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                GOLD COINS               


Until the 19th century England had struggled to maintain a bimetallic system of currency based on a fixed ratio of value between gold and silver. The problems involved in maintaining this system were complex and resulted at times in revaluations of the gold currency and/or a shortage of silver coinage when the quantity of silver bullion became insufficient to supply the Mint. In 1816 this bimetallism was finally abandoned and England went on the Gold standard. From now on and until the First World War, gold was the single standard of value in the British coinage, and for the first time ever silver coins were minted with an intrinsic value considerably below their face value - the first official token coinage in British history.

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THE SOVEREIGN - in 1817 a new gold coin of 20 shillings was introduced which became known as the sovereign. It had a weight of 123¼ grains and was made with Crown gold of the usual 22 carats. Few coin-weights are known for George III. The Royal Mint issued weights dated 1821 and 1823 under George IV, the obverse with ROYAL MINT around a lion passant over crown and the date below. The reverse has CURT (ie 'current') WEIGHT.SOVEREIGN.5D 2½G. The next official issue of weights was under Queen Victoria and these were similar to the previous issue but dated 1842. Similar weights were also made by private individuals with the same obverse but with ONE SOVEREIGN and the maker's name on the reverse. For the next official Mint issue in 1843 a new type is used with the bust of Victoria to left in a dished centre and around the raised edge in incuse letters ROYAL MINT 1843. On the reverse of this issue is 5DW 2½GR in the centre and around the margin CURT WEIGHT SOVEREIGN. There is also a half-sovereign with weight 2DW 131/8GR on the reverse. As with the earlier guineas there are a large number of privately made weights known. Some are similar to the official issues but with a crown, beehive, rose or other design in the centre with the makers name on the reverse. Common words used at this time are:- CURT . CURRENT . CURRENT STANDARD . WARRANTED . WARRANTED CORRECT. One uniface type has a decorative border with a crown over SOVEREIGN and the weight 5D 2½G below. Others are square and have 20S or 1 SOVgn on both sides.


The weighing of gold coins was at times a complex but necessary part of trade and commerce. Many coin-weights will have been used for a long period and some will possibly have been adjusted illegally or from necessity due to changes from the Mint. Many coins were also current long after they had first been issued indicating that the coin-weights had a long life too. Some coin-weights by the information on them will be fairly easy to identify but for others they will need to be accurately weighed to judge in which period they were used. The following table summarises the information contained in this article. Rare coins for which there are no known coin-weights such as the George-noble are not included. A new category is only used when a type has been re-issued or there has been a change in the weight. The tolerance weight is the lowest at which the coin in theory could still pass as legal tender and should therefore be that for the actual coin-weight.

Coin First Issue Reign Last Issue Weight (grains) Tolerance (grains) Value
  Noble 1412 Henry IV - Edward IV 1464 108 103¼ 6s 8d/8s 4d  
  Ryal (Rose Noble) 1465 Edward IV-Elizabeth I 1600 120 115¾ 10s 0d/15s 0d  
  Spur Ryal 1606 James I 1619 106¾ 102 15s 0d/16s 6d  
  SpurRyal 1619 James I 1625 98¼ 94 15s 0d  
  Angel 1465 Edward IV-Elizabeth I 1603 80 77 6s 8d/10s 0d  
  Angel 1606 James I 1619 71 68¾ 10s 0d/11s 0d  
  Angel 1619 James I-Charles I 1634 65½ 63¼ 10s 0d  
  Sovereign 1489 Henry VII - Henry VIII 1544 240 231½ 20s 0d/22s 6d  
  'Fine' Sovereign 1550 Edward VI-Elizabeth I 1600 240 231½ 30s 0d  
  Rose Ryal 1606 James I 1619 213¼ 205¼ 30s 0d/33s 0d  
  Rose Ryal 1619 James I 1625 196½ 188¼ 30s 0d  
  Sovereign 1544 Henry VIII-Edward VI 1550 200-169½ - 20s 0d  
  Sovereign 1550 Edward VI-Elizabeth I 1603 174½/172 168¼ 20s 0d  
  Unite 1604 James I 1619 155 149½ 20s 0d/22s 0d  
  Laurel 1619 James I 1625 140½ 135¾ 20s 0d  
  Unite 1625 Charles I-Commonwealth 1660 140½ 135¾ 20s 0d  
  Guinea 1670 Charles II-George III 1813 129½ 128 20s 0d/21s 0d  
  Sovereign 1817 George III - 123¼ 122½ 20s 0d  
  24 grains (gr) = 1 pennyweight (dwt)                12 pennies (d) = 1 shilling (s)               weights are to nearest quarter grain  
  12 pennyweights = 1 troy ounce                       20 shillings (s) = 1 pound ()             for grains to grammes divide by 15.43

1. Annals of the Coinage of Great Britain and its Dependencies - Ruding R. - 1840
2. Coin Weights - British Numismatic Journal vol.6 - 1909

3. English Coinage 600-1900 - Sutherland CHV - 1982
4. Coins of England - Seaby Standard Catalogue of British Coins vol.1

5. Notes on English Silver Coins 1066-1648 - Seaby HA (ed) - 1948
6. European Coin-Weights for English Coins - Houben G - 1978
7. Money Scales and Weights - Sheppard T and Musham JF - 1923

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