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Long Cross Pennies

Introduction

With the single exception of an extremely rare gold coin, the long cross coinage of 1247-1279 consists entirely of silver pennies. They were struck in 0.925 fine silver with a standard weight of about 22 grains (1.43g) and a diameter of about 18mm. The obverse depicts a crowned facing bust of the king, and the reverse has a long voided cross with three pellets in each angle. Both sides are inscribed: the obverse with the king’s name and title, and the reverse, in most cases, with the name of the mint and moneyer. During the thirty-two years of their issue, certain changes were made to the design, the form of the legends and the style of the letters. By studying these changes, along with documentary records and information obtained from hoards, the sequence and dates of issue of the coins can be determined and their classification undertaken.

The classification we use today was established almost one hundred years ago by Laurie Asher Lawrence. It is documented in a paper published in three parts in the British Numismatic Journal between 1912 and 1915. The classification has stood the test of time remarkably well, with only relatively minor refinements by later numismatists. Subsequent finds have added a few coins to Lawrence’s lists of known classes and sub-classes for certain mints, but many of these - like the extremely rare class 6 penny of London - were anticipated by him.

One of the challenges of producing a guide to the classification is that of catering for the different needs of the casual user and the more experienced numismatist. On the one hand, the risk is of including an excessive amount of detail, while on the other, it is of omitting information that the specialist will find useful. To address this issue, I have adopted a two-tier approach to the structure of the article. The Internet greatly facilitates this approach by making it possible to separate out various aspects of the coinage, while at the same time making that information instantly accessible via hyperlinks. Those wishing to determine only the main class of a coin, for example, are able to do so without being faced with detailed descriptions of the many sub-classes. Having established the main class, however, the structure of the article will allow those who wish to do so to pursue the more detailed information at a separate level.

A difficulty often experienced by newcomers is that of reading the inscriptions on the coins. This is partly because some of the letter forms used during the medieval period are unfamiliar, but also because adjacent letters are frequently joined together ("ligated"), such that they can appear to be a single unrecognisable character. To add to the difficulty, the manual minting process often results in parts the inscription being weakly impressed, or even partially off the flan. The best way to become familiar with the various letter forms is to visit the mints and moneyers section and study the inscriptions on the coins illustrated, all of which are transcribed. To assist with the process, ligated letters are underlined, and the cross ends that divide the reverse legends are indicated by the “/” sign. Basic errors, such as mistaking a horizontally barred N for a Roman H, can be avoided once it is known that only the Lombardic "h" is found on the coins. It should also be borne in mind that the letters I/J and U/V respectively did not exist separately at the time, so a single letter in each case (usually in the style of I and V) served both as vowel and consonant, much as the letter Y still does today.

It is appropriate at this point, for the benefit of newcomers, to define some of the numismatic terms used in the article. In the context of the long cross coinage, the obverse of a coin is the side that bears the facing bust of the king. The reverse is the side that carries the long voided cross. A mule is a coin struck with the obverse die of one class or sub-class, and the reverse die of a different class or sub-class. Mules are very useful for determining the order in which the coins were struck.

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.

 

Historical Background

 

The condition of the money circulating in England in the 1240s was probably as bad as it had ever been. The coins were all of the short cross type introduced more than sixty years beforehand, and the last general recoinage had taken place in 1205. Inevitably a high proportion of the coins were badly worn, but more significantly many were also clipped - an illegal practice performed by unscrupulous individuals, who would melt down the resulting slivers of metal and profit by selling the silver.

The seriousness of the situation is evidenced by the fact that it was the subject of discussion at a great council held at Oxford in 1246. The council deliberated on what measures should be taken, and considered a recoinage financed by debasement of the silver. The attraction of this proposition was that the public could be given back as many pence as they paid into the exchange, an approach repeatedly adopted by France in similar situations. In the event, however, when the decision was ultimately taken to proceed with a recoinage, the silver fineness was maintained. Debasement was rejected on the grounds that it would adversely affect trade, particularly with the Low Countries, where the English coin enjoyed a high reputation.

In order to thwart would-be clippers, it was decided that the new coins would carry a design in which the reverse cross would extend to the edge. If any of the four cross-ends were removed, the coin would be deemed illegal. In practice, however, the measure seems to have been largely ineffective, as many coins are found that fail to meet the legal requirement. In fact some of them seem to have left the mint in this condition, as a result of off-centred striking.

The recoinage itself was greatly facilitated by the king’s brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall. In return for a half-share in the profits accruing from the project, Richard was prepared to make available his considerable holding of silver bullion to provide the initial stock of new coins. Accordingly, he was granted a licence, and by the end of July 1247 he had provided sufficient bullion to strike 1.6 million pennies.

The terms on which the recoinage was conducted, while lucrative for the king and his brother, were very onerous for the public. Anyone bringing their short cross coins to the exchange would receive only as many new pennies by weight as could be coined from those they deposited, regardless of face value. A further thirteen pence in every pound, over five percent, was charged for the expenses incurred in minting, which included a margin from which the earl and the king derived their profit. A chronicler of the time alleged that the man who brought in thirty shillings worth of old pence (360 pennies) got back little more than twenty shillings (240 pennies) in the new money.

 

Striking of the new coins began at London, probably in November 1247, with Canterbury and the ecclesiastical mint of Bury St Edmunds participating very shortly afterwards. During the course of the next year, or thereabouts, they were joined by sixteen provincial mints, opened specifically for the duration of the recoinage. With a total of nineteen mints in operation, the recoinage was effectively completed during the period 1248-1250. There remained, of course, an ongoing need for new coin, but the level of demand for it could be met by the permanent mints alone, and the provincial establishments were closed at the end of the above period.

Turning to the coins themselves, those struck in the short period between the commencement of the recoinage and the opening of the provincial mints (class 1) may be regarded as experimental prototypes. The earlier variety (1a) is rare and the later variety (1b) is scarce. During the period of operation of the provincial mints, two further types (classes 2 and 3) were struck. Four more followed after their closure (classes 4 to 7), the last two of which were struck during the reign of Edward I. The long cross coinage came to an end in 1279, thirty-two years after it had been introduced. The coins were the last (with a single isolated exception) to bear the moneyer’s name, and the last type that were officially cut into halves and quarters in order to provide small change, both practices having originated in Anglo-Saxon times.

 

Article Status

This issue dated:

10 October 2019

(Revision History)