World Coins

Decoding British coins: shipwrecks serve as metal source

Editor's note: The following is the second 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.

Seized ships and shipwrecks

Aside from mining or trading for metal, another way to obtain it is to seize it from someone else.

Twice in the 1700s the Royal Mint issued coins from metal seized during military operations conducted by the Royal Navy. 

In 1702, amid the War of Spanish Succession, the Royal Navy captured a number of treasure ships in Vigo Bay, off the coast of Spain. 

More than 11 million silver “pieces of eight,” or 8-real coins, were seized, with limited amounts of gold captured.

A royal warrant calling for coins struck from the seized metal mandated addition of VIGO below the bust of the queen, to “Continue to Posterity the Remembrance of that Glorious Action.”

The 1703 VIGO gold issues were intended for circulation and comprise half guinea, guinea and 5-guinea pieces. In addition, related silver coins were struck, in crown, half crown, shillings and sixpence denominations, in 1703. (Some 1702-dated shillings were also struck.) 

The Royal Mint took a similar approach in 1745 with sixpence, shillings, half crowns and crowns struck from silver specie captured on the around-the-world journey by Admiral of the Fleet George Anson.

Anson had tracked the galleons of Manila beginning in 1740, experiencing significant losses in September of 1740. After refitting and rest, Anson and his remaining crew set out again, finally locating and capturing the great Spanish treasure galleon on June 20, 1743. 

With both the ship and its treasure as prizes, he returned to England, anchoring almost exactly a year later, on June 15, 1744. The treasure amounted to more than half a million pounds sterling in value. Cheering crowds met the cargo, which was delivered to the Royal Mint in London, where a LIMA hallmark would be used on coins newly struck from the metal, to taunt the longtime enemy. (Lima was the location of the mint where much of the metal had been minted into coinage.) 

Read the entire "Decoding British Coins" series:

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