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 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 listed below with illustrations from some of the associated reigns.
Michele Steno (1400-1413)
+ MICHAEL STEN DVX
Doge standing left, holding banner; mint control marks in right field
+ S MARCVS VENETI (Saint Mark, Venice)
Winged lion of St Mark, holding book of gospels, all within inner circle
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. An asterisk following the doge's name indicates that a coin of that reign is illustrated.
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 version of the 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 the reigns of these two doges are respectively near to the beginning and near to the end of the period of circulation of soldini in this country, it might indicate that the 15th century legislation was, at least to some extent, effective.
Some of the images used to illustrate this article are derivatives of images from records published 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.
Images for the soldini of Tommaso Mocenigo, Francesco Foscari and Nicolo Marcello are derivatives of images from records published on the website of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and are used under a CC By-SA licence. The use of images under this Creative Commons licence does not imply that the licence holder endorses any of the comments made, or opinions expressed, by the present website owner.
This issue dated:
8 July 2020