COINWEIGHTS FOR ENGLISH
Coin-weights or penny-poises are mentioned in Statutes as early as 1205 during the reign of King John for use as a deterrent against the passing of light or clipped coins. No official coin-weights are known for the silver sterling penny and in fact all known coin-weights of English origin are for gold coins until the reign of Charles I (1625-49). The first weights that we recognise from documentary sources today are those for the gold Noble and its half and quarter dating from the 1420's. Early English coin-weights are round and uniface, and the design is usually based on the main design of the coin that it represents. From the beginning of the 16th century square coin-weights are used, still uniface until Henry VIII's reign, when the coin value in shillings (S) and pence (D) began to be placed on the reverse in Roman numerals. These Roman numerals last appear on English coin-weights in the reign of James II (1685-88).
In the 16th century special cases of weights complete with scales were made for weighing the various coins current. Ruding1 quotes an order dated 1587 to the warden of the Mint in the Tower to prepare upright balances and 'true' weights marked with a crowned 'E' (for Elizabeth). No other weights were to be used on pain of imprisonment and every city, borough and corporate town was required to hold such a set. This order was followed in 1588 by another for the manufacture of small cases for balances and weights 'to weigh all manner of gold coins current within the realm'. The descriptions of five cases are given - the first of wood with 14 coin-weights, a balance, a suite of weights marked from 1 to 5 dwts (pennyweights) and a suite of up to 5 grain weights, the whole to cost 4s 6d. The cheapest set was to cost 3s 1d. The full descriptions of all the cases are given in both Ruding and Lawrence.2 The evidence is that the proclamation did not have the desired effect for in 1589 a Richard Martin complained to the Lord Treasurer that he had expended above £600 in providing scales and weights marked with an 'E' crowned, the far greater part of which still remained upon his hands. James I issued a similar proclamation for the provision of official balances and weights in 1617-18. Most of James I's contemporary square coin-weights are counterstruck with a certification mark of a crowned 'I'.
From 1632 by Act of Parliament all square coin-weights were made illegal due to the fact that
'many of them, which were in common use were too heavy , and others too light, so that men bought and received by one weight, and sold and delivered by another'. The new round weights made as a consequence of this Act are amongst the most commonly found and were made by Nicholas Briot the chief engraver to the Mint. Many have his initial 'B' in the design. There are 7 new weights for the coins of James I that were still current - the Unite with its half, quarter and eighth, and the Angel with its half and quarter. There are also 4 weights for the coins of Charles I - the Unite with its half and quarter and the Angel. Round coin-weights for the coinage of James I and Charles I were therefore made after 1632.
Due to the increase in demand during the late-17th century many coin-weights began to be privately made. From the reign of William III some makers placed their initials near the bust on the obverse or replaced the bust altogether with their name or initials. An ewer or coffee-pot, the mark of the Founders Company, is often found as a certification mark on Guinea coin-weights of this period. In 1775 an Act of Parliament was passed requiring all coin-weights to be tested and if found correct to be given a certification mark. The marks to be used were either an ewer for the Founders Company of the City of London, the Imperial crown for the Royal Mint, the anchor for Birmingham or the lion passant for London. From 1891 the Coinage Act offered a government guarantee for the value of each new coin thus rendering coin-weights for individual coins obsolete.
THE COINS AND THEIR WEIGHTS
THE NOBLE - this was the first English gold coin to achieve any degree of popularity in the monetary system. It was introduced by Edward III in 1344 at a weight of 136¾ grains. It was reduced in weight over the next few years but finally stabilised at 120 grains in 1351 and remained at that weight until 1412. It was current for 6s 8d there being three to the pound or two to the mark, but rising to 8s 4d when it was last issued by Edward IV in 1464. Its distinctive design is the king with sword and shield within a ship. The earliest known coin-weights relate to the Noble and its fractions of 108 grains issued from 1412. These are recognised from the Statute of Henry V (1421) in which orders are given to make punches for weights with the impressions of a crown and fleur-de-lis. Other known weights for the Noble show a ship with a fleur-de-lis to left and leopard to right or a leopard either side or just the ship itself. Weights for the half and quarter-noble are also known. The later coin-weights are square.
THE RYAL - also known as the Rose-Noble this coin was first issued by Edward IV along with its half and quarter in 1465 at a weight of 120 grains and a value of 10 shillings. Its distinctive design is a king in ship which has a large rose on the side. This same coin was also issued by Henry VII. In 1553 Mary increased its value to 15 shillings and Elizabeth I also issued a similar coin at the same weight and value. The earliest coin-weights are round with the obverse design of the coin - the king in ship with rose. Coin-weights are also known for the half and quarter-ryal which were only issued between 1465-70 by Edward IV. Later coin-weights are square.
THE SPUR RYAL
THE SPUR RYAL - in 1606 James I issued a coin of the same design and value of 15 shillings but with a reduced weight of 106¾ grains and because of its distinctive reverse of 'sun in glory' resembling a spur rowel it soon became popularly known as the Spur Ryal. In 1612 the value of all gold coins was raised 10% making this coin worth 16s 6d. The known coin-weights are usually square although some round ones do exist and they all use the reverse design of the coin - a 'spur' on one side with a crowned XVIS VID on the other.
THE SPUR RYAL - in 1619 the weight was decreased to 98 grains and the value returned to 15 shillings. Only square coin-weights are known, all as the previous design but with the new value a crown over XVS on the reverse.
THE ANGEL (1465-1603) - as a result of revaluation of the noble to 8s 4d in 1464 there was felt a great need for a coin to the old value of 6s 8d as this had become the standard professional fee for many services. Therefore a new coin - the 'angel' - was struck to this value from 1465 and soon established itself as the most popular coin of the later and post-Medieval period, being struck as late as 1634. Its distinctive design which gives the coin its name is a winged St. Michael (the angel) trampling and spearing a dragon (the devil). All the known coin-weights date from 1491 as they are based on the revised design in which both feet of St. Michael are placed on the body of the dragon. The Angel's original weight was 80 grains which remained constant until 1603 and therefore the coin-weights were unaffected by the revaluations which took place in 1526 (to 7s 6d), in 1544 (to 8s) and in 1550 (to 10s). Round and square uniface weights are known with the same design as the coin. Coin-weights for the half-angel of 40 grains and the quarter (issued from 1544) are also known.
THE ANGEL (1606-1619) - for his second coinage James I reduced the weight of the angel to 71 grains but kept the value at 10 shillings. Very few coin-weights are known for this value and weight - all are square and one has a crowned XS reverse. Coin-weights for the half-angel are very rare. In 1612 the angel was revalued to 11 shillings and for this value coin-weights are more commonly found. The contemporary weights are all square. The later round coin-weights made as a consequence of the Proclamation of 1632 discussed earlier are similar but have I.R.MAG.BRIT around the angel on the obverse. The reverse has a crowned XIS for the full angel; crowned VS VID for the half-angel; crowned IIS IXD for the quarter-angel - the coin for which is not known to exist except as a pattern.
THE ANGEL (1619-1634) - for his third coinage James I again reduced the weight, this time to 65½ grains, and revalued to 10 shillings. Charles I continued to issue the coin in his name until 1634. Contemporary square weights for James I are known. The later round weights have the usual St. Michael spearing dragon obverse but are without the surrounding legend which distinguishes them from the earlier and and heavier weights.
THE SOVEREIGN - was first issued by Henry VII in 1489 at a weight of 240 grains and value of 20 shillings. The design on all sovereigns is the king (sovereign) enthroned in majesty. Henry VIII also issued the same coin for his first coinage of 1509-26. In 1526 Henry revalued to 22 shillings and within months to 22s 6d. No coin-weights are known for these first sovereigns. In the same year for his second coinage, Henry issued three new coins - the George-noble (6s 8d), the Crown of the Rose (4s 6d), and shortly after its replacement, the Crown of the Double-Rose (5s) at only 22 carat fine. Coin-weights are known only for the Crown of the Double-Rose which had a weight of 57½ grains. The weight is square with a crowned double-rose and crowned 'R' to left and right.
THE DEBASED SOVEREIGN - by 1542 Henry VIII had serious monetary problems and a decision was made to increase his wealth by debasement - the addition of alloy to the coinage. In May 1544 all gold coins were reduced to 23 carat fine and the weight of the sovereign was reduced from 240 to 200 grains. In 1545 further measures were taken and the sovereign fell to 22 carat fine and a weight of only 192 grains, to be followed in April 1546 by a reduction to only 20 carat fine. Weights are known for the full sovereign with sovereign enthroned obverse and crowned XXS reverse.The half-sovereign issue of 1544 with a weight of 96 grains and value of 10 shillings is represented by a square weight with sovereign enthroned on the obverse and crowned XS on the reverse. Weights for the quarter sovereign (Crown) of 1544 with a weight of 48 grains are also known with crowned double-rose obverse and crowned VS reverse. Weights for the halfcrown are not known. After Henry's death in 1547 the debased gold coinage of 20 carat fine was continued under Edward VI (but still in the name of Henry VIII) until 1550 - a posthumous coinage. From January 1549 to April 1550 the sovereigns in the name of Edward VI were returned to 22 carat fine gold but at a reduced weight of 169½ grains. The fractions were of a new profile bust right.
THE 20s CROWN GOLD SOVEREIGN - Edward VI's monetary reforms of 1550 resulted in a dual standard in which 'Fine' gold of 23½ carat was used for all denominations other than this 20 shilling sovereign and its parts. The 20 shilling sovereign remained at 22 carat 'Crown' gold and this dual use of different standards was set to continue for another 100 years until the end of Charles I's reign. The 20s sovereign issued in 1550 at a weight of 174½ grains was a completely new type with obverse of a half-length crowned and armoured figure to right holding sword and orb, and for the reverse a large crowned shield of the royal Arms. Elizabeth I issued a 20 shilling coin of the same weight (more commonly called a pound) with a profile left crowned bust. The weight was slightly reduced to 172 grains in 1601 for Elizabeth's last coinage and remained the same for James I's initial coinage of 1603-04. James I resumed the half-length figure in armour obverse with bust to right. The known coin-weights are square with bust to right for Edward VI, bust to left for Elizabeth I, and bust to right for James I. The reverse has a crowned 'ER' or XXS. Coin-weights for the half-sovereign, the crown and the half-crown are also known.
THE 'FINE' SOVEREIGN - in a measure to counteract the substantial debasement of the previous reign, Edward VI issued a new 'fine' sovereign of standard gold from 1550. It had the old weight of 240 grains but with an increased value of 30 shillings. Identical coins were also issued during the reigns of Mary and Elizabeth I. The coin-weights show the reverse of the coin - a shield of the Royal Arms on a double-rose on the obverse with a crowned XXXS on the reverse.
THE ROSE RYAL - James I issued the sovereign sparingly from 1606 at a reduced weight of 213¼ grains. It became known as the 'Rose Ryal' from the large rose on the reverse. In 1612 the coin was revalued to 33 shillings. Square and round coin-weights are known, again using the reverse design of the coin - the royal Arms on a double-rose with a reverse of XXXIIIS.
THE ROSE RYAL - was in 1619 reduced in weight to 196½ grains and revalued back to 30 shillings. Square coin-weights are known with a shield of royal Arms within a circular border of flowers and a reverse of XXXS.
THE UNITE - from his second coinage of 1604 James I (being also James VI of Scotland) styled himself 'king of Great Britain' and from the legend on his coins the sovereign became known as the Unite. It was issued at 155 grains and was current for 20 shillings. The square coin-weights have I.R. BRIT and the round weights I.R.MA.BRI. around a half-length armoured figure with orb and sceptre. The reverses are XXS for the Unite; XS for the half (double-crown); VS for the quarter (britain-crown); IIS VID for the eighth (halfcrown - only round weights are known for this). A new coin (the thistle-crown) at one fifth of the Unite (4 shillings) is not represented by a weight at this value. In 1612 the Unite was revalued to 22 shillings. The known coin-weights are the same as the previous type but are more common and have the revised values of XXIIS - XIS - VS VID - IIS IXD on the reverse. The thistle-crown is represented by square and round coin-weights with obverse of a two-leaved thistle flanked by I.R. and the value on the reverse. Some of these Unites and their halves were still in circulation during James II's reign and weights (151 and 75½ grains) are known with IACOBVS.II.REX around a laureate bust to right and XXIIS or XIS on the reverse.
THE LAUREL - in 1619 James I issued a new lighter 20 shilling piece of 140½ grains which was remarkable in having a left-facing laureate bust of Roman style and because of this design it became known as the Laurel. All the known coin-weights are square with laureate bust on obverse and crowned XXS on reverse. Coin-weights for the half and quarter are also known. Because the later Charles I Unite was the same weight as the Laurel there was no need for new weights as a consequence of the 1632 Proclamation which banned square coin-weights and so round weights for the Laurel are unknown.
THE UNITE - in 1625 Charles I re-issued the Unite of 20 shillings at a weight of 140½ grains. Square and round weights are known - the obverse has CARO REX or CAROLVS REX around a crowned profile-left bust and on the reverse a crowned XXS. Coin-weights for the half and quarter are also known. The Unite was continued at the same weight and value during the Commonwealth from 1649-60. Charles II also issued the Unite for the first two years of his reign from 1660-62 at a reduced weight of 131¾ grains but no coin-weights are known for this issue. As with the Unites of James I, some Charles I coins were also still circulating during the reign of James II (1685-88) and weights of 139 grains (and 69½ grains for the half) are known with obverse of IACOBVS.II.REX around a laureate bust right and for the reverse a crowned XXS (XS for the half).
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