Edward VI - 1552 - Shilling for Ireland

at 400 dots / inch


Irish Coinage


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© 2007 - Copyright
_ Stafford-Langan
Version 1.14a
29th March, 2007


This somewhat unimpressive coin is an example of one of the most elusive and least understood coins in the Irish series.

It is a shilling of Edward VI, issued in his own name and dated 1552. The coin was minted in England specifically for use in Ireland.

To appreciate this issue one has to go back to the early issues of Edward IV in Ireland and in England in 1547. Both these issues consisted of postumous coinages in his father's (henry VIII's) name and bearing his father's portrait (on the Irish and some of the English denominations). The coinage was of severely debased silver.

In 1549 Edward introduced a new shilling denomination for use in England - similar in design to the one above - the first coins were small but of better silver than the previous postumous coinage. This first issue was unpopular because of its small size and it was quickly replaced with a larger coin but more debased so the underlying silver content remained unchanged. This issue was of 6ozt 2dwt (.508) fine silver - that's 6 ounces and 2 pennyweight of silver used to make up a pound of coinage metal. This issue was quickly assessed by the merchant classes in England and discounted to close to its silver value (actual value a bit over 4 pence, but probably circulating at closer to 6 pence at this time). At the end of 1550 There was a further reduction in the silver content to 3ozt 2dwt (.258) fine silver. Again these coins were discounted, but the population was not well equipped to distinguish between the earlier low quality and the later very low quality pieces so the second types tended to circulate at the same value of about 6 pence rather than their true value of about 2 pence. The merchants were not fooled by the second debasing, they were just not equipped to easily distinguish between the issues.

During this time there had been some local production in Ireland of more postumous (Henry VIII) portrait issues. But this had ceased and there was an extreme shortage of coinage.

In England in mid 1551 the mint / treasury finally rid the country of the scourge of low quality silver coinage by producing an entirely new, handsome and well produced coinage in very high grade silver (11oz 3dwt for comparison with above). These coins were well recived and ended the period of debasement started by Henry VIII. See the note on weights at the bottom of the page.

But there was a need to supply coinage for Ireland.

Issuing the new fine silver in Ireland was not seen as an option. The earlier lower grade coins were circulating in England at a large discount below issue face value but not yet down to their underlying silver value so redeeming some of these for export was financially impractical so the decision was made to produce a new issue of the earlier style specifically for issue in Ireland. It is not clear whether the Irish issue was intended to be at the 3 ozt 2 dwt fine or was actually at a yet lower standard (there is a job for somebody there!).

So the coins of this final issue were specifically for Ireland - at this stage the new coinage in England prevented any of these coins being issued in England.

But is there a way to distinguish the Irish coins from the English ones of identical design?

There is one clear candidate - there are rare shillings of this debased style and design which are dated 1552. Since the fine coinage was introduced in England in 1551 these are definite candidates - and as the 1552 coins all have a harp mintmark on both sides there is coroborating evidence that these are the coins. The coin above is one of these elusive coins - but more about that below, lets finish the tale.

There is no conclusive evidence that the production of coins for Ireland didn't start in 1551 - so it may be that there are coins dated 1551 of this type which were also produced for Ireland. The 1551 coins carry many mintmarks and are much more common than the 1552 coins as they were produced for the much larger English economy until their production was stopped in mid 1551 and the fine issue produced instead. There is no harp mintmark on any 1551 coins or any other dates (1549/1550) nor is there any apparent subtype which is uncommon enough (it would have been a small issue) to have been an Irish issue hiding in the English 1551s.

The conclusion must be that the production of these English coins ceased before the fine issue in mid 1551 and the Irish need was addressed with a single later issue dated 1552 and with a harp mintmark which was exclusively Irish.

The end of the story these coins doesn't come until the reign of Elizabeth I when in 1559 the examples still in circulation were countermarked with a portcullis for the earlier ones and a greyhound for the later ones which finally allowed merchants to distinguish between the two grades. Some Irish examples are known with countermarks suggesting that they returned to England in trade between 1552 and 1559. This would be the normal flow of silver issued in Ireland in this period, though the evidence is that the worse the quality of the issue the greater the resistance to its import into England.

These coins are rarer than their catalogue values indicate - they are not fully understood as part of the Irish series - and because they are heavily debased silver they are prone to disfiguiring corrosion and are seldom found in better than fair condition - and unattractive misunderstood coins don't sell well!. Even the Millenium Collectin 2000 (described a bit optimistically as VF) and the LaRiviere Collection 2006 (Good Fine but very weak in large areas) had poorer examples, and most collections don't have one at all.

It is worth adding that The Dowle and Finn book published in 1969 did not contain an illustration of this coin. When I asked Patrick Finn some years later he told me that in the years they had been assembling photographs for the book they never managed to find an example nice enough to serve the purpose. The Coincraft plate coin is in a similar grade to the LaRiviere coin. But the Spink/Seaby plate coin is quite a nice example certainly VF for the issue perhaps better, but I have no idea where it is now.

So it's not just rarity, but the particularly poor quality of the surviving specimens that distinguishes this coinage - for almost any other Irish coin it is possible to find higher grade examples in either the public institutional collections or in the prestigous private collections - but this one seems to be hard to pin down .... unless you know better?

The example above is not even as good as the Millenium or laRiviere coins.. It is at best in good/very good condition. The reverse being somewhat better than the obverse. But it has the nice feature that it's date(1552 is MDLII in latin numerals) is particularly clear in the critical LII part of the reverse legend.

The obverse legend is almost entirely illegible but was intended to read :

(harp) EDWARD VI DEI GRA ANGL FRA Z HIB REX (or contracted)

Edward 6 by the grace of God king of England , France and Ireland.

The reverse which is legible in parts reads :

(harp) : TIMOR : DOMINI : FONS : VITAE M : D : LII

Fear of the Lord is the font of life 1552

Note that ounces here are troy ounces (ozt) and pounds are tower pounds - convenienlty there are 12 troy ounces in a tower pound. There are 20 pennyweights in a troy ounce. So pure silver is 12ozt fine. Sterling silver is .925 or 11ozt 2 dwt fine. So Edward's high grade issue of 1551 was better than sterling standard and the highest fineness of any regular English issue.



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