Editor's note: The following is the third of a five-part Coin
World series about collecting emergency coinage, prepared by Jeff
Starck for the March 2015 monthly edition of Coin World.
When King James II of England was deposed in 1688 for his papist
tendencies and support of Parliament, he first fled to France before
landing in Ireland in March 1689. From there James II operated a
campaign to oust his successors, William III of Orange and Mary, and
return to the throne.
Though mints were operating in Dublin and Limerick, precious metals
were in short supply (merchants had sent much of their precious metal
to England for safekeeping), so James II and his supporters became
inventive. They recycled old cannons, bells and kitchen utensils to
create the Irish coinage known as gun money today.
In June 1689, James ordered a new base currency: half crowns,
shillings and sixpence to be made of brass or other copper alloy. At
first these were not legal tender for important debts such as
mortgages, bills and bonds, but by the following February James
proclaimed them good for all debts.
The coins were struck bearing inscriptions of the month and year of
manufacture, apparently because James II intended to redeem gun money
with silver coins after he had won back his crown.
In 1690, James even recycled some of his 1689 coinage, striking
crowns (a new denomination) over old half crowns.
Gun money continued to be issued into July 1690, when William III’s
forces captured the Dublin Mint, and for another couple of months at
the Limerick Mint.
Later coins are smaller than the earlier issues, as James II
stretched available metal to fulfill coinage demand.
A series of halfpennies and farthings, most struck over gun money,
were made in Limerick in 1691 and are often included in the discussion
of Irish gun money.
After William III’s forces prevailed, Irish gun money pieces were
allowed to be converted, but at intentionally low values, to English money.
No accurate mintage figure for Irish gun money is known, but many
pieces survive, although in varied condition.
As this story was being written, a dealer at Ma-Shops.com was
offering a January 1689 sixpence in Extremely Fine condition for €204
(about $229 U.S.).
Nicer than average examples, scarcer pieces and Proof versions sell
for much more. Before buying these coins, a collector would do well to
study the options.