World Coins

Story behind a silver penny from 1086 sparks interest

Coin Lore column from Sept. 19, 2016, weekly issue of Coin World:

As a boy, coin collecting opened a world of history, geography and finance to me. In a junk box ancient, I could feel a part of the Roman Empire. In an inflationary note from 1920s Germany, I could feel the turmoil of a county torn asunder by hyperinflation. In a well-worn Barber dime, I could feel the 19th to 20th century turn, the world of my grandparents.

No book helped me understand that more than an obscure and long-out-of-print book that I picked up a local coin shop in 1961. Coin Dictionary and Guide by C.C. Chamberlain and Fred Reinfeld won’t turn up on a list of important numismatic books, but it opened up a vast world to me beyond the readily available A Guide Book of United States Coins (the “Red Book”).

Connect with Coin World:  

I wore out my first paperback copy years ago and am now working on a hardbound one. On the rare occasion that I find one in a used book store, I buy it and give it to a fellow collector.

The book is a 251-page com­pendium of numismatic facts. I read it cover to cover as a boy and even now turn to it for pleasure and as a starting point for research.

The 125-word entry under Pax penny inspired me to buy an English silver penny William the Conqueror issued circa 1086 to proclaim peace in the newly conquered land. A description under “Hoards” told me my coin was likely from the 1833 Beaworth find of 9,000 mostly Uncirculated Pax pennies. The entry notes, “This type, hitherto rare, became the most common.”

The entry under Tribute penny was where I learned about the connection between the denarius of Tiberius and the Tribute penny of the Bible. The coin Jesus turned to when he was asked, “Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar?” is widely believed to have been a then-current, dime-size silver denarius of Tiberius. I later bought one of those, too.

Gun money fascinated me from the moment I read the entry. It came with three compelling aspects. It was made from melted cannons (among other things), issued in a time of war, and had not only a year but a month on it.

When deposed English king James II tried to regain the throne, he issued base-metal coins made from melted scrap metal, including cannons. His army’s defeat at the Battle of the Boyne July 1, 1690, put an end to his ambitions and to the coinage. Gun money coins are cheap and plentiful. Because of the dictionary entry I’ve bought several over the years.

As I write, 11 sellers on Amazon are offering the book, pricing it from 19 cents to $12. It’s a bargain, no matter the price, and will provide a few nights’ pleasant reading.

Community Comments