Editor's note: The following is the final piece 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.
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.
A halfpenny for a ‘rat’
It may be apocryphal, but legend suggests that at least one of two
Royal Mint engravers (either John Tanner or John Croker) had a serious
sense of humor.
According to collector David Powell, if you look closely at the
folds of the clothing that cover Britannia’s right leg on a decent
condition young head George II halfpenny, it would appear that a rat
is crawling up it. Additionally, gargoyles can sometimes be discerned
in the lower reaches of the hairpiece on later silver coins of George
II (having the Old Head obverse), Powell said, sharing his findings
Jan. 26, 2014, with readers of the E-Sylum, a weekly email newsletter
that may be accessed at www.coinbooks.org.
“How well these devices were appreciated by the public of the time I
am not sure,” he wrote.
British coin specialist Allan Davisson had never heard of the issue,
and was unable to locate a similar occurrence in his stock and photo
archives, meaning that the modification could have been on just one
die, he said.
The catalog of British coinage is so vast and interesting that we
could barely touch upon the many marks and meanings to be found on
For a better understanding of the possibilities, the Standard
Catalog of British Coins (now titled as Coins of England & the
United Kingdom) is a starting point. Rayner’s catalog of silver
issues, as well as Peter Seaby’s The Story of English Coinage, delve
deeper into this fascinating area.
Type examples of many of the coins with special markings are readily
available, if monarch is not factored in, with the Dorrien &
Magens shilling the notable exception.
Collectors who begin such a collection might just find the pursuit
“hits the mark.”
Read the entire "Decoding British Coins" series:
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