World Coins

East India Company honors historic silver coin

The classic British testern silver coin is honored with a modern version struck in the name of St. Helena.

Images courtesy of the East India Company.

An example of a classic English coin from four centuries ago has received new life on a modern commemorative from the modern firm that shares its name with what was once among the most powerful business entities in the world. 

The East India Company’s newest coin celebrates the testern. One of Britain’s rarest coins, the historical currency was nicknamed “portcullis money” for its design showing a heavy vertically-closing gate, typically found in medieval fortifications. The gate appears on the reverse of the antique Proof .999 fine silver 25-penny coin issued for St. Helena. The obverse features the Raphael Maklouf effigy of Queen Elizabeth II. 

The classic coin was originally minted for the historical British East India Company’s 1601 maiden voyage, to use in overseas trade during the reign of Elizabeth I, and qualifies as Britain’s very first colonial coinage. 

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Queen Elizabeth I insisted that the company take specially minted coins on each voyage, as set out in the company’s charter of 1600, according to the modern EIC. To demonstrate her power she needed her own trade currency that, to be effective, would need to be based on the existing international trade coin of the time — the Spanish real — in both size and weight. For these reasons, the classic testern was minted to the exact same specifications as the Spanish 8-real coin.

Slightly more than £6,000 worth of Portcullis money was loaded onto four East India Company ships leaving Woolwich, England, in February 1601. Approximately £20 worth of coins were struck for presentation to dignitaries, and many of these compose the limited number of the original coins that are available to collectors today, many of the rest being melted for use in local currency.

The modern coin matches the classic weight of 26.7 grams, and measures 38.6 millimeters in diameter. Each coin comes in a capsule and presentation box, with a certificate of authenticity.

The coin has a mintage limit of 10,000 pieces and retails for $138.60 U.S. at press time Aug. 10. 

To order, visit the issuer website.

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