• Gerry Tebben

    Five Facts

    Gerald Tebben goes behind the scenes and explores many offbeat trails in bringing to the forefront the long-lost information that makes coins so special in "Coin Lore."

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  • What did Scrooge use to pay Bob Cratchit?: Collecting Christmas

    This Extra Fine 1843 half crown fetched $460 at auction in 2011 and resold for $690 in 2013.

    Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions

    “You'll want all day tomorrow, I suppose?'' said Scrooge.

    “If quite convenient, Sir.''

    “It's not convenient,'' said Scrooge, “and it's not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you'd think yourself ill-used, I'll be bound?''

    The clerk smiled faintly.

    “And yet,'' said Scrooge, “you don't think me ill-used, when I pay a day's wages for no work.''

    The clerk observed that it was only once a year.

    “A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!'' said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. “But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning!’' 

    – Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

    Ebenezer Scrooge, “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner,” paid his long-suffering clerk Bob Cratchit a pittance – just half a crown a day.

    That famous fictional half crown was a middling size silver coin that showed a king or queen on the obverse and the English shield on the reverse. The Tower Mint in London struck 455,000 half crowns in 1843, the year Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. Each showed a young Queen Victoria on the obverse.

    The half crown (2 shillings, 6 pence) was the equivalent of about 60 cents in U.S. coin at the time. During a period know as the Hungry Forties in England, Cratchit’s wage of 15 shillings a week enabled him to cling precariously to the bottom run of the middle class. Wages were so depressed during the Industrial Revolution that landowners were know to hire men (at 9 pence a day) to dig fields because it was cheaper than plowing with horses.

    The half crown reappears toward the end of Dickens’ Carol when a transformed Scrooge offers an “intelligent, remarkable and delightful boy” a half crown if he brings back the poulterer in less than five minutes.

    British 1843 half crowns catalog for $225 in Fine condition and $4,125 in Uncirculated.  While they can be a bit pricey, the coin is THE Christmas coin of the 19th century.

    Next:  20th century gifts of the magi

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