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12 corrections, most recently by GrangeMoor - Show corrections


(From Chambers' Journal.)

The English sovereign is admired, respected, and welcomed every where; our crown, if rather   heavy and inconvenient, is not to be despised, especially Wyon's pet specimen of the genus, which, being considered by that mysterious body the Moneyers too fine for the wear and tear of everyday existence, no sooner appeared in the world than it withdrew from busy com- mercial life into the dignified privacy of the numismatist's cabinet. The florin, perhaps, sports too much frippery; but the shilling and six- pence, if not particularly remarkable for beauty, are at least respectable. As much can scarcely be said for their poor relations, the " coppers" of the United Kingdom. What a bruised, battered, ill matched, ill-conditioned lot are a shilling's worth of halfpence; large and small, thick and   thin, old and new, pierced with holes, dented and scarred by wanton ill-treatment, disfigured by advertising newspaper proprietors, or that numerous but disgusting class of people who persist in placing vulgar names or initials where they are least to bo desired. Bright, newly issued Victorian coppers mixed with the dull yellow coins of the Sailor King; pennies of   Gentleman George, looking like miserable starvelings beside the greasy "butcher's pennies" of Georgius Tertius - stout servants that, after

63 years' hard service, beat all younger competi- tors in size and plumpness. Then we have diminutive Irish halfpence and Irish "thirteens" bearing the unmistakable profile of the Iron Duke, and the national motto "Erin-go-bragh;" to say nothing of the three-legged Manx half- pennies, French sous, American cents, Brum-   magem tokens, and smooth clumps defying any attempt at recognition, which make up that heterogeneous metallic currency called, by a stretch of courtesy, small change. Let us be thankful it is doomed; a few months, and our pockets will know it no more; but before the familiar coinage passes for ever from among us, let us review its past history.

Coke lays it down that the currency of Eng- land must be either gold or silver. At the time

he wrote, no other metal had over been coined

by Royal authority, excepting the circulation in Ireland of farthings, made of a mixture of silver and copper, so early as 1462. The small- ness of the silver pennies, whereby they were   easily lost, and the quality of the metal, which tempted exporters to send the silver money abroad, caused a continual scarcity of small change. To obviate this the trading world manufactured tokens of copper, tin, and other metals. Elizabeth, finding Royal enactments, backed by pains and penalties, futile to prevent the circulation of this bastard money, purposed issuing a copper coinage, a purpose she un- accountably left unfulfilled. Both James I. and Charles I. issued copper farthing tokens, but of such little intrinsic value - one pound weight of copper being made into 1,164 far- things - that it was not deemed advisable either to enforce their currency or recognise them as legal coins ; consequently they speedily fell into contempt, and were disused. A copper coinage for the convenience of the poor seems to have been projected under the Commonwealth, as patterns are in existence bearing the dates of 1649 and 1651 - the latter, rather curiously, having the image and superscription of Oliver Cromwell, as Protector of England, Ireland, and Scotland, although it was not till the end of 1653 that he was publicly invested with that proud


The first real copper money was coined by Charles II. in 1665, beautiful Miss Stuart sitting for Britannia; but, as it was not made   current at that time, the commencement of the regular coinage must be dated from 1672, when,   to supply the great want of small change, offices were opened in Fenchurch-street for the daily issue of copper farthings and halfpence. Those were intrinsically worth the sums they repre- sented, the larger coin weighing 4dwts. 23 grains. Copper was declared a legal tender for all pay- ments under 6d., and it was enacted that vend ers, utterers, or manufacturers of any other farthings or half-pence should be chastised with exemplary severity. In 1680 letters patent were granted to Sir Thomas Armstrong and Colonel Legg for 21 years, authorizing them to coin copper half-pence weighing 107 grains troy, for the use of His Majesty's subjects in Ireland. Tho patentees sold their privilege to John Knox, who obtained a renewal of it from James II., when tho value of the coin was fixed by a Royal proclamation, declaring 13 Irish pence equiv- alent to Is. English.

When James, after his enforced abdication, landed in the sister isle to measure swords with his rival he revoked Knox's patent, and collected together all the old copper, brass, broken bells, useless guns, and worn pewter he could lay hands upon. This refuse, valued at 3d. or 4d. per pound, was manufac- tured into sixpenny, twelvepenny, and half- crown pieces, making four pennyworth of base metal current for £5 sterling ! Not even con- tent with this, the half-crown was subseqently [sic] transformed into a five-shilling piece, and the shilling reduced to half its former weight. Of this irregular money, forced into currency by hanging instantly any one who demurred at taking it in exchange for goods, the amount issued was nominally £1,390,799. After the battle of tho Boyne, and the flight of James Stuart, Lord Coningsby found £22,489 in the Mint, which he valued at £641 19s. 5¼d. A proclamation from William and Mary reduced this war-coinage to its intrinsic value, by

declaring that henceforth the five-shilling   piece was to pass for one penny, the half-crown for three farthings, and the shilling and sixpence

for one farthing each.

In 1689, and the two following years, tin halfpence and farthings, with a copper centre, were coined in large quantities. In 1693, Mr. Andrew Corbett applied for and obtained a nine years' patent, by which he undertook to coin 700 tons of copper into halfpence and farthings, at a rental of £1,000. This, it sub- sequently came out, left the patentee a profit of £18,100, the master of the Mint having, by want of presence of mind, bound the nation to a bargain by which it lost £12,800. In conse- quence of his representations, Corbett's patent

was, before one year of it had expired, trans- ferred to other hands. This, however, did not   satisfy the public who declared against the system altogether. The traders petitioned against the continuance of the patent coinage, and demanded that the copper, like the gold and silver money of the realm, should be made at the Royal Mint alone. Their prayer was in vain. An arrangement was made by the Government with Sir John Hearne and others,

by which the latter bound themselves to coin, in seven years' time, 700 tons of the best   English copper into rolled and milled farthings and halfpence, in the proportion of 21 pence to the pound of copper. They also engaged to exchange every week not less than £200 worth of the old tin coins for new copper ones, and pay a controller a salary of £200 per annum. Soon after tho contract was concluded, copper rose to such a price that the licensees lost £2,400 in the first 12 months of their specula- tion. This did not stay their proceedings, how- ever, for in 1699 the issue of halfpence and farthings was stopped by act of Parlia- ment, there being a glut of those useful media

of barter.

In consequence of the abundance of small change provided by her predecessors, there was no necessity for coining any more during Anne's reign, but towards tho close of it five pattern halfpence and the same number of pattern farthings were struck. One of the

latter, bearing the date of 1714, and one bear ing that of 1713, were probably circulated, as

they are common enough , despite the popular belief in the rarity of a Queen Anne's farthing.

The authorities of the British Museum receive from time to time letters from persons who, strong in the belief that only three of these farthings wore coined, of which two are safe in the Museum already, announce that the last of the trio is in their possession. Some have actually demanded a supposititious reward of £1,000 for the precious little piece, the fact be- ing that every collector possesses three or four specimens. Mr. Miles, a dealer, was in the habit of keeping half-a-dozen in a drawer, 0n purpose to show to any one bringing a Queen Anne's farthing for him to buy, and used to astonish many an expectant visitor by quietly offering to give 3s. for his farthing, or to sell any in the drawer for five. The Museum collection contains four in gold, four in silver, and eight in copper.

After the troubles which disturbed the begin- ning of the Hanoverian rule were blown over, attention was once more directed to the copper coinage. In 1717, 213½ tons of copper were delivered at the Tower, whence the metal reis-

sued in the shape of £46,000.-worth, of- pennies

and, half-pennies, at the rate of 2s. 4d, in the    

pound of copper; and for the first time " Fidei    

Defensor' made its appearance upon the coins of the realm as one of the titles of His Britannic Majesty, although it had been reckoned among them since Henry VIII. wrote in defence of the Papal authority. A few years later a halfpenny was destined to raise a tremendous political storm. In 1721, in consequence of a great deficiency of copper currency in Ireland, it was resolved to grant a patent for its supply. Mr. Wood, a great copper and iron master, who leased all the Crown lands in 39 counties, obtained the patent for coining £100,000-worth of farthings and halfpence, through the King's mistress, the Duchess of Kendal. It was

rumoured that the lady shared the profits with the patentee. To render it more unpopular with those it was intended to serve, the patent was passed, without the Lord-Lieutenant or Privy Council being formally consulted, and, while the actual terms were concealed in Ireland, the friends of Wood exaggerated the gains which would accrue to the speculation.

Great was the ferment in Ireland when it was known the King had treated the sister isle as a dependency, by giving the patent to an English- man, and having the coin struck out of the country. Taking advantage of such a favour- able opportunity, Swift determined, under cover of assailing Wood's coinage, to attack the whole system of Government and sent forth the famous Drapier letters, in which the cry of "Ireland   for the Irish" was first raised. Their effect was marvellous. The Lords Justices refused to issue the necessary orders for the circulation of the obnoxious money. People of all parties rushed to draw their cash from the banks, and drew their notes with the stipulation that they should be paid in silver or gold. The most rabid pamphleteer might pen treason to his heart's content with impunity, if he took the precaution of abusing the unpopular patentee, for then no jury would convict him. Every effort was made to discover the author of the letters, but those in the secret were faithful, and Sir Robert Walpole was given to under- stand that if he wished to arrest the writer of them he must send 10,000 men to do it. He attempted to punish the printer, but the Dub- lin grand jury not only threw out the bill, but re- presented all persons who should endeavour to im- pose Wood's money on the people as enemies to the State. The Parliament addressed the Crown in accusation of Wood, declaring he was guilty of fraud, both as to the quantity and quality of the coins issued. They asserted that the cir- culation of them would be prejudicial to the revenue, destructive to commerce, and danger- ous to the rights and property of His Majesty's subjects. The Commons had the hardihood to declare that Wood's halfpence were not in-   trinsically of more than one-eighth their nominal value, and that even if the patent was honestly carried out the country would lose 150 per cent, by its bargain. Sir Isaac Newton had the maligned coins assayed, and found them to exceed the conditions in goodness, fineness, and weight. He might have spared the trouble. The Duke of Grafton, and Lord Carteret after him, tried in vain to induce the people to receive the new money, and the struggle ended in its being withdrawn, the patent cancelled, and Wood compensated with a pension of £3,000, for eight years. The Irish were left without small change, but a victory had been gained over the Saxon, and they rejoiced accordingly. The Drapier became the toast of toasts, clubs were instituted in his honour, medals struck to commemorate his triumph, and the hard-hitting Dean lived for ever in the hearts of his countrymen.

In 1729 a new copper coinage - 180 tons of halfpence and 20 tons of farthings - was issued, by virtue of a warrant under the sign-manual of the Regent Caroline; but the reign of the second George was more notable for spurious than legal copper money. In 1741 an Act was passed inflicting two months imprisonment upon coiners of base money, and compelling them to find sureties for two years. This did not in- timidate the offenders. Birmingham became the centre of the manufacture, and few pay- ments were made there without a goodly pro- portion of "Brummagem halfpence," three   shillings' worth of which could be made for eightpence. With these the large employers paid their workmen, from them they passed to the tradesmen, and they distributed them over the kingdom, and to such an extent that in 1753 it was computed that at least two-fifths of the copper money in circulation was of Birmingham origin. A knotty point was soon after raised for the decision of the lawyers as to whether copper coins were, strictly speaking, current money, or merely

money for a special purpose; the latter opinion seems to have prevailed; for the punishment  

awarded to utterers of false coin was not con- strued to extend to the utterers of counterfeit halfpence. By an act passed in the 11th year of George III., counterfeiting copper money was declared a misdemeanour. In 1789 several advertisements appeared offering goods in ex- change for base copper; what was so obtained  

was sent to Scotland, where the common people, for some inexplicable reason, declined to take George III.'s halfpence; and although seven of   the Brummagem halfpennies were worth little more than 1d. sterling, they passed among the canny Scotch at 21 for a shilling. In 1792, the copper coinage was in such a debased condi- tion as to justify the issues of provincial coins and trade tokens. At length a new issue was resolved upon; and, to the great confusion of     the lower orders, a contract for coining 500 tons of new pennies was entered into with Mr. Boulton, of Soho, Birmingham, who agreed to pay all expences [sic], and do, provide, or pay for about 20 different things not included in copper coining at the Tower. For this he was to be paid at 4d. per lb., and for the copper itself £108 per ton. In the same year, twopenny pieces, weighing two ounces each, were issued. These and the pence were made current by proc- lamation; and upon a further issue, two years   afterwards, in conjunction with the smaller coins, it was declared that no person could be compelled to take more than one shilling in penny or twopenny pieces, or more than six- pence in half-pence or farthings. These latter, as our readers can judge for themselves, were not by any means equal in weight to one-half   and one-fourth of the penny, Mr Boulton being  

permitted, in consequence of the rise of copper, to coin one pound into thirty-six half pence  

instead of twenty-four. In 1805, a sudden in- crease in the value of the metal raised the in-  

trinsic value of the larger copper coins by one third, in consequence of which great numbers found their way to the melting-pot. The following year 600 tons of pence, half pence, and farthings were issued, at tho rate of 24, 48 and 96 to the pound. In 1808, several com- binations having been made to prevent the cir- culation of the old half pence coined at the Mint, the Lord Mayor issued a proclamation threatening the rigour of the law against any person refusing to take them on any pretence whatever. In 1810 suspicions were entertained of Government calling in the Tower farthings and halfpence coined before 1797, at a rate below legal currency, and many refused to take them. In 1817 they were called in by proc-  

lamation, the Mint receiving them till the end of the month on the following terms:- For every bag weighing 56lb., and averaging 55 pieces to the pound, the Mint paid £6 8s. 4d.; averaging 54 pieces, £6. 6s.; and so on in pro- portion for any less number of pieces to the pound. In 1819 200 tons, of new copper were issued, being the last during the reign of George III.

A new copper coinage was struck in the suc- ceeding reign, and the currency of Ireland assi-

milated to that of the rest of the kingdom by the issue of fresh coins, and the calling in of the old ones. When the copper money of William IV. appeared a light tinge of colour in the metal excited suspicion that it contained gold, and it is said that such proved to be the fact upon examination, and that the issue was collected by Birmingham agents in various parts of the country, and melted down, which accounts for the scarcity of such coins now. We remember being ourselves in our youth rewarded for every William IV. halfpenny we could collect ; but, for all that, we believe the above story to be apocryphal, and worthy to be ranked with the Queen Anne's farthing tradition. Almost im- mediately after the accession of Queen Victoria a now coinage was prepared, which included copper money of each denomination, differing in no essential from the issues of her predeces- sors; fresh issues have since taken place from   time to time, the only novelty being some half- farthings which appeared and disappeared, and

were heard of no more. Now the fiat has gone forth, the copper currency will soon be of the past, and we may congratulate ourselves upon the advent of small change that will not try our tempers and pockets to carry; and so let us give a hearty welcome to the age of

bronze ''