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Galley Halfpence

Historical Background

From the late 14th to the 16th century, small silver coins known as ‘galley halfpennies’ circulated widely, but illegally, in England. They were, in fact, Italian soldini, principally those struck for the city-state of Venice under the authority of the ruling doge. They were brought to England by ‘galley men’ trading wine and other goods, and their name may derive from Galley Quay in Thames Street, London, which was reputedly the centre for their distribution.

The English coinage at the beginning of this period was undervalued in relation to foreign currency, and consequently found its way to the continent, where it was profitably melted down. This depletion of the supply of bullion and the resulting shortage of coins, particularly small change, caused real difficulty for many people, and created a demand that was filled by the soldini. In 1402 the Commons petitioned the king to provide halfpennies and farthings for the poor people, but little was done to alleviate the shortage. However, the concern of the authorities regarding the circulation of galley halfpence can be judged by the fact that they were prohibited by statute five times during the 15th century, and finally in 1519/20. There is evidence, however, that they continued to circulate until at least the 1530’s, by which time it is possible that their value had reduced to a farthing.

The Coins

The design of the soldino changed several times during the period that it circulated in this country, and its size reduced from c.15mm to c.12mm. The main types are:

Type 1

Obverse

[Doge’s Name] DVX; Doge standing left, holding banner; mint control marks in right field

Reverse

S MARCVS VENETI; Winged lion of St Mark, holding book of gospels, all within inner circle

Soldino of Michele Steno (1400-1413)

Type 2

Obverse

[Doge’s Name] DVX; Doge standing left, holding banner; mint control marks in right field

Reverse

No Legend; Winged lion of St Mark, holding book of gospels, all within a quatrefoil with four external annulets between the lobes

Soldino of Nicolo Tron (1471-1473)

Type 3

Obverse

[Doge’s Name] DVX (in exergue), S M V; Doge holding banner and kneeling before St Mark

Reverse

LAVS TIBI SOLI (Praise To Thee Alone); Standing figure of Christ facing, haloed and holding cross; mint control marks in exergue

Soldino of Leonardo Lauredan (1501-1521)

The Doges

The doges of Venice from the late 14th to mid 16th century are listed below with the types they are known to have struck. It should be noted that their names are spelt in various ways, depending on whether they are rendered in English, Italian or Latin, and they are often very abbreviated on the coins.

 

The coins designated Type 1 were introduced in 1369, following a weight reduction due to an increase in the price of silver. They differ from the heavier soldini they replaced by depicting a winged lion rather than an upright  lion holding a banner, and by including the moneyer's initial on the obverse.

The coins designated Type 3 were replaced by a new design in the reign of Pietro Lando. The obverse of the new coins depicts a cross, while the reverse retains a modified lion of Saint Mark.

 

Andrea Contarini 1368-1382 (Type 1)

Michele Morosini 1382 (Type 1)

Antonio Venier 1382-1400 (Type 1)

Michele Steno 1400-1413 (Type 1)

Tommaso Mocenigo 1414-1423 (Type 1)

Francesco Foscari 1423-1457 (Type 1)

Pasquale Malipiero 1457-1462 (Type 1)

Cristoforo Moro 1462-1471 (Type 1)

Nicolo Tron 1471-1473 (Type 2)

Nicolo Marcello 1473-1474 (Type 2)

Pietro Mocenigo 1474-1476 (no soldini struck)

Andrea Vendramin 1476-1478 (no soldini struck)

Giovanni Mocenigo 1478-1485 (Type 1)

Marco Barbarigo 1485-1486 (no soldini struck)

Agostino Barbarigo 1486-1501 (Type 3)

Leonardo Loredan 1501-1521 (Type 3)

Antonio Grimani 1521-1523 (no soldini struck?)

Andrea Gritti 1523-1538 (Type 3)

Pietro Lando 1539-1545

 

A large majority of the soldini found in England are those of Michele Steno and Leonardo Loredan. As these two doges are at the beginning and end of the period of circulation in this country, it might indicate that the 15th century legislation was, at least to some extent, effective.

Article Status

This issue dated:

19 October 2017

(Revision History)