The earliest English coins are known to numismatists as as sceattas. They are small, rather thick pieces, presenting a great variety in the typos shown upon them, but in most cases without the name of any king, without indeed intelligible legend of any kind, so that it is impossible to determine accurately the date of their issue. Some few, however, bear runic legends, and these appear to have been struck about A.D, 650. The sceattas have never been found in large numbers, and could not have had an extensive circulation. But they seem to have been in use over a considerable part of the island. Towards the end of the eighth century, under the influence of a change which had taken place in the coinage of France, the small thick sceat was replaced by a thinner but much broader piece, which was always known as the penny. It was first coined during the reign of Offa, king of Mercia A.D. 757 - 795, and probably not long after his accession. The corresponding coin of France from which the notion of the penny was taken was known abroad as the new denarius, and seems to have been introduced by Pepin the Short, who was mayor of the palace from A.D.741-752, and king from A.D. 752-768. It is first officially recognised in an Act of the year 755. From the time of its introduction until we first meet with it in the series described in the present volume, the general form of the penny remains the same, both as regards the type of the coin and the sort of inscription which is placed upon it; but at the same time this substantial likeness is subject to endless variety. The general form of the penny is as follows : On the one side (the obverse) is the name and title of the king, or in tho case of the ecclesiastical coins of the archbishop, surrounding either what is meant for the king or archbishop's head or bust, or else some ornament, of which in most cases a cross forms the component part. At the time of the Heptarchy the title of the king frequently included the name of the people over whom he ruled, as OFFA REX MERCIORUM, EDMUNDUS REX ANG. (for Anglorum, i.e. the East Anglians); later on, the term ANGLORUM is used for tho whole English people. SAXONUM, SAXORUM (sic) and OCCIDENTALIUM SAXO. are all occasionally employed by the kings of Wessex. Sometimes, as in the case of Ethelstan's coins, we find the title RE)? TOT. BRIT. (Totius Britannia). It is not until after the Norman conquest that the title REX always occurs also. The inscription on the other side of the penny (the reverse) is the name of the person who was entrusted with the duty of striking or of superintending the striking of the coin, and who was made responsible for its purity, the Monetarius or moneyer. The name either appears alone or has frequently been made the subject of dispute. In Kent the penny was introduced about the same time that it was first coined by Offa, King of Mercia. It is quite possible that this king's first pennies were struck at the time at which Kent formed part of tho Mercian kingdom. For the nearness of this country to the continent would naturally make it the best acquainted with the coins current there. A unique penny, indeed, exists, which has been attributed to Ethelbert II, king of Kent, who died in 760; it is more probably a piece of Ethelbert, King of the East Angles, who was murdered by Offa in AD 793. The coin is not above suspicion. After Ethelbert there is a gap of about thirty years in the coinage of East Anglia. The coinage of Wessex. begins with the pennies of Egbert (802-837). And in Northumbria this new currency was introduced in place of the older one of copper stycas when the Danes settled there, and Halfdan the Black partitioned the kingdom of the Northumbrians (875). From this date until the reign of Edward I (of the Angevin line), that is to say, for exactly four hundred years, the penny remained almost the sole-currency of the island. Neither Scotland nor Ireland possessed any coinage when the penny was first coined in England. Though we are not to associate any improvements in the arts of peace with the Vikings, it is nevertheless a fact that the coming of these marauders had in many places considerable influence, either in the introduction of a coinage where it was entirely unknown, or in the improvement of one which previously existed. Of the influence of the last kind we have just mentioned one instance, that of the introduction of the silver penny into the north of England. Into Ireland the Norse kings of Dublin were the first to introduce a currency of any kind. The coinage there was struck by Sihtric III., king of Dublin (100?-1042), the same who, according to Njals Saga, commanded one wing of the Norse army at the famous battle of Clontarf, and who was subsequently converted to Christianity and died in a monastery. These first coins of Ireland were closely copied from the contemporary English coins of Ethelred II. In the Western Islands of Scotland, moreover, some rude imitations have been found of English money, and these are believed to have been struck by the Danish pirates or for tribute to them. The regular coinage of Scotland does not begin before the reign of David I (1124-1153). This is likewise imitated from the contemporary English pennies of Henry I. After the Norman Conquest, the coinage was simplified, by reducing the number of different types of pieces struck. If this tendency is due to the organising spirit of the Norman kings, then the gradualness of the change illustrates their respect for custom and tradition. The number of types in any one reign reaches its maximum under Edward the Confessor; but it is only slightly diminished in the reigns of William I and II. Under Henry II it continues to diminish, though slowly. When, however, we come to the time of Henry III, we find that there were throughout that long reign two distinct types of coins. An absolute uniformity is reached in the reign of Edward I, and remains unbroken for two hundred years; and when (in the reign of Edward III.) a gold coinage is introduced that too becomes almost immediately stereotyped, and remains so until nearly the end of the same period! As characteristic of the art of the time, it is highly interesting to notice the architectural appearance of Edward I's coins and those of the succeeding reigns. At the very time that complete uniformity was introduced in the types of the coinage, took place the first departure from uniformity in the denominations. For pennies and farthings, which had only occasionally been issued in Saxon times and had quite ceased since the Conquest, were once more set in circulation by Edward the First. The change also included the introduction of the halfpenny. Edward I coined some groats, but it is doubtful if these pieces were ever in circulation during his reign. It need not be pointed out, that both the uniformity in type and the diversity in the denominations of the coinage witness to the increase of commerce and to a greater attention to all fiscal matters. The next important step in the history of the English coinage was the introduction of a gold currency. This was the work of Edward III. The currency as that of the noble, points to the fact, that the wealth of the country must have considerably increased during his reign or that of his immediate predecessors. And in fact we know that the woollen industry was in a very prosperous condition. Another fact which witnesses to the commercial prosperity of England during the period is the superior purity of the coins in comparison with those of any continental country, and the consequently high estimation in which they were held. This led to them being largely imitated. No coins suffered more from this left-handed compliment than did the pennies of the reigns of Edward I - Edward III, and the nobles of the latter king. The imitations were made chiefly by the petty princes of the Low Countries, Flanders, Brabant, Hainault, Luxembourg, etc, with which lands England had at that time. and for long afterwards, her chief trade. Edward IV. made the first break in the uniformity of the English coinage, by the change which he introduced into the type of the noble by coining the piece known as the rose noble in the place of the noble of the type of Edward III. A greater change was made by the coinage of the new piece, first called the angel noble, and afterwards simply the angel. The rose nobles, like the nobles of the earlier type, passed largely into currency abroad and were frequently imitated. The angel is interesting, as having been the coin always hung round the neck of the patient who was touched for the king's evil. Angels continued to be struck in the reign of Charles I., but not after the Restoration, and when they went out of currency small gold medallets, somewhat resembling them in type, were made to supply their place as amulets, and these went by the name of touch pieces. During the wars of tho Roses, disastrous as these were to the baronage of England, it does not appear that the wealth of the community at large suffered any decrease, and when the wars were followed by the long and peaceful reign of Henry VII. a period of remarkable prosperity and luxury ensued. This fact is perhaps best witnessed to us by the rise of the Tudor style of architecture. But this was only one symptom of a widespread change in the social life of England, the fall of the older, aristocracy, the rise of a new one of merchants and of lawyers, tho spread of education and of love of the arts; while all these changes were, in their turn, no more than the local instances of that European movement which we call the Renaissance. These changes are, in a manner, symbolised in the coinage of England under the Tudor dynasty. In the reign of Henry VII. we have to note the issue of a new gold coin, the sovereign, twice the size of the noble and the largest piece which had yet been struck. The coins were also more beautifully made than any earlier pieces or than any which succeeded them. This at least may be certainly said of the shillings, on which we find a genuine portrait for the first time on any English coin, and a portrait executed with great artistic skill. The coins of Henry VIII. may, for their artistic merits, be compared with those of Henry VII. But in them unhappily we have a proof, of a different kind, of the attention given to fiscal matters. Now for the first timo in tho history of the English coinage, was a deliberate attempt made to gain a profit for the Crown by lowering the standard of the currency. Some of the gold coins of Henry VIII. contain as much as one-sixth of alloy, while some of the silver coins contain only one-third of pure metal to two-thirds of alloy .The Government were not driven, by any sudden or widespread poverty in the precious metals throughout the country to adopt these disastrous measures; their act was merely dictated by a desire to secure unjust gains at the expense of the trading public. And we cannot, I think, but admire the way in which, as in the present case, such dumb memorials as coins supply us with the best of commentaries on contemporary history. Were no other proofs forthcoming, these debased shillings and groats of Henry VIII. would still remain to cry out against an attempt to whitewash the character of Henry or to raise him into a hero. This evil of a debased coinage continued in a modified form through the two succeeding reigns, and was not finally done away with till the time of Elizabeth. Even Elizabeth did not do her work thoroughly. She did not absolutely recall the base coins. Some she counter-marked to be current at a lower value ; the greater number she passed over St. Georges' Channel for the use of her subjects in Ireland. The artistic merit of the coinage of Mary and Elizabeth is less than in that of their predecessors. In the reign of Elizabeth the number of denominations reached the maximum which it has ever attained. No less than twenty distinct kinds of coin were struck. After this reign there is a rapid diminution in that respect. The issue in the reign of James I of the coin called the unite, designed' to pass current in England and Scotland alike, calls for some notice, as does the marked decrease in the number of the denominations just spoken of; the silver coinage of the Stuarts being, except in some pieces, the same which continued ever afterwards, and almost the same as that which now obtains. The coins of Charles I. have both historical and artistic interest in a high degree. The pieces coined by Nicholas Eriot by new and much more finished processes, in place of the ruder method of striking by a hammer, are first to be noticed. But the most interesting piece artistically is the 'Oxford crown' of Thomas Rawlins, struck at Oxford after the outbreak of the Civil War. It is described in the body of the work, though as a pattern it is perhaps hardly entitled to a place there. The historical interest of Charles's coins attaches in the largest measure to the pieces which, after the outbreak of tho war he or his agents, struck at the local mints, set up in various parts of the country, as at Aberystwith, Bristol, Chester, Exeter, Oxford, Shrewsbury, Worcester, and York, and the siege pieces issued during the sieges of some of the most celebrated royalist cities, or castles - Beeston, Carlisle, Colchester, Newark, Pontefract and Scarborough. The large gold coin of the value of 3 and the still larger silver pounds and half pounds, are also symbols of the unusual condition of affairs brought about by the war. Most of the coins struck by Charles after the outbreak of hostilities bear on their reverses what is called the Declaration, to the effect that the king took up arms prepared to defend the Protestant Religion, the Laws and the Liberty of Parliament.

English coin index