World Coins

East India Company strikes gold with guinea commems

The gold sovereign replaced the gold guinea in the United Kingdom 200 years ago with the June 22, 1816, passage of the Great Re-Coinage Act.

To mark the 2016 milestone, the modern firm using the name The East India Company has issued in the name of St. Helena silver and gold collector coins with historic guinea designs and modern designs inspired by history. 

The gold guinea became the pride of Britain during an era that lasted from the Restoration of the Monarchy to the Napoleonic Wars, before being replaced by the sovereign. American colonists would have been familiar with the guinea, and the 1-guinea coin is also thought to have been the basis for the American gold $5 half eagle, first minted in 1795.

Story of the Guinea

The story of the guinea began in 1663 at the start of the Restoration of the English monarchy. Charles II instructed his treasury to create a new gold coinage to counter economic instability caused by civil war and satisfy the need for a stable, reliable gold coin to fund the expansion of international trade. King Charles II sought to implement a new coinage based on a machine-struck method he witnessed while exiled in France. Its value was to be £1.

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The name “guinea” was initially a colloquial term and referred to the use of gold provided by the Royal African Company, which undertook most of its mining of gold and silver in the Guinea region of West Africa. The name became widely used by the people of Britain, and by 1720, in the reign of King George I, it was officially adopted as the name for the gold £1 coin.

The machine-struck coins were minted in large quantities and satisfied the country’s demand for gold. The value of the guinea during the first 50 years fluctuated as the value of gold changed, until 1717 when Master of the Mint Sir Isaac Newton fixed its value at 21 shillings (or £1.05 in decimal currency), with the adoption of the gold standard in Britain.

Its reputation for purity and accuracy allowed the guinea to become the most acceptable trading commodity in Britain’s growing empire. Eighteenth and 19th century East India Company ships would take the guinea on a journey around the world as they traded in spices, tea and silk.

On June 22, 1816, the 21-shilling guinea was finally superseded by the sovereign (whose value was fixed at 20 shillings), as Britain faced economic turmoil following the devastating Napoleonic Wars. However, the legacy of the guinea remains, with horseraces and trading and livestock auctions still using the term to award prestigious prizes, quote auctioneers’ fees and name races.

Modern versions

The modern East India Company on June 22 issued five 2016 gold guinea commemoratives and two selectively gold-plated silver versions, with the five gold versions each bearing different historic designs. 

Each modern guinea features the Raphael Maklouf effigy of Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse, beneath which is inscribed EIC as an homage to the historic issues that were struck from gold mined by the East India Company. This is the first time in Queen Elizabeth II’s reign that the 5-guinea and third-guinea coins have been minted under permission from the Royal Household, according to EIC. 

Each gold guinea is minted to exactly the same specification as the last struck coin of its type to be used in circulation and features the motif from that guinea, updated with frosted and polished sections. It also bears a denomination based on the pounds-and-pence system. 

The 2016 guineas are issued under the authority of St. Helena.

Examples struck in Proof .999 fine silver are denominated 20-pence (1 ounce) and 50-pence (5 ounces). The reverse design of both silver coins features a motif inspired by the spade guinea. 

The five gold versions are denominated as quarter-, half-, third-, 1- and 5-guinea pieces. 

The quarter-guinea coin (20 pence) features the rose shield design from the last quarter-guineas ever issued, those under King George III.

The third-guinea piece (30 pence) features a royal crown, the only design used on the denomination since introduction. 

The half-guinea (50 pence) features the garter design from the last circulating half-guineas ever issued, under King George III — the new shield of the Royal Arms.

The guinea (£1 and 5 pence) features the spade design from the last circulating guineas struck under King George III — a simplified shield with quarters.

The 5-guinea (£5) coin features the shield design from the very last 5-guinea pieces struck under King George III — a single ornate shield with quarters containing the arms of England and Scotland, France, Hanover and Ireland. 

Packaging options

The gold coins are available in various options,  singly and as part of multicoin sets, with varying mintages.

The five-coin set is limited to production of 100 sets total, each offered for £3,995.

A three-coin set, with the 1-, half- and quarter-guinea, is limited to production of 500 sets and retails for £1,495. 

A maximum of 2,016 examples of the 1-guinea coin are available individually, retailing for £695. 

In total, 200 of the 5-guinea coins are available for individual purchase for £2,495 each.

The 5-ounce silver coin has a mintage limit of 3,000 coins and retails for £395.

The 1-ounce silver coin is limited to mintage of 10,000 pieces and retails for £84.95.

Coin World readers may receive free shipping by using the code CWGUINEA200. 

Full details are available at the EIC website

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