Gerald Tebben, a Coin World columnist for more than 30 years, also contributes to Coin World’s Coin Values and edits the Central States Numismatic Society’s journal, The Centinel. He collects coins that tell stories.
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What did Scrooge use to pay Bob Cratchit?: Collecting Christmas
This Extra Fine 1843 half crown fetched $460 at auction in 2011 and resold for $690 in 2013.
“You'll want all day tomorrow, I suppose?'' said Scrooge.
“If quite convenient, Sir.''
“It's not convenient,'' said Scrooge, “and it's not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you'd think yourself ill-used, I'll be bound?''
The clerk smiled faintly.
“And yet,'' said Scrooge, “you don't think me ill-used, when I pay a day's wages for no work.''
The clerk observed that it was only once a year.
“A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!'' said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. “But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning!’'
– Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
Ebenezer Scrooge, “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner,” paid his long-suffering clerk Bob Cratchit a pittance – just half a crown a day.
That famous fictional half crown was a middling size silver coin that showed a king or queen on the obverse and the English shield on the reverse. The Tower Mint in London struck 455,000 half crowns in 1843, the year Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. Each showed a young Queen Victoria on the obverse.
The half crown (2 shillings, 6 pence) was the equivalent of about 60 cents in U.S. coin at the time. During a period know as the Hungry Forties in England, Cratchit’s wage of 15 shillings a week enabled him to cling precariously to the bottom run of the middle class. Wages were so depressed during the Industrial Revolution that landowners were know to hire men (at 9 pence a day) to dig fields because it was cheaper than plowing with horses.
The half crown reappears toward the end of Dickens’ Carol when a transformed Scrooge offers an “intelligent, remarkable and delightful boy” a half crown if he brings back the poulterer in less than five minutes.
British 1843 half crowns catalog for $225 in Fine condition and $4,125 in Uncirculated. While they can be a bit pricey, the coin is THE Christmas coin of the 19th century.
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