 March, with the formula 1662/3 being applied to the dates 1st January to 24th March.

 

‘We saw none of the money; but Mr Slingsby did show the King and I did see the stamps [dies] of the new money that is now to be made by Blondeau’s fashion, which are very neat and like the King’.

Samuel Pepys, Diary 24 November 1662

 

‘There dined with us today Mr Slingsby of the Mint, who showed us all the new pieces, both gold and silver (examples of them all) that are made for the King by Blondeau’s way, and compared them with those made for Oliver – the pictures of the latter made by Symons [Thomas Simon], and of the King by one Rotyr [John Roettier], a German I think, that dined with us also. He extolls these of Rotyrs above the others; and endeed, I think they are the better, because the sweeter of the two, but upon my word, those of the Protectors are more like in my mind than the King’s – but both very well worth seeing. The Crownes of Cromwell are now sold it seemes for 25 shillings and 30 shillings a-piece.’

Samuel Pepys, Diary 9 March 1663

 

Cromwell’s milled coins had been demonetized. It is interesting to see that collectors were already snapping them up. Today they cost a small fortune!

 

SHIPWRECK COINS

Shipwreck milled coins are rare but are fascinating to own. By far and away the biggest source of shipwreck milled (and other) coins of this period is HMS Association wrecked off the Isles of Scilly in 1707 (wreck details). The wreck was discovered in 1967 and before long the coins discovered on the seabed were being sold on the open market, initially at a large Sotheby’ auction on 14 July 1969 and 28 January 1970. Many were silver coins of William III from sixpences to crowns. These coins were sold in Sotheby’s small brown paper envelopes with a date stamp for the auction and the Lot number written in by hand. Coins from Lot No. 67 on 14 July 1969 resurfaced on Ebay in April 2014.This Lot, complete with original envelopes, consisted of a battered halfcrown of Charles II, a halfcrown, shilling and four sixpences of William III. This time they sold for £430 despite most of the coins having illegible dates and very badly corroded reverses.

 

Later finds from the site were often sold with certificates but as time has gone on many coins have been separated from those valuable pieces of paper. So they often turn up for resale now without the certificates and circulate in the milled coinage market without any reference to their exciting origins.

 

However, the coins have giveway damage. The three coins shown below are (left to right): a 1697 Exeter halfcrown of William III certified as coin no. 11027 from the wreck. The 1696 crown in the centre is alleged to be from the Association but had lost its certificate. Its condition and clear water damage absolutely support the claimed provenance. The 1696 crown on the right was bought in about 2004. No provenance came with it, but the huge amount of damage it has suffered is typical of some Association coins and it is almost certain that is where it came from. Association coins also include coins of Charles II and James II as well as foreign silver coins (some are still being sold – see here and here). Sadly, there is no list or full publication of what was found available today and it is very difficult to run down pictures of Association coins. Over 30,000 coins have been found since the 1960s but most are in very poor condition.

 

 

 

 

 

DENOMINATIONS

 

Seventeenth-century milled coins were struck in:

 

1. Gold – the guinea and its multiples (value of guinea varied up to 30 shillings = £1.50)

2. Silver – crown (5 shillings = 25p); half-crown (2shillings and sixpence = 12.5p); shilling (12 pence = 5p); sixpence (2.5p), fourpence (about 1.75p), threepence and a twopence

3. Copper and tin – halfpenny and farthing

 

 

 

 

DENOMINATIONS: gold guinea piece of Charles II, struck 1680 (nominally equal to £1 but this varied according to bullion values, and eventually stabilized at 21 shillings = £1-05); silver crown piece of James II, struck 1686 (equivalent to 5 shillings, today’s 25 pence); halfcrown of Charles II, struck 1683 (equivalent to 2 shillings and sixpence, or 12.5 pence today); shilling of George I, struck 1723 (equivalent to 12 pennies, or 5 pence today); sixpence of William III, struck 1696 (equal to 2.5 pence today). Below are shown a present-day UK 50 pence piece and a USA 25 cents piece for scale.

 

‘MAUNDY’ MONEY. The smaller silver pieces (4d, 3, 2d and 1d) are often known as Maundy Money, which refers to the ceremony when the King or Queen of England handed out on Maundy Thursday.

 

In fact, until about 1760 the only coin used for this was the silver penny. Since at least 1800 the other denominations have been struck for use as Maundy money but until then the 4d, 3d, and 2d circulated as NORMAL currency. This is evident from the large number of surviving coins and the wear they show.

 

Their reverses differ from the other silver. The two coins shown are a 4d (1673) and 3d (1681) of Charles II. Interlinked Cs mark the value. Under James II the Roman numeral I was used: IIII, III, II, and I. Under William and Mary, and thereafter, the design was changed to 4d, 3d, 2d, and 1d.

 

 

OBVERSE LEGENDS:

 

OBVERSE PORTRAITS AND LEGENDS (all halfcrowns). Top row: Charles II, 1683; James II, 1688; William and Mary, 1693; William III, 1697. Bottom row: Anne, 1714; George I, 1714; George II, 1732; George II, 1746

 

1. Charles II (1660-85). CAROLVS II  DEI GRATIA, ‘Charles II, by the Grace of God’

2. James II (1685-8). IACOBVS II DEI GRATIA

3. William and Mary (1689-94). GVLIELMVS ET MARIA DEI GRATIA

4. William III (sole reign, 1694-1702). GVLIELMVS III DEI GRATIA

5. Anne (1702-14). ANNA DEI GRATIA

6. George I (1714-27) . GEORGIVS DG M BR FR ET HIB REX FD

7. George II (1727-60). GEORGIVS II DEI GRATIA (young and old portraits shown; the young portrait example has had initials engraved on it. This has nothing to do with the design and was done later. See Love Tokens)

 

 

In all cases the monarch is shown facing to one side. This alternated between reigns and has carried on up to the present time. Charles II faced right, James II left, and so on. The coinage of William and Mary showed the busts side by side, as appropriate to the only instance in British history of the monarchs each being rulers in his and her own right.

 

 

REVERSE LEGENDS:

 

 

REVERSE LEGENDS (all halfcrowns). Top row: Charles II, 1674; James II, 1688; William III, 1697; Anne, 1703 (pre-Act of Union). Bottom row: Anne, 1714 (post Act of Union); George I, 1715; George II, 1732; George II, 1746. For William and Mary see the preceding image. Coin diameters, about 35mm.

 

The reverse design on all the larger denomination silver, EXCEPT the halfcrowns of William and Mary of 1689 and 1690, is a cross made of four shields, carrying respectively the lions of England and Scotland, the French fleur-de-lys, and the Irish harp. After the Act of Union in 1700 the English and Scottish lions are combined into a single shield, which is repeated to keep the four shields. Each shield is surmounted by a crown, with the date normally split around one of them. Under Charles II crossed ‘C’s fill the spaces between the shields, and WM under William and Mary (see left). In the middle is a radiant star, except under William and Mary, and William III, when the Lion of Nassau replaces it.

 

Smaller denomination silver (4 pence, 3 pence, 2 pence and penny) has a statement of value (4, 3, 2, and 1 or IIII, III, II, and I) surmounted by a crown

 

The legend is:

 

REX MAG BR FRA ET HIB (plus date), ‘King of Great Britain, France and Ireland’

 

Under William and Mary (1689-94), the legend is:

 

REX ET REGINA MAG BR FR ET HIB (plus date),

 

‘King and Queen of Great Britain, France and Ireland’. The half-crowns of 1689 and 1690 used a single large shield, with the legend round the edge (above). In 1691 the design reverted to the familiar type of shields arranged in a cross. The monogram of a combined W and M filled the angles.

 

Under Anne (1702-14), the legend is:

REG MAG BRI FR ET HIB, ‘Queen of Great Britain, France and Ireland’.

 

Under George I (1714-27), the reverse legend is:

BRVN ET DVX S R I A TH ET EL (the British part of his titles was moved to the obverse because the new king’s Hanoverian titles needed to be crammed in)

Brunsvicensis et Luneburgensis Dux Sacri Romani Imperii Archi-Thesaurarius et Elector

‘Duke of Brunswick and Luneburg, Arch-Treasurer and Elector of the Holy Roman Emperor’

 

Under George II (1727-60), the reverse legend is (by abbreviating the king’s Hanoverian titles even more the British titles could return to the reverse):

M B F ET H R EX F D B ET L D DS R I A T ET E

Magnae Britanniae Franciae et Hiberniae Rex Fidei Defensor Brunsvicensis et Luneburgensis Dux Sacri Romani Imperii Archi-Thesaurarius et Elector

‘King of Great Britain, France and Irelands, Defender of the Faith, Duke of Brunswick and Luneburg, Arch-Treasurer and Elector of the Holy Roman Emperor’

 

HALFPENNIES AND FARTHINGS

The legends on halfpennies and farthings were different and are subject to so many minor variations and errors they form  a massive subject in their own right, outside the scope of this page. But, briefly, these are the main types:

 

SOURCES OF THE METAL

The Mint used bullion from all sorts of sources. It could be brought to the Mint in plate form to be melted into coin. Foreign, or old, coins could be melted down. During the great recoinage that started in 1696, the London mint struck £2.17 million-worth of silver into coin. Of this, just under £264,000 had come from bullion and plate. The rest came from recalled old coinage. It isn’t generally possible to know from the coins themselves where the metal originated.

 

There are some exceptions.

 

ELEPHANT

On some rare gold and silver coins a small elephant or elephant and castle appear under the bust. This apparently denotes coin struck from metal mined in Guinea, West Africa, and the source of the name ‘guinea’ for the gold denomination even though most guineas bear no such mark.

 

VIGO and LIMA

Some silver coins of Anne (struck 1703) bear the mark VIGO under the bust. These indicate the coin was struck from silver captured in the Battle of Vigo Bay in 1702 by Sir George Rooke.  Some coins of George II have the word LIMA under the best. It isn’t so clear what this means as there’s no obvious historical connection. But it probably means silver seized from South American sources. It might have something to do with George Anson’s four-year circumnavigation of the world which ended in 1744.

 

ROSES and PLUMES

Some silver coins bear a rose under the bust (eg Charles II 1662), or roses on the reverse between the shields. These indicate the coin was struck from silver extracted in the West of England – probably from the silver-bearing lead deposits of the Mendips and Cotswolds. Others bear plumes (the symbol of the Prince of Wales), for example 1705 crowns and halfcrowns of Anne where they appear on the reverse or certain shillings of Charles II where the plume is under the bust. These are from the silver-bearing lead deposits of Wales. Some coins bear both and this means they were struck from silver provided by a company with the contract to work both sources. Several of these are illustrated above.

 

SSC and WCC

These marks appear on the reverses of some silver coins of George I struck in 1723, especially the relatively abundant shillings of that date. They mean respectively ‘South Sea Company’ and ‘Welsh Copper Company’ and refer to the companies that had provided the bullion. It was said by the explorer Captain James Cook (1728-79) that when he saw an SSC shilling of George I as a boy in his father’s shop till, he found it so exciting it motivated him to go to sea.

 

‘LOVE TOKENS’

Take a look at this new page all about Love tokens, the coins that have been engraved with family information

 

 

A NOTE ABOUT VALUES

It can be a little confusing equating old denominations with modern ones. This should help:

 

The old system (until 1971) was based on the £1, divided into 20 shillings of 12 pennies each (a total of 240 pennies). There were halfpennies and farthings, so 960 farthings were equal to £1. In 1971 it all changed. The £1 was now made up of 100 new pennies and shillings were discontinued.

 

DENOMINATIONS OF OLD BRITISH MONEY (before 1971)

Guinea = £1 and 1 shilling (but this fluctuated enormously in the late 17th and 18th centuries)

Sovereign = £1

Crown = 5 shillings (60 pennies) – equivalent to Britain’s modern 25 pence

Halfcrown = 2 shillings and 6 pennies – equivalent to 12½ pence today

Florin (not introduced until 1849) = 2 shillings (24 pennies) – equivalent to Britain’s modern 10 pence piece

Shilling = 12 pennies – equivalent to Britain’s modern 5 pence piece

Sixpence = 6 pennies – equivalent to 2½ pence today

Threepence = 3 pennies – equivalent to 1¼ pence today

Penny = equal to two halfpennies or four farthings. There is no modern denomination small enough to be an equivalent.

 

But of course money buys less today than it did in the 1700s. For a rough guesstimate multiply an old denomination by 60-70 times. This way a crown piece turns out to be worth the same as £15-17.50 today. In Middlemarch, set in around 1828, but written in 1871, George Eliot included some dialogue (Book 1, Chapter 6) where the price of a chicken was discussed. The price was half-a-crown which is equivalent to about £7.50-8.75 today. That’s about double what we’d pay in a supermarket, but not far off what you’d expect to pay for a free-range chicken. Likewise, the gold sovereign was worth £1 but today its bullion value means you’d pay about £65 for a common one in basic condition.

 

Scottish money: after 1707 Scotland had the same money as England. Before that it was based on a very confusing system. A pre-1707 Scottish shilling was worth one English penny. So:

- a 60-shilling Scottish piece equalled 60 English pennies or one English silver crown

- a 40-shilling Scottish piece was worth 40 English pennies, or 3 shillings and 4 pennies

- a 20-shilling Scottish piece was equal to 20 English pennies, or 1 shilling and 8 pennies.

There was also the Merk which was equal to 1 English shlling and 4 pennies. Incredibly confusing.

 

US money: it’s hard to work out an equivalent but in the late 1700s and early 1800s the US silver dollar was worth a fraction less than the British silver crown piece, so there were a little more than $4 to the £1. The $1 was worth in theory about 4 shillings and 6 pennies. You’d have needed almost $4.50 to match the £1. Of course today it’s more like $1.75-80 to the £1 because money is no longer based on bullion coinage. But whatever the theory before the American Revolution, in practice British coinage circulated in colonial times at a considerable premium. In 1750 Massachusetts for instance a British guinea (21 shillings) passed for 28 shillings. Read here for further details.

 

Incidentally, English coinage circulated widely in the American colonies. This site has loads of pictures and information: http://www.coins.nd.edu/ColCoin/

 

BOOKS

Li, Ming-Hsun, The Great Recoinage of 1696-1699, London 1963

Seaby H.A., and Rayner, P.A., The English Silver Coinage from 1649, London 1968

Coins of England and the United Kingdom, Spink Standard Catalogue of British Coins 37th edition, London 2002 and later editions

 

 

Back to the Top

 

SINCE THIS PAGE WAS GETTING UNWIELDY I HAVE MOVED SOME OF THE SECTIONS TO THEIR OWN PAGES:

 

Engravers   a note about the men who designed England’s new coins

 

Errors at the Mint – examples of some of the amazing mistakes made by the mint in the late 1600s

 

Mint Machinery  - read an article from a 1761 magazine describing and illustrating how coins were struck

 

The 1696 Recoinage of William III – in 1696 medieval coinage was demonetised and millions of pounds-worth of silver was turned into coin. Read about the chaos.

 

(Other pages of coin interest: Britannia , Love Tokens and US Coinage )

 

 

Home Page