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Galley Halfpence

Historical Background

From the late 14th to the 16th century, small silver coins known as ‘galley halfpennies’ circulated widely, but illegally, in England. They were, in fact, Italian soldini, principally those struck for the city-state of Venice under the authority of the ruling doge. They were brought to England by ‘galley men’ trading wine and other goods, and their name may derive from Galley Quay in Thames Street, London, which was reputedly the centre for their distribution.

The English coinage at the beginning of this period was undervalued in relation to foreign currency, and consequently found its way to the continent, where it was profitably melted down. This depletion of the supply of bullion and the resulting shortage of coins, particularly small change, caused real difficulty for many people, and created a demand that was filled by the soldini. In 1402 the Commons petitioned the king to provide halfpennies and farthings for the poor people, but little was done to alleviate the shortage. However, the concern of the authorities regarding the circulation of galley halfpence can be judged by the fact that they were prohibited by statute five times during the 15th century, and finally in 1519/20. There is evidence, however, that they continued to circulate until at least the 1530’s, by which time it is possible that their value had reduced to a farthing.

The Coins

The design of the soldino changed several times during the period that it circulated in this country, and its size reduced from c.15mm to c.12mm. The main types are:

Type 1
Obverse: [Doge’s Name] DVX; Doge standing left, holding banner; mint control marks in right field
Reverse: S MARCVS VENETI; Winged lion of St Mark, holding book of gospels

Soldino of Michele Steno (1400-1413)

Type 2
Obverse: [Doge’s Name] DVX; Doge standing left, holding banner; mint control marks in right field
Reverse: No Legend; Winged lion of St Mark, holding book of gospels, all within a quatrefoil with four external annulets between the lobes

Soldino of Nicolo Tron (1471-1473)
Type 3
Obverse: [Doge’s Name] DVX (in exergue), S M V; Doge holding banner and kneeling before St Mark
Reverse: LAVS TIBI SOLI (Praise To Thee Alone); Standing figure of Christ facing, haloed and holding cross; mint control marks in exergue

Soldino of Leonardo Loredan (1501-1521) UKDFD 332

The Doges
The doges of Venice from the late 14th to mid 16th century are listed below with the types they are known to have struck. It should be noted that their names are spelt in various ways, depending on whether they are rendered in English, Italian or Latin, and they are often very abbreviated on the coins.

Andrea Contarini 1368-1382 (Type 1)
Michele Morosini 1382
Antonio Venier 1382-1400 (Type 1)
Michele Steno 1400-1413 (Type 1)
Tomaso Mocenigo 1414-1423 (Type 1)
Francesco Foscari 1423-1457 (Type 1)
Pasquale Malipiero 1457-1462
Cristoforo Moro 1462-1471
Nicolo Tron 1471-1473 (Type 2)
Nicolo Marcello 1473-1474
Pietro Mocenigo 1474-1476
Andrea Vendramin 1476-1478
Giovanni Mocenigo1478-1485
Marco Barbarigo 1485-1486
Agostino Barbarigo 1486-1501 (Type 3)
Leonardo Loredan 1501-1521 (Type 3)
Antonio Grimani 1521-1523
Andreas Gritti 1523-1538 (Type 3)
Pietro Lando 1539-1545

A large majority of the soldini found in England are those of Michele Steno and Leonardo Loredan. As these two doges are at the beginning and end of the period of circulation in this country, it might indicate that the 15th century legislation was, at least to some extent, effective.


UKDFD Copright 2005
Version 2005.06.13