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Short Cross Pennies

Identification Aids


Even with the benefit of an illustrated catalogue, accurate identification of short cross pennies can prove difficult. No substantive changes were made throughout the period of issue, and such changes as did occur were often evolutionary or accidental. It is only by examining individual elements of the design - portraits, letter forms, punctuation, etc. - that the nature of the classification becomes apparent, and only by extensive practice that proficiency can be achieved. Furthermore, almost every pointer to classification that can be devised is subject to qualification or exceptions, so it is wise to avoid the inference that any of them constitute watertight rules. The aids to identification that follow are intentionally simplified, but by using them, it should usually be possible to narrow the range of potential classes to no more than two or three, at which point the images and descriptions of the relevant classes can be viewed for more specific information. Once the correct class has been determined, details of the sub-classes can be viewed by clicking the link at the foot of the description panel.

It is appropriate at this point to define some of the numismatic terms used in the article. In the context of the short 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 voided short cross with a quatrefoil of pellets in each angle. A mule is a coin struck with the obverse die of one type, and the reverse die of an earlier or later type. Mules are very useful for determining the order in which the coins were struck. Coins struck with dies that are normally used together are described as true coins.

Preliminary checks

Before using the identification aids, it is necessary to confirm that the coin under consideration is from the English short cross series, rather than being of a similar foreign type. Other contemporary coins of the British Isles, excluding forgeries, do not present a problem, but some continental issues do. The illustrations below show examples of various contemporary coins that may be mistaken for English short cross pennies. They are arranged in order of similarity, with the earliest unlikely to be incorrectly identified unless extremely worn, through to imitations deliberately intended to deceive and only detectable by careful examination. The means by which they may be recognised are described in the annotations.

William the Lion, Scotland

Pennies of William the Lion of Scotland (1165-1214) are unlikely to be confused with English short cross coins, as the king's bust is always in profile (left or right), rather than facing, and the reverse cross has a star in each angle, as opposed to a quatrefoil of pellets. However, when found in a worn coditition and/or cut into halfpennies or farthings, they can look superficially similar.

William the Lion.jpg

Conrad I, Osnabrück

English coinage in the thirteenth century had a high reputation for quality, and was the preferred currency for trade in much of northern Europe. Its popularity led a number of continental issuers to imitate the design in order to promote the accepabtabily and circulation of their own coins. In some cases, like the present penny of Conrad I, Prince-Bishop of Osnabrück (1227-1239), the style of the bust and the legends (SANCT PETRV / CONADVS EPC) are clearly very different, but merchants of the time probably didn't look that closely.


Otto of Ravensberg

Like the preceding example, this coin of Otto, Count of Ravensberg (c.1220-1244), clearly copies the English short cross design, but it is stylistically closer, and therefore more likely to be misidentified. However, it can still be distinguished from its English counterpart by its legends (MOVNETA OTTO / VLOTOVE CIVIT).

Otto of Ravensberg.jpg

Continental Imitation

The present coin represents the most extreme form of imitation, when the true nature of the coin may only be apparent to an experienced student of the English short cross series. The style is closely similar to that of a class 5b coin, and the legends (HENRICVS REX / ALISENORE ON LV) superficially appear convincing. However, on closer examination, not only is the moneyer's name misspelled, no moneyer named Alisandre (or any variant thereof) struck at London during the short cross issue.

Continental Imitation.jpg


The king's hair on short cross coins is depicted as a group of curls on each side of the head, each curl individually represented by a crescent. At the start of the coinage, in order to create the impression of a bust turned slightly leftwards, more curls were entered on the right side of the head than on the left. This soon gave way to an unambiguously forward-facing bust with approximately equal amounts of hair on each side. A further change took place during the reign of John, when the form of the curls changed. The crescents developed into larger sub-annular ringlets, their number reduced to two or three, arranged vertically on each side of the head, and they often enclose a pellet. The marked difference between the curls of classes 1 to 4 and those of classes 5 to 8 should, at the very least, enable identification to be narrowed down to four possible main classes. If this process results in the earlier four classes, 'unbalanced' hair curls suggest that class 1 is very likely, and that class 2 is a possibility. 'Balanced' hair curls suggest that the coin is likely to be of class 2, 3 or 4.

Hair Curl Types.jpg


The depiction of the king's beard changes significantly during the course of the short cross coinage. On classes 1 to 3, it is represented by small wiry curls, the majority of which are on the chin. On coins of class 4, however, the curls are replaced by pellets, which provide a useful means of identifying this particular class. From class 5 onwards, strokes are employed to depict a more bristly beard, which extends uniformly up each side of the face as far as the hair curls. Beards of this last type were initially very neat, with the bristles all pointing in the same, generally downward, direction. During class 6, however, the neatness and uniformity deteriorate, and the bristles are depicted more radially than vertically, those on the side of the face often being almost horizontal. The beards of class 7 and class 8 coins continue to be depicted by strokes, but reflect the distinctive forms of the king's bust on those two classes, the former having a very wide and rounded chin, and the latter a V-shaped chin. The beards of class 8 are often distinctive in having an external outline, as on the image below. For the present purpose, the presence or absence of a large pellet depicting the king's chin should be disregarded.

Beard Types.jpg


The crown band on the majority of short cross coins consists of five pellets, but for class 3 and the larger part of class 4 the number increases to seven (or more). At the end of class 4, however, the number reverts to five, although the individual pellets tend to be widely and evenly spaced, as on the example illustrated below.

Crown Types.jpg

Reverse Stops

The absence of stops before and after the word 'ON' on a short cross reverse is a strong indicator that the coin is of class 7. Single pellet stops are usually present on all other classes, except 4a*, which has double pellet (colon syle) stops, and class 8, which may have single, double or triple pellet stops.

Whereas the above checks are intended to narrow the number of possible main classes to which a coin may belong, those that follow are largely intended to assist with the identification of particular sub-classes.


Changes of letter style are often useful for distinguishing between close sub-classes that are otherwise stylistically similar. The table below reflects this use, and does not seek to illustrate the many different styles that occur throughout the issue, but which are not particularly useful in this respect. Conversely, but for the same reason, some letters of very similar style to those illustrated may occur on coins of classes that are not indicated below them.

Letter Forms Composite.jpg


The reverse legend identifies the mint at which the coin was struck, so in many cases, particularly those where mints were active only for a limited time, it can be a useful means of narrowing the range of possible classes. The letter 'X' on the table below indicates that coins of the applicable class and mint are known; '?' indicates that coins are not known, but possibly exist; 'O' and 'R' indicate that the coins are known only as obverse and reverse mules respectively. Only the broad timespan of the Rhuddlan coins is shown, as they are classified differently to the main series. Further information on the identification of mints can be found in the ‘Mints and Moneyers’ section.

Mint Table.jpg
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