Richard II Pennies
No event of major numismatic significance occurred during the twenty-two year reign of Richard II. There were no recoinages and the weight and fineness of the coins, both gold and silver, remained as they had been at the end of his grandfather's reign. The basic design of the penny was that introduced by Edward I in the major recoinage of 1279, and which by the time of Richard's accession had effectively become a standard type. The obverse has a crowned facing bust of the king with his name and title(s) around, and the reverse has a long cross pattée with three pellets in each angle, the surrounding legend naming the city or town where the coin was minted.
Three mints struck pennies of Richard II, namely the royal mint at London and the ecclesiastical mints of the bishop of Durham and the archbishop of York. Of these, only York struck pennies in any significant quantity, those of London and Durham now being quite rare. All Richard's pennies of York have a quatrefoil at the centre of the reverse cross, thought by some to represent the decorative bow of the key to the door of York Minster.
Unfortunately, despite the appreciable number of surviving pennies of York, the condition of the great majority of them is very poor. This is mainly due to the dies having been used well beyond their normal serviceable life, rather than as a result of wear or abuse in circulation, although these factors will also have taken their toll in some cases.
It is perhaps as a result of the circumstances outlined above that the reign of Richard II has attracted less attention from numismatists and collectors than those of most other medieval English monarchs. Although there are a few early contributions to numismatic literature - most notably Frederick Walter's 'The Coinage of Richard II' in the Numismatic Chronicle of 1904 - the first substantive work to address Richard's pennies is Frank Purvey's paper in the British Numismatic Journal of 1962, 'The Pence, Half-Pence and Farthings of Richard II, of the mints of London, York and Durham.'
Purvey's work remains the most complete authoritative account of the pennies of Richard's reign. It focuses predominantly on the York issues, some of which were struck with dies made at London, and others with dies made locally. The former coins are divided into four main types designated I to IV, and ordered chronologically, and the latter into six groups designated A to F, and based predominantly on obverse legend variations. The types struck with London dies are further divided, firstly by the addition of an alphabetic suffix (e.g. IIa, IIb, etc.), and then, where required, by an Arabic numeral (e.g. Ia1, Ia2, Ia3, etc.). The primary division is based largely on the lettering style and is intended to correspond as closely as possible to the four groups assigned to the larger silver denominations by W J W Potter in his 1959 BNJ paper entitled 'The Silver Coinages of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V. Part I: Richard II'. Purvey suggests that the coins from locally made dies were struck between his London-made die Types II and III. He bases this opinion on the evidence of mules, of which there are many, but acknowledges that their exact position in the series is open to question. (Marion Archibald subsequently (BNJ 38, 1969) made a case for placing them immediately after Type I.)
Having established the above ordering, Purvey relates the labels he has assigned to the York pennies to the much rarer coins struck at London and Durham. However, London pennies are known only of Types Ia and IV, and Durham pennies of Type Ia alone. In the case of London this can lead to some confusion, as for example in the current (2021) edition of the Spink Catalogue, where Purvey's Types Ia2, Ia4 and IV are designated I, II and III respectively. In order to avoid further confusion in the present article, I have retained Purvey's labels, but have limited the degree of subdivision to two levels, rather than three, by amalgamating his Types Ia1 to Ia6. under Type Ia.
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