Early Edwardian Pennies
The recoinage that commenced during the seventh year of Edward I's reign established a format for the design of English coins that was to last for over two hundred years. Throughout this period, virtually every penny struck could be described thus:
Obverse type: crowned bust of king facing
Obverse legend: king's name and title(s)
Reverse type: long cross dividing legend with three pellets in each angle
Reverse legend: name of mint
Edward I was succeeded in turn by Edward II and Edward III, but the practice of indicating the king’s regnal number on the coins, introduced by Henry III on the preceding long cross coins, was not continued. For almost a hundred years, therefore, all English pennies bore the name ‘Edward’, and their basic design remained the same. The lack of any substantive change over such a long period of time inevitably presented early students of the coinage with a considerable challenge. Not only was the sequence of issue difficult to determine, it was also unclear to which of the first three Edwards a coin should be attributed. It was not until 1887 that real progress was made, and the credit for it belongs to the renowned Scottish numismatist, Edward Burns.
Burns was given the opportunity to examine a very large hoard, found at Montrave, Fifeshire in 1877. The hoard consisted of English, Scottish and continental coins, of which the English portion comprised nearly nine thousand pennies of Edward I, Edward II and Edward III. He approached the task of classifying this portion by grouping together coins with a common style of head and lettering, which, in his own words, “… naturally disposed themselves into distinct groups and classes, each group and class being distinguished by its own special characteristics.” The key to the sequence of these groups and classes was provided by a Durham penny, which we would now describe as an Edward I Type 5b/6b mule. The penny had a cross moline initial mark, which was known to be the personal mark of Antony Bek, elected Bishop of Durham in 1283. By reference to information from other hoards, Burns deduced that the larger lettering on the obverse of this coin was from an earlier die than the smaller lettering on the reverse. Working backwards and forwards from this information, comparing letter-forms and other characteristics, utilising the personal marks of Bek and his successors, and taking account of the mints operating during the recoinage periods of 1279/81 and 1300, Burns produced the first comprehensive scientific classification of the Edwardian coinage.
Burns’ classification, however, formed just a small part of his great work, The Coinage of Scotland, and to a large extent went unnoticed by English numismatists. The classification system we use today is based not on Burns, but on the work of the brothers, H B Earle Fox and J S Shirley-Fox, whose five-part paper, Numismatic History of the Reigns of Edward I, II and III, was published in the British Numismatic Journal between 1909 and 1913.
The approach of the Fox brothers was markedly different to that of Burns. Their classification was based heavily on contemporary documentary evidence, while his was based predominantly on the physical examination of a large number of coins. The two classifications differ in respect of certain details, but when a broader view is taken, there is a considerable degree of concordance between them.
The Fox classification divides the issues of Edward I, Edward II and the early years of Edward III (to 1344 in the case of the pennies) into fifteen numbered groups, most of which contain several distinct coin types identified in chronological order by lower-case letters. The brothers had originally intended to take their classification to 1351, but, due to the ill health of H B Earle Fox, the final part of their paper was not produced.
Since publication of the Foxes’ paper, a number of amendments have been made to their classification, but the basic structure remains intact. The most obvious alteration occurs in the classification of group 10 coins, by far the largest and most complex group in the series. Under the Fox system, the group consisted of six types (10a to 10f), but subsequent research identified an error in their chronological order. When the error came to light, it was necessary to rearrange the order of the types, but retaining the same labels would have caused confusion. The coins were accordingly split into two sub-groups, a primary phase designated 10ab, and a secondary phase designated 10cf, each with six types. The new structure also addresses the true complexity of the group, which was not adequately conveyed by the six original types.
Despite the scientific soundness of the Fox classification, it must be conceded that correctly attributing an actual coin can often be far from easy, and elaboration of the classification by later numismatists has, in some cases, compounded the difficulty. The present guide includes a section entitled ‘Identification aids'. This contains various pointers to classification, which, when used collectively, can significantly narrow the range of possibilities without the need to study a lot of coin images and detailed information.
Apart from replacing Roman numerals with Arabic ones, the present article uses the Fox terminology, in which the coins are divided into groups and types. Today, numismatists often treat these terms as being synonymous with ‘classes’ and ‘sub-classes’, but it is worth noting that the Foxes chose their words carefully. In many cases, the groups do not constitute a class in the true sense of the word, as the coins within them lack “a common characteristic, attribute, quality, or property”. It should be recognised, therefore, that the illustrations used at 'group level' cannot always be truly representative of all the types within the group. In some cases it will be necessary to view all the constituent types in order to confirm an identification.
Many of the images used to illustrate this article are from records on the UK Detector Finds database (UKDFD). I am grateful to recorders for making them available in this way, and also to other detectorists and collectors who have independently granted permission to use their images. All images can be clicked to provide an enlarged view.
The poor state of the circulating currency in the early years of the reign of Edward I is clear from contemporary accounts and the attention it received from the King’s Council. A significant proportion of the coins will have been those struck during the previous major recoinage of 1248-1250, and thus about twenty-five years old. Normal wear and tear, however, was only one factor contributing to the situation. The operation of Gresham’s Law will have resulted in the poorer specimens of all issues remaining in circulation, while the better ones were hoarded. In addition to the prevalence of worn coins, the practice of ‘clipping’ seems to have become a particular problem in the early 1270s, a situation for which Jews, in particular, were made scapegoats and ruthlessly persecuted. Having deliberated for some time on the question of how the coins could be improved, and how abuses could be prevented, the Council initiated steps for a new coinage at the beginning of 1279.
The great recoinage that resulted from this decision is one of the most noteworthy of the medieval period. It did not simply renew the circulating specie, but completely changed the administrative arrangements for its production, elevated coin art to a new level and introduced a range of new denominations. It also established a pattern for the design and production of English coins that was to last for more than two hundred years.
Since early Anglo-Saxon times, the responsibility for correct weight and fineness had been that of the moneyer, whose name was invariably included on the reverse of the coin. It is likely in earlier times that this was the man who actually struck the coin, but for many centuries before Edward I came to the throne, this was not the case. The moneyer of the later medieval period was a person of considerably higher status. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the moneyer for London, William de Turnemire, was chosen to have a major role in the administrative arrangements that were to apply to the new coinage. Under these arrangements, William was appointed master moneyer, responsible for all the king’s mints, which at the time were London, Canterbury, Bristol and York (royal). The ecclesiastical mints of Bury St Edmunds, Durham and York continued to have their own independent moneyers, and the archbishop of Canterbury continued to receive the profits from three of the eight dies employed at the king’s mint in that city. Under the new centralised arrangements, the reverses of the coins were required to carry only the name of the mint at which they were struck. The naming of the individual moneyer, a practice dating back to early Anglo-Saxon times, thus came to an end.
The greatly improved appearance of the coins, when compared with their short cross and long cross predecessors, was due to changes in die production. Prior to Edward’s recoinage, dies had been produced using a limited range of punches, or ‘irons’ as they were called at the time. The king’s face, hair and crown, for example, were made up of pellets, crescents and strokes. The dies for Edward’s new coins, however, were produced from punches on which the same features had been engraved in their entirety, usually with a degree of artistic competence.
The third major change brought about by the recoinage was the introduction of three new denominations. In addition to the penny, there was the halfpenny, the farthing and the groat of four pence. The striking of round halfpennies and farthings eliminated the need to cut pennies into halves and quarters, another practice that dated back to the Anglo-Saxon period. The voided reverse cross, used on pennies for the previous one hundred years to facilitate this process, was thus no longer required, and was replaced by a plain cross.
The earliest of the new coins, those we now identify as Group 1, were struck between May and December 1279 at London alone. During the following two years a further nine mints were brought into operation, and the recoinage was effectively completed by the end of 1281. The nine additional mints were Bristol, Bury, Canterbury, Chester, Durham, Lincoln, Newcastle-on-Tyne and the royal and ecclesiastical mints of York. The coins struck were those we now know as Groups 2 and 3.
Once the initial recoinage requirements were met, the provincial mints were closed, and the major mints of London and Canterbury, and the ecclesiastical mints of Bury and Durham, met the normal day-to-day requirements for the supply of coin. This situation prevailed until 1300, when another major recoinage became necessary. The coins struck during the intervening period were of Groups 4 to 9, but only London struck coins of every group.
Unlike the recoinage of 1279-81, the second recoinage of Edward’s reign did not involve fundamental administrative or technical changes. Twenty years of circulation will certainly have taken its toll on the earlier coins, but in addition to this there were two other factors. The first of these was the perennial problem of clipping, which had increased again towards the end of the century. The second was the influx of inferior continental imitations of the English coin, against which various measures had proved largely ineffective. The recoinage of 1300 sought to address these problems by renewing the circulating specie and restoring the coins to their former high quality.
It was again necessary to supplement the output of the ‘permanent’ mints, and on this occasion the additional mints brought into operation were Bristol, Chester, Exeter, Kingston-upon-Hull, Newcastle-on-Tyne and the royal and ecclesiastical mints of York. The recoinage took about a year, and the vast majority of coins are of Group 9. Newcastle, alone, remained in operation a little longer than the other temporary mints, striking into early Group 10.
Coins of Group 10 were the last struck during the reign of Edward I, and they continued into the early years of Edward II. During the latter king’s reign, only the four ‘permanent’ mints of Bury, Canterbury, Durham and London were in operation, all of them striking coins of Groups 11 to 15. At the very end of the series, in the early years of Edward III’s reign, the ecclesiastical mint of York was also active, and participated in the production of Type 15d.
In 1335, it was decided to reduce the weight and fineness of halfpennies and farthings only, and these denominations were then issued in some considerable quantity. This inevitably made it uneconomic to strike pennies of full weight and good silver, and very few are likely to have been struck between 1335 and 1344. Notwithstanding this fact, the so-far unique type 15d penny of Reading cannot be dated any earlier than 1338, when the abbey’s minting rights were revived, and it is also known that penny dies were authorised for Durham and Bury St Edmunds in 1336 and 1340 respectively. In 1344 the fineness of all denominations was restored, but the weight was reduced by about ten percent. The coins of this issue, known as the third or ‘florin’ coinage, are subject to separate classification and are outside the scope of the present article.