East India Company strikes gold with guinea commemorative coins

200 years after final guinea, modern firm recreates historic designs
By , Coin World
Published : 07/03/16
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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. 

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