GOLD AND SILVER COINS

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Elizabethan gold angel2 1578
A gold angel
Gold half sovereign
Gold half sovereign
A Gold crown
A gold crown
Half gold crown
Half gold crown

In the Tudor period there were two ways of making coins:  hammering and milling, a newer method that was introduced in the reign of Elizabeth I.

Hammered coins were made by placing a flat, round, blank piece of metal between two dies which were then struck with a hammer. The man who struck the coins was called a moneyer. Hammered coins were never perfectly round and could be clipped easily. Forgers would collect clippings from lots of coins, melt them down and forge new coins. The punishments for being found guilty of forging coins included the removal of fingers, hands or ears!

 

Under Elizabeth I, the method of milling coins was introduced to England from France. Coins produced in this way were called mill money. The metal used to make the coins was flattened into a strip by heavy rollers which were powered by a wind or horse-driven mill. Coin blanks were then cut from the strip and stamped by dies in a press. It was also at this time that coins began to show their date of issue.

Milled coins were of better quality than hammered ones because they were more regular in shape. Coins are still produced in this way today, albeit sans horses and wind.

There were more denominations of coins minted in Elizabethan times than there have been at any other time in history. Altogether twenty different coins were in use, all made of gold or of silver.

As you see, there are gold coins on display. Gold coins came in different varieties:

Half Crown

2 shillings and 6 pence

Quarter angel

2 shillings and 6 pence

Crown

5 shillings

Half angel

5 shillings

Angel

10 shillings

Half pound sovereign

10 shillings

Ryal

15 shillings

The basic denominations were pounds,shillings and pence. The written abbreviation for pound is £, for shilling is s, and for penny/pence is d. (Pence, not pennies, is the plural of penny).

 

12 pence make 1 shilling

12d = 1s

(1s = 5p nowadays)

20 shillings make 1 pound

20s = £1

 

Shakespeare makes numerous references to money and coins throughout his works. In the comedy The Merchant of Venice (1596), The Moroccan Prince makes reference to a specific coin:

 

         […] They have in England
A coin that bears the figure of an angel
Stamped in gold (2.7).

 

Another fascinating usage of the term ‘coin’ appears in the tragedy Julius Caesar (1599). Brutus and Cassius are trying to lead an army together, but they keep fighting. In this passage, Brutus accuses Cassius of failing to send him money, which he urgently needs to pay his soldiers:

 

         BRUTUS
[…] I did send to you
For certain sums of gold, which you denied me:
For I can raise no money by vile means:
By heaven, I had rather coin my heart,
And drop my blood for drachmas, than to wring
From the hard hands of peasants their vile trash
By any indirection: I did send
To you for gold to pay my legions,
Which you denied me: was that done like Cassius? (4.2).

 

drachmas = a type of money or currency
peasants = farmers, or poor people
indirection = devious means
legions = companies of soldiers

 

Here Brutus demonstrates his nobility by claiming that money ought to be properly sourced rather than taken by force from the already impoverished people. He would rather sacrifice his own heart and blood to raise gold in an honourable fashion.

Can you find references to coins and money in the plays or poems with which you are familiar?

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