Windows, beards and scrapped cannons all have a connection to coin
collecting. Here’s a brief trip down some of the stranger byways of
By the reign of William III, English coinage was in disarray.
Hammered coinage — irregularly shaped coins literally made by
hammering planchets between dies — had been so badly clipped by cheats
that they traded by weight rather than stated value, complicating
commerce no end.
In 1696, William called in all the hammered coins and replaced
them with milled or machine-made coins.
To pay the £180,000 cost of the recoinage, William III levied a
property tax — 2 shillings on homes with up to 10 windows and double
that for homes with 10 to 20 windows.
Many homeowners bricked over windows to reduce the tax bill. The
unpopular window tax remained in effect until 1851, though the rate
was changed during the century and a half it was collected.
A few years after William started taxing windows, Russian Czar
Peter the Great began taxing bearded men as part of his effort to
modernize the country.
Peasants and clerics were exempt, but everyone else who wanted to
wear a beard had to pay an annual fee and carry a medal as proof of payment.
The first medals were round affairs showing a nose, mustache and
beard on one side and the imperial eagle on the reverse.
Later issues were diamond shaped and dropped the images but bore
the legend, “The beard is an unnecessary burden.”
The tax was collected from 1705 to 1772. It was levied according
to rank, topping out at 100 rubles for wealthy merchants.
In 1689 and 1690, the disposed James II, while engaged in a futile
effort to regain the crown of England, issued vast quantities of coins
in Ireland. The coins were denominated as 6 pence to crowns — normally
silver at the time — but made of base metal.
Collectors call the coins gun money. They were struck on planchets
made from scrap metal — old cannons, broken bells and even kitchen
utensils. The coins are notable, also, because they were dated by
month as well as year.
James intended to redeem the coins with silver in the order in
which they were minted. However, James’ armies never made it out of
Ireland. William III’s forces defeated him at the Battle of the Boyne
on July 1, 1690. James fled to France, never to return.
Holders of the coins were left with near worthless money. William
and Mary, who ruled from 1688 to 1694, honored the gun-money coinage,
but only at greatly reduced value. Large denominations were allowed to
pass as pennies; sixpences at a farthing.
Gerald Tebben is editor of the Central States Numismatic