Irish Hammered Coinage (~995 to ~1660)
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'Hammered' is the term given to a type of coin produced in Europe, the Middle East and the New World between about 600 AD and 1700 AD. Hammered coins were made by manually striking a coin blank (usually of silver or gold) between two hand cut dies. The lower die was normally fixed in a wooden block and the upper one struck with a mallet or similar weight.
Hammered coins are normally quite thin, exhibit uneven striking and often have striking cracks at their edges.
Roman and Greek coins were made using a similar method but they are often thicker and were probably struck while hot. Despite being hammered these coins are normally referred to as 'Classical' coins to distinguish them from 'Hammered' coins.
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The first locally produced Irish coinage was the so-called Hiberno-Norse coinage which was first minted in Dublin in about 995 AD under the authority of Sithric III (aka Sithric Silkbeard), the Norse king of Dublin. The early Hiberno-Norse coins were good copies of the English pennies of the period (typically of Aethelred II 979-1016 AD).
The Hiberno-Norse coinage quickly degraded to crude copies of the 'long cross' type of Aethelred and by about 1030 AD they contain minimal legends of vertical strokes instead of letters.
During the following 100 years the coins became increasingly crude though for the most part still recognisably inheriting their design from the 'long cross' coinage. By the early 1100s the coins were either double or single sided bracteates (thin coins where the design on one side appears in reverse on the other) and sometime before the Normans arrival in Ireland in 1169 production had ceased.
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The Norman kings of England gradually took over Ireland during the 1170s. John (second son of Henry II) was made Lord of Ireland and struck a coinage of silver halfpennies and farthings in Ireland during the 1180s. These coins were struck in a number of provincial mints as well as in Dublin. During this period John de Courcy set himself up as lord of an area of Eastern Ulster and struck coins in his own name at Carrickfergus and Downpatrick.
When he became king John issued silver pennies, halfpennies and farthings from a smaller number of mints ceasing production in about 1210 AD. The primary purpose of this coinage was to drain Ireland of silver (as the coins were of the same standard as the contemporary English coinage) to support the French campaigns of the King. There is significant hoard evidence to suggest that these coins (particularly the pennies) circulated freely in England and in Europe as 'sterlings'. The halfpennies and farthings are more likely to have circulated mostly in Ireland as the English sterling coinage was still mostly dependent on cutting pennies to make halfpennies and farthings at this time. No English round farthings (i.e. struck as farthings not a cut quarter penny) have been found to date and the number of round halfpennies of this period is so small compared with the number of pennies to suggest that the Irish three denomination system was unique in the sterling world at the time.
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In 1251 Henry III reopened the Irish mint in Dublin and struck a coinage of silver pennies. This coinage was also of the same standard as the contemporary English coinage and very similar in appearance to it. Again its purpose was to provide a convenient mechanism for exporting the silver from Ireland, but in this instance no smaller denominations were produced to support the local economy.
This hoard and the other surviving specimens of this coinage make it the medieval coinage of which the greatest percentage of coins struck are known to survive. It is also supported by a large proportion of the original accounts of the mint being available to researchers. And as a result it has helped uncover significant information about coinage production rates, die yields and other statistics.
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Edward I resumed striking coins like those of Henry III in Dublin in 1276. However the issue was short lived and a major recoinage was started in 1279. The first coinage of Edward I is represented by only about half a dozen surviving coins.
The estimate for the total production of coins in Ireland during this reign is about £50,000 (ref) . Being derived from surviving records and comparison of specimens quantities with those of English provincial mints. This represents a coinage of about 12,000,000 pennies (only a very small proportion being struck into halfpennies and farthings).
Edward III produced a brief coinage for Ireland in 1339. The style was similar to that of Edward I, with a star in the obverse legend as a mint mark. Only two halfpennies and one farthing are known - it is unlikely than any pennies were struck in the 1339 issue, because the corresponding English 1339 issue defined a lower standard for the two smaller denominations which increased their production and reduced the production of pennies - it is unlikely that the Irish coins did not fall into the same pattern. The key characteristic of this 1339 coinage which makes it easily identifiable is that the king's name is fully spelled out EDWARDVS even on the farthing rather than abbreviated as on the Edward I issues.
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Henry VI produced a small issue of coins for Ireland in 1425 which is supported by the surviving documentation. There are two pennies in Henry's name which have an annulet initial mark issued in Dublin which are probably specimens of this issue. The annulet issue of Henry VI in England is normally allocated to 1423-1427 further supporting this allocation. However the coinage was certainly known about by numismatists (e.g. Simon 1746) before any specimens were known. The coins are of sterling standard.
As can be seen by the preceding sections the Irish economy had been subject to significant export of silver as a result of the English crown striking Irish silver into coins which could circulate freely in England. In 1459 in return for support for his campaign to gain the English crown Richard Duke of York granted the Irish authorities permission to strike coins to a lower 'Irish standard'. Richard won the crown but lost his life! so his eldest son Edward became Edward IV in 1460.
Richard III did implement his brother Edward IV's new coinage (see next section) but the earliest coins in his name are of the last type of Edward (with Richard's name often stamped over Edward's on the die).
Edward IV's last coinage Act in 1483 was to introduce a new coinage of entirely Irish design and of a lower standard from the sterling issues in England. This coinage known as the 'three crown coinage' was introduced by his brother Richard III after Edward's death in 1483.
In about 1493 Henry VII introduced a new coinage for Ireland consisting almost entirely of groats (fourpence) with a design like that of the earlier English coinage (i.e. a crowned facing portrait obverse and a cross and pellets reverse). This coinage was of a lower standard than the English and the coins were poorly produced.
The portrait issue of Henry VII survived until about 1500 with the coins being produced in increasingly poorer quality and in lower standard silver. By about 1500 the mint in Dublin was closed and the Irish economy was again dependent on English coin.
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Henry VIII the second Tudor monarch didn't produce a coinage for Ireland until quite late in his reign. However he was instrumental in reducing the fineness of the silver coinage of England.
The Harp coinage went through a series of debasements right down to 2 oz fineness (2 ounces of silver in 12 ounces of metal). The coins were struck in London (and later in Bristol).
When Edward VI succeeded his father he initially struck coins in his father's name and with his father's portrait including an issue struck in a newly opened mint in Dublin.
Mary, during her short solo reign, struck shillings, groats halfgroats and pennies for Ireland, also of a base standard. And after her marriage to Philip of Spain a similar coinage of base shillings and groats was produced.
Elizabeth initially followed Mary's coinage with an issue of base shillings and groats in 1558, but in 1561 she introduced a new coinage for Ireland of better quality that any since Henry VI but still below the quality of her English coinage. This coinage was short lived.
When James I came to the throne of England he restored the coinage of Ireland to a better standard with two issues, the first in 1603/04 and the second in 1604/07. These coinages consisted of shillings and sixpences. After 1607 the Irish economy was again dependent on coinage of a purely English type circulating along with miscellaneous coinages for elsewhere in Europe. Most of these coins were circulating at somewhat below their issue weight and would not have been acceptable to export.
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During the period of the Great Rebellion in Ireland and the English Civil War a number of crudely made local coinages were produced in Ireland, mostly in Dublin.
These coinage were almost exclusively of silver plate cut and struck into a number of denominations with simple patterns including often their weight or value.
Most common among these issues is the 'Ormond Money' issued by the Lord Justice the Earl of Ormond in about 1642-1645 and the Blacksmith's Money which consisted of crude Irish halfcrowns of essentially English design.
Among the rarer issues of this period are the pistole and double pistole of 1646. Which are the only gold coins struck in Ireland (excluding a number of proofs struck in gold over the years and some recent ecu patterns).