British trade coinage for Indies predates American Trade dollar by 170 years

Portcullis coin in St. James's Auction offers historical lesson
By , Coin World
Published : 01/12/15
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Collectors of United States coins are aware of a special issue of U.S. coinage in the 1870s that was meant for use thousands of miles from the home country.

England has America beat by 172 years in resorting to that concept.  

Though the American Trade dollar (minted for use in trade with Asia) entered circulation in 1873, the idea of issuing a special silver coin for English trade dates as least as far back as Queen Elizabeth I. In 1600 and 1601, four denominations of coinage — the 1-, 2-, 4- and 8-testern pieces — were coined at the Tower Mint for the first voyage of the incorporated “Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies.”

An example of one of the coins was sold Dec. 16 by St. James’s Auctions in London.

The Portcullis money is named for the portcullis composing the reverse design. A portcullis is a gate with a heavy, sliding grate, used in fortifications. The obverse shows the royal arms.

Portcullis coins were struck to the same weights of equivalent Spanish 1-, 2-, 4- and 8-real coins.

A 1600 to 1601 2-testern piece identified by the auction house as About Very Fine realized a hammer price of £940 (about $1,475 in U.S.  funds) in the Dec. 16 auction. The buyer’s fee varies from 20 to 24 percent, depending on the method of payment. 

Portcullis coins are usually found well-worn, despite the fact that coins of this design were used only briefly.

For more information about other lots in the auction, visit its website.

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