Editor's note: The following is the fourth of a multi-part Coin
World series about the secret language of British coins prepared
by Jeff Starck for the January 2015 monthly edition of Coin
World. See links to the rest of the series at the end of this post.
Silver shortage spurs coins
British coins reveal the source
of their metal, reflect economics of their time of issue, and even
political messages, if you know how to unlock the codes.
By the late 1790s, silver was in short enough supply that the Royal
Mint began counterstamping foreign silver coins (mostly Spanish 8-real
coins, but even some U.S. silver dollars and others).
In April of 1798, the Royal Mint began melting old coins and silver
specie provided by London banks, striking new shillings from the
About a month later, officials determined that because Parliament
had not ordered the coins, production had to halt.
All struck coins that could be recovered were returned to the
melting pot, and the banks were repaid the silver they had loaned for
The smallest of the silver donors involved was recorded as the bank
Magens, Dorrien, and Magens (later renamed, with other names added),
founded by banker Magens Dorrien Magens (who had legally changed his
own name, from Magens Dorrien). Research published in 1994 by John
Andrew, Coin World’s London correspondent, suggests that banker
Magens was acting by himself and not representing the bank.
The whole class of issues of 1798 silver shillings came to be known
as Dorrien & Magens shillings (pieces cannot be identified for any
The surviving pieces are extremely rare and valuable. The bible of
the milled silver series, English Silver Coinage Since 1649 by
P. Alan Ryner, gives this coin an R-5 rarity rating, meaning an
estimated five to 10 examples are known.
Read the entire "Decoding British Coins" series:
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