April promises to be a memorable month for the United Kingdom with
the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton scheduled April 29.
However, a week before that ceremony, another more historic one
will occur with Queen Elizabeth II dispensing special silver coins to
pensioners to honor their service to community and church.
The ceremony happens on Maundy Thursday, the day before Good
Friday. This year the event falls on April 21, which just happens to
be the 85th birthday of the queen.
The birth year of the monarch is important on Maundy Thursday
because it determines how much money will be dispensed. For instance,
last year at Derby Cathedral, the queen gave 84 men and 84 women
purses of coins.
This year she will give away coins to 85 women and 85 men.
The tradition of Maundy Thursday is biblical. The name harkens
back to the Last Supper when Jesus is said to have washed the feet of
the apostles, giving them a “mandatum,” or command to love one another
and their neighbors.
In previous centuries, British monarchs used the occasion to pay
homage to the poor. As early as 1213, King John gave 13 pence to 13
impoverished subjects. At the time, the number 13 was not unlucky but
symbolized Jesus and 12 disciples.
In more recent ceremonies, monarchs have recognized service rather
than social state, with subjects not only from the Church of England
but from various Christian faiths.
Although Maundy money has been issued for centuries in one form or
another, including circulating coinage, the design became more uniform
in the early 19th century. The obverse features the reigning monarch
and the reverse, a crowned numeral and oak wreath.
Denominations are 1 penny, 2 pence, 3 pence and 4 pence. The penny
is particularly intriguing, because of its minuscule size, weighing
0.5 gram and measuring only 11 millimeters in diameter.
These are beautiful, highly collectible coins because of their
origin, tradition, small mintages (typically fewer than 2,000 coins)
and the coins’ antique packaging.
I own three sets and would buy dozens more, but have to restrict
myself because of budget. Sets can be pricey, typically in the low
hundreds of dollars, with some sets costing in the thousands,
according to year and grade.
I paid between $180 and $250 for each set. I holdered one set, a
1906 set of Edward VII, because of the exceptional condition of the
coins, grading Mint State 64, 65, 66 and 67.
My other sets — an 1879 Queen Victoria set and 1902 King Edward
VII set — came in antique packaging with velvet inside that typically
gives Maundy money rainbow toning.
If you are interested in acquiring a set, you might pick a year
that has special meaning to you, perhaps reminding you of something
you did in service to others — a military or Peace Corps assignment,
say, or an elected or appointed office.
You can select a year for more personal reasons, perhaps
associated with love, such as a wedding or birth date.
In fact, you may want to acquire a 2011 Maundy set to mark the
April 29 royal wedding or the April 21 Maundy ceremony, a historic
event in that it falls on the queen’s birthday.
Michael Bugeja, a coin collector since childhood, is a professor
at Iowa State University and also serves as president and Webmaster of
the Ames, Iowa, Coin Club. He is a nationally known author, journalist