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Short Cross Pennies



With the exception of a very small number of round halfpennies and farthings, the short cross coinage of 1180-1247 consists only of pennies. They were struck in good quality silver with a standard weight of about 22 grains (1.43g) and a diameter of about 18-20mm. Throughout the sixty-seven years of their issue, no substantive changes were made to either the obverse or the reverse design, hence every coin struck can be described thus:

Obverse type: Crowned bust of king facing within inner circle, holding sceptre in one hand
Obverse legend: Latin form of king’s name and title: HENRICVS REX
Reverse type: Short voided cross with quatrefoil of pellets in each angle, all within inner circle
Reverse legend: Name of moneyer and mint (usually abbreviated), between which the word ON

The very immobility of the design posed a great challenge to early numismatists. They were uncertain whether the king’s name referred to Henry II or Henry III, and could find no conclusive evidence to support either attribution. Eventually, by the most careful analysis of stylistic elements, lettering, punctuation, initial crosses, etc., and the correlation of mints and moneyers with information gleaned from contemporary records, the full picture was revealed. An outline of the story from the middle of the nineteenth century follows below.

In 1841 Edward Hawkins published the first edition of his standard work, The Silver Coins of England. This substantial treatise lists and describes every known type of English silver coin from the Anglo-Saxon period through to the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign. At first sight, therefore, it is something of a surprise to find that the total space afforded to coins of the short cross series is barely one page. With hindsight, however, this is not as surprising as it at first seems. We now know that the coinage was struck for sixty-seven years and spanned the reigns of Henry II, Richard I, John and Henry III. Hawkins, however, believed that all the short cross coins were struck during the last nine years of Henry II’s reign, that neither Richard I nor John struck any English coins, and that the coinage of Henry III began with the ensuing long cross issue.

The reasoning behind Hawkins’ belief is easy to understand if we disregard the knowledge that has subsequently been gained through numismatic research and scholarship. The design of the short cross coins does not materially change throughout their entire period of issue, and the only king named on them is ‘Henry’. Even at the time Hawkins' work was published, however, there was not universal agreement about his attribution, and he mentions - or rather dismisses - this dissent in his account of the coins.

It was, in fact, not until the mid-1860s that the correct picture began to emerge. A number of respected numismatists made valuable contributions, the two most notable of them, William Hylton Dyer Longstaffe and Sir John Evans. In an 1863 paper entitled Northern Evidence on the Short-Cross Question, Longstaffe proposed that the coins should be assigned to all four kings, Henry II, Richard I, John and Henry III. Two years later, Evans published a paper entitled The Short Cross Question, which reinforced Longstaffe’s view and established a classification system that held sway for the following fifty years. In his work, which groups the short cross coins into five classes, Evans benefitted significantly from the finding of the Eccles hoard in 1864. The hoard, which contained no fewer than 5715 English short cross pennies, greatly assisted the chronological ordering and dating of the series. This was achieved by a detailed study and analysis of the mints and moneyers represented, and by relating them to information gleaned from contemporary historical records.

The next major step in the classification was made by the distinguished numismatist, Laurie Asher Lawrence, who published his paper, The Short-Cross Coinage, 1180-1247, in the British Numismatic Journal of 1915. (This was the same year in which he also published the final part of his seminal work on the ensuing long cross coinage.) Lawrence expanded Evans’ five classes into eight, largely by some refinement of the intermediate classes, but also by adding class 8, the coins of which had apparently gone unnoticed by Evans.

The eight main classes of short cross coins devised by Lawrence are still used today. There have, however, particularly since the 1960s, been a few alterations to the sub-classes and a number of refinements to their sub-division. Many of the numismatists that have made significant contributions to these advances are listed, along with their publications, in the bibliography section of this article. Two of these publications, in particular, deserve special mention, as they have been invaluable sources of information for the present article.

The first is Jeffrey North's standard general work, English Hammered Coinage, which will be familiar to most readers. The short cross coins are listed and described in the first of its two volumes, of which there have been three editions. The first edition, published in 1963, took account of the progress that had been made since Lawrence’s paper of 1915, while the 1980 and 1994 editions reflect the advances that were made over the respective intervening periods.

The second is the specialist work by Jeffrey Mass, published in 2001 as number 56 in the British Academy series, Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles. It is titled The J. P. Mass Collection of English Short Cross Coins, 1180-1247, and is the most comprehensive catalogue of this coinage ever produced. With important essays contributed by other distinguished numismatists, the book has ten introductory chapters and describes and illustrates 2200 coins from the author’s own collection.

The classification, as presented in the 1994 edition of North's work, differs only in minor detail from that in Mass’s 2001 catalogue. In the present article, where these differences occur, I have used the Mass labels, but have used Arabic style numbers rather than Roman numerals.
Despite the scientific soundness of today’s classification, correctly identifying an actual coin can often be far from easy. The present article includes a section entitled ‘Identification Aids'. This contains various pointers to classification, which, when used collectively, can often narrow the range of possibilities without the need to study a lot of coin images and detailed information.

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. Some classes of coin are illustrated by a single image; others may be illustrated by two or more examples from a sliding gallery. In the latter case, navigation arrows will appear when the mouse-pointer is hovered over the image that is initially displayed. All images can be clicked to provide an enlarged view.

Historical background

On his accession to the throne in 1154, Henry II will have found the circulating currency in a very unsatisfactory state. The Civil War had only recently ended, and evidence from contemporary coin hoards suggests that, along with official money, a disparate mixture of baronial, foreign and irregular coins, often anonymous, base or underweight, was freely circulating. This situation possibly influenced the systemic reform that Henry made at the time of his first coinage in 1158. He abandoned the long-established practice of periodically changing the basic design of his coins in favour of having a sole type, subject only to minor changes of detail.

The advantages of this reform, from the perspective of both domestic convenience and international trade, can readily be appreciated, but there were also drawbacks. The system of periodic (typically triennial) design changes had been in operation since the time of Aethelred II. It provided not only a source of revenue for the Crown, but also a means by which the quality of the coinage was maintained. The former was achieved by requiring moneyers to purchase new dies every time the design was changed, the king claiming a fee for each transaction. The latter was achieved by both preventing a decline in artistic quality, which invariably occurred when a design was repeatedly copied, and preventing a decline in production quality by limiting the usable life of dies.

From the very beginning of Henry's first issue, the quality of the coins produced was very poor. The fault lay not in the purity of the silver, nor in the weight of the coins, but in their misshapen flans and haphazard striking. Notwithstanding these shortcomings, the coins were struck for twenty-two years with no notable improvement at any point. Today, they are commonly known as the ‘Tealby’ type, a large hoard of them having been found in the Lincolnshire village of that name in 1807.

When, in 1180, it was finally decided that action was required to address the situation, both the need to restore the quality of the coinage, and a desire to increase the Crown’s revenue, seem to have been factors in the decision. The first aspect was addressed by employing Philip Aimer, a goldsmith of Tours, to oversee the management of a new coinage, the second by the concurrent introduction of royal exchanges.

Philip Aimer was brought over from France and was apparently involved in the design of the new coinage. He certainly appears to have been commissioned as a London moneyer, as some of the early coins of the new issue bear the name 'Fil Aimer'. His tenure, however, was short-lived, as he was dismissed on suspicion of fraud after just one year’s service.

The introduction of the exchange or cambium was a radical move. Before the reform, exchanging was an inherent part of mint operation, controlled by the moneyers, and a source of their income. Under the reform, the new royal exchanges took precedence over the mints, and the king now received a direct income from them. A foreign merchant needing to convert his local currency into English coin, for example, would now need to conduct the transaction via the exchange, which, although possibly located close to the mint, was administratively independent of it. For every pound’s worth of silver converted, the king would typically claim sixpence, a form of taxation known as seigniorage. Henceforth, these proceeds from the exchanges were the Crown’s principal source of income from the coinage.

The recoinage began in 1180, with the six mints of Exeter, London, Northampton, Wilton, Winchester and York taking part. The coins they produced over the first few months of operation show many minor differences of style and lettering, which indicate a degree of experimentation, and permit their close chronological classification. Sub-class 1a, which was struck for less than a year, is now divided into five sub-types. Sub-class 1b marks the point at which the experimentation ended and the desired standard was realised. It represents a high point in the short cross series, in terms of both style and execution, and was struck in large numbers. A further four mints, Carlisle, Lincoln, Oxford and Worcester, joined the original six in order to achieve the required output. Sub-class 1c, the last to be struck during the reign of Henry II, shows a marked deterioration of style.

The coins of class 2, the first type to be struck for Richard I, have a rounder face than their immediate predecessors, but show little improvement in quality. Lawrence originally divided the class into two sub-classes, 2a and 2b, but the latter has subsequently been moved to class 4, where it is designated 4a*. Richard brought the two ecclesiastical mints of Canterbury and Lichfield into service, but Oxford and Wilton had ceased operation, so the total number, at least notionally, remained at ten.

The king’s bust becomes longer in class 3, and the number of crown pearls increases from five to seven. Lawrence divided this class into two sub-classes, 3a and 3b, but the basis of the division proved unsatisfactory. The criteria have been revised and the sub-classes are now designated 3ab1 and 3ab2 to differentiate them from their earlier counterparts. The number of mints striking in this class reduced to seven, namely Canterbury, Carlisle, Exeter, London, Northampton, Winchester and York.

The coins of class 4, particularly the later ones, are the most degenerate of the series and arguably some of the ugliest ever-struck in England. They are divided into three sub-classes, 4a, 4b and 4c, based on bust and lettering details, but all can be recognised by the king’s beard, which consists of pellets. Sub-class 4a*, mentioned above, is regarded as a variety of sub-class 4a. It was during this class, around the start of sub-class 4b, that John succeeded to the throne. Of the seven mints striking in class 3, all except Exeter continued into class 4. The total was brought up to nine by the addition of Durham, Norwich and Shrewsbury.

The deplorable state into which the coinage had fallen prompted action to improve the quality of both design and production. The measure taken is sometimes described as a renovation of the coinage, rather than a full recoinage, but it was certainly effective, and resulted in the issue of class 5. If the first high point in short cross quality occurred in class 1, the second undoubtedly occurred in class 5. All the coins of this class, which is divided into six sub-classes, were struck during the reign of John.

The high standard reached in class 5 was not sustained in class 6, but the coins are not anything like as bad as the worst of the earlier types. The class is the most diverse of the series in terms of differing styles, and is divided into a total of nine sub-classes. The number of mints was on the decline, the maximum number in operation at any point in this issue being only five. The class began during the reign of John, but ended during that of Henry III.

Coins of class 7 are of distinctive appearance and the earliest type is quite attractive. They progressively deteriorate, however, and with a total of ten sub-classes, struck over a period of twenty-four years, close classification can be challenging. Except for the first sub-class, to which Durham contributed, only the three main mints of Bury, Canterbury and London were in operation throughout the issue. It was during this class that the very rare round halfpennies and farthings were struck.

The coins of the final issue, class 8, are also of distinctive appearance and unlikely to be confused with any other short cross type. The class is divided into three sub-classes, the first of which is further divided into two sub-types. The three mints that were striking in class 7 continue in operation for this issue.

The short cross coinage came to an end in 1247. No recoinage had been undertaken since the renovation of 1205, some thirty-two years earlier, and the circulating currency had progressively deteriorated to the point where it was in a completely unacceptable condition. Not only were the coins generally very worn, but more significantly many were also clipped. The authorities recognised that the only solution was a complete recoinage, and this was duly ordered. In an attempt to address the problem of clipping, it was decided that the design would be changed such that the reverse cross extended to the edge of the coin. The resulting issue, known today as the long cross coinage, is the subject of a separate article.

Article Status

This issue dated:

5 August 2023

(Revision History)

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