World Coins

Decoding British coins: coin shortage leads to creation of rarity

A shortage of silver in 1798 led to banking institutions depositing silver with the Royal Mint to be struck into shillings. These coins are known as “Dorrien & Magens” shillings, for one of the depositors. All are rare.

Images courtesy of A.H. Baldwin & Sons, Ltd.

Editor's note: The following is the fourth of a multi-part Coin World series about the secret language of British coins prepared by Jeff Starck for the January 2015 monthly edition of Coin World. See links to the rest of the series at the end of this post.

Silver shortage spurs coins

British coins reveal the source of their metal, reflect economics of their time of issue, and even political messages, if you know how to unlock the codes.

By the late 1790s, silver was in short enough supply that the Royal Mint began counterstamping foreign silver coins (mostly Spanish 8-real coins, but even some U.S. silver dollars and others). 

In April of 1798, the Royal Mint began melting old coins and silver specie provided by London banks, striking new shillings from the recovered metal. 

About a month later, officials determined that because Parliament had not ordered the coins, production had to halt.

All struck coins that could be recovered were returned to the melting pot, and the banks were repaid the silver they had loaned for the coinage.

The smallest of the silver donors involved was recorded as the bank Magens, Dorrien, and Magens (later renamed, with other names added), founded by banker Magens Dorrien Magens (who had legally changed his own name, from Magens Dorrien). Research published in 1994 by John Andrew, Coin World’s London correspondent, suggests that banker Magens was acting by himself and not representing the bank.

The whole class of issues of 1798 silver shillings came to be known as Dorrien & Magens shillings (pieces cannot be identified for any individual bank).

The surviving pieces are extremely rare and valuable. The bible of the milled silver series, English Silver Coinage Since 1649 by P. Alan Ryner, gives this coin an R-5 rarity rating, meaning an estimated five to 10 examples are known.

Read the entire "Decoding British Coins" series:

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