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Friday, 1 May 2020

New Month Old Post - Carolus II Dei Gratia Mag Br Fra et Hib Rex

(first posted 5th May, 2015)

Charles II shilling 1668

It is by a long chalk the oldest thing I own apart from the worse-than-senseless blocks and stones in the garden - a 1668 Charles II silver shilling. It is quite worn and the King’s face is damaged but the images are clear. A cautious numismatist would probably describe it as being in F or ‘Fine’ condition, just short of VF or ‘Very Fine’.

The ‘head’ side or obverse is inscribed “CAROLUS II DEI GRATIA” – Charles II by the grace of God – which continues on the ‘tail’ side or reverse, “MAG BR FRA ET HIB REX” – King of Great Britain, France and Ireland. The claim to France was historical but one of the shields on the reverse still displays the fleur de lys, the emblem of the King of France. The other shields portray the three English lions passant (i.e. walking, some heraldrists hold them to be leopards), the Scottish lion rampant (i.e. standing) and the Hibernian (Irish) harp. I think the shilling is the variation known as ‘second bust’ but I have insufficient experience to be sure.

The coin was struck – literally because it is a hammered coin – almost three hundred and fifty years ago, which is so long ago it is hard to imagine. It is dated ten years after the death of Oliver Cromwell and a couple of years after the Great Fire of London. Pepys was writing his diary, John Dryden was Poet Laureate, and Isaac Newton was discovering the calculus or ‘fluxions’ and about to be appointed a Cambridge professor of mathematics. England would soon be at war with the Dutch.

I can tell you how I came by it. My dad swapped it for a pair of boots with a farming acquaintance who found it by chance at the side of a newly ploughed field, the exact location now unknown. It was rare chance because this was well before the days of metal detecting. By now the boots will have dulled and decayed, but the shilling still shines.

A collector wanting a similar example for his or her collection today would have to pay around a hundred and fifty pounds – it could be two or three times that without the damage to the face. I don’t really care. Why sell it?

But what was it worth in the seventeenth century? It depends how you estimate it. In terms of purchasing power it would be the equivalent of around just seven pounds fifty today, but in terms of what someone might earn it would be worth between one and two hundred pounds. It depends whether you use retail price inflation or earnings inflation.

I turn it in my fingers and wonder what other hands held it, and how many. Placing it in history is easy but we can never know who owned it, who it was passed on to, what it bought, who lost it, what its loss meant, how it was lost or for how long it lay in the Howdenshire field where it was re-discovered.

Could it have been lost in drunken reverie? Perhaps it was some unfortunate farm labourer’s wage for the day, or a ‘King’s shilling’ taken by someone newly enlisted in the army or navy. Or did it belong to someone for whom the loss might have been a little more bearable, accidently dropped perhaps by a rich landowner and his farm foreman while paying a group of workers?

Some things we can never know but one day there may be an answer my final question, “Where will it be in another three hundred and fifty years, in 2370?” That is a date that seems like science fiction.

29 comments:

  1. An intriguing glimpse of the past, with so many questions to occupy the mind with.
    The coins are exactly 300 years older than I am. And even at that time, somewhere two people were already around who eventually would become my ancestors, although I don't know anything about them and probably never will.

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    1. In England, most local churches have records going back to 1700 and some to 1500 or earlier. You may be interested that one of my ancestral relatives was called Sarah Riley. She married at Rawcliffe, Yorkshire, in 1867.

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  2. Charles kept his head unlike his proud spendthrift father; and your Dad kept his silver shilling, but parted with his boots. So many tantalising questions hang in the air as Librarian reminds us.

    The coin was struck and hammered ten years after Cromwell's death. Still alive were John Milton (1608-1674) and Puritan John Owen (1616-1683) who wrote The Mortification of Sin and Scottish pastor Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661) and some of the men who drew up the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646.

    William Blake said Milton was of the Devil's party without knowing it; and more than one reader has suggested that Milton, in the creation of proud Satan in Paradise Lost, had Cromwell in his subconscious mind.

    Nevertheless, we know that Milton, living in Bunhill Row with his daughters, was in deep distress on the day of the Restoration. The bells that rang out in London filled him with sorrow, staunch republican that he was. Charles II had Milton imprisoned and executed many in revenge of his father's execution.

    Your father's shilling has sent me back to John Carey's abridged Paradise Lost (shortened to a third) and Peter Carey's novel, Milton in America (1986) and Adam Thorpe's classic, Ulverton. Your coin dug up in English soil opens doors into English history and church politics.

    I had no interest in the Puritans until twelve years ago when I read Iain Murray's biographies of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Arthur W Pink.

    The Doctor got the Puritans in print again and the enigmatic Pink was deeply immersed in Puritan piety. Pink and Lloyd-Jones never met though they had much in common. The YouTube reading of Pink's The Nature of Apostasy (read by a gravelly American voice) is every bit as terrifying as Bunyan's The Death of Mr. Badman, republished by Hesperus.

    A hammered coin may open many doors of inquiry, or raise an angel or a spectre. My oldest coins are just copper pennies with the head of King Edward the son of Victoria, threepenny bits, ha'pennies, silver sixpences, and Irish sixpences with the wren celebrating Saint Stephen's Day, December 26. But they jingle with memories.

    They belonged to my mother who lived until the age of 97. She remembered seeing Estelle and Fred Astaire at the Glasgow Empire, watching the first talkie film, and in the last days of her life, spoke to her granddaughter in France, thanks to a laptop and satellite technology.

    John Haggerty

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    1. It could never be said that my blog does not fire up your vast knowledge. My dad kept rather a lot of the more recent coins you mention, which I still have.

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    2. Erratum.
      Peter Carey did NOT write *Milton in America*; Peter Ackroyd, a novelist who never fails to surprise and delight me, wrote it.

      Peter Carey wrote *Oscar and Lucinda*, a witty tale set in 19th Century England and Australia, which won the Booker.

      J Haggerty

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  3. My arithmetic is out. Rutherford would have been dead when your silver shilling was struck, but Puritans still living would include Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) and Richard Baxter (1615-1691) whose statue still stands in Kidderminster, I believe.

    Cambridge was a hotbed of Puritanism. The movement was long over by the 19th Century though R.C. Ryle and Spurgeon were much influenced by Puritan theology. Spurgeon's church is near where my brother lives.

    A small publishers in Stoke-on-Trent, Tentmakers, prints Puritan histories including *Some of the Great Preachers of Wales* by Owen Jones, which first appeared in 1885. The dust-jacket spine has a photo of Daniel Rowland's statue in Llangeitho which I want to visit one day.

    American pastors like John Piper and John MacArthur have followed Puritan thought in their teaching. Piper has a YouTube film following Calvin's steps in Geneva. John Knox's statue is there beside Calvin.

    None of this would have interested the pleasure-loving Charles II with his decadent court and dancing mistresses, though he is rumoured to have converted to Rome on his deathbed. St. Jerome thought that true deathbed conversions were one in every seven hundred. A troubling thought.

    J Haggerty

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  4. I love that coin Tasker. Exciting just to ponder on who it belonged to and just how hard losing it had been - was it a wealthy man or someone who really could not afford to lose it? I am the widow of a farmer and my father in law found a Stone Age Axe in one of our field - it was hewn from a greenish stone identified by York museum as coming from the Langdale Pikes (we live in Wensleydale). When I moved after David died I gave the axe to his niece - I felt it needed to stay in the family. But I miss it.

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    1. Things as old as the coin are mind boggling when you start to think about all the years that have passed, but Stone Age ... that's simply unimaginable. Who made it? Who used it? What did they think about it? Were they proud of it? What did they feel when the swung it to chop something?

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  5. If this had been a farm workers wagers for the day he'd have been a millionaire.

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    1. I looked at the inflation calculators and in terms of purchasing power it is the equivalent of about £7.50 and in terms of earnings inflation around £150, so it might not have been as much as aa that. One web site suggests that in 1710 day labourers earned 16 to 18 pence per day.

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  6. This is a wonderful example of something from long ago and I have always been fascinated by such items. As you said, I always think about all the hands it must have passed through and what an incredible part of life it must have seen. You should write down your Father's story of how he came to get it and keep it with the coin for it will mean even more to future generations. Thank you for sharing this.

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    1. Good idea. I could just print out this post (plus comments) to keep with it.

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  7. Stand and Deliver! It was accidentally dropped by the Highwayman Dennis Moore as he robbed some unfortunate gentleman traveler. Add that to your theories pile.

    Very impressive! The oldest coin I have is a very worn 1889 US silver dollar. Someone gave it to my grandmother to mark the year she was born and she gave it to me when I was a little girl. I doubt if it's worth very much more than its sentimental value.

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    1. Dennis Moore? Wasn't he the one who held people up for their lupins? You'd have to do better to outdo me on that. I remember where I was the first time it was shown.

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  8. Interesting! There's a short story there...

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    1. Please do feel free to use the idea, Liz, and let us know when you have.

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  9. The finding of 'treasure' There are lots of lovely stories around. Many years ago I belonged to a group who were anti-metal detecting, because of the stuff squirrelled away and sold on the closed market, without due provenance. I actually disagreed with them in the end, but your coin has a story to tell.

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    1. I'm unsure about metal detecting. Sometimes I think it would be fun to go out and look for things, especially when you get something interesting, other times I think of it as a nice country walk spoiled. But selfish and illegal metal detecting ought to be stamped on. Anyway, these things don't apply here because the coin was found by chance.

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  10. Fascinating. Like you I wonder who has held it, who were they? Did they lose it accidentally and had to go home and confess? Perhaps when it was almost a weeks wages.
    There is definitely two stories there, one about your dad and the other about who may have owned this coin - going through many hands. Go on...write it!!

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    1. As mentioned in comments, I think it would probably have been around a day's wages. Daughter knows someone who writes stories about the adventures of coins with personalities: Polly the Pound and so on.

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  11. That is where my name derives from, the Latin for Charles.

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  12. A wonderful possession given its story and its link to your father and a king long gone. By the way, in my humble opinion Charles II looked like a girl. However, he seems to have spent a lot of his time bedding mistresses with whom he had a bus load of kids. Sadly, his wife, Catherine of Branganza failed to produce any living children - just miscarriages.

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    1. Perhaps he had been unable to get a hair cut because hairdressers were closed due to an outbreak of plague. But that would not explain why he appears to be wearing a dress.

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    2. Charles II's bedroom athletics make Boris Johnson look like a Cistercian monk. Good job they didn't have "The Sun" and "The Daily Star" back then. Charles would have been pilloried. Perhaps he wore dresses to wheedle his way into the bed chambers of ladies in waiting before ripping off said dresses and declaring, "This is what you have been waiting for! Tally-ho!"

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  13. I gave my German friend a Charles 2nd ha'penny when he last visited. I like wondering who handled coins like yours and what was bought with it. I have a friend who has a 10 inch length piece of old railway line. He uses it as an anvil. I like to wonder whose weight it has born when it was carrying trains.

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    1. We used to go to the end of the station platform when I was a young trainspotter and put pennies and halfpennies on the line. One train with a steam engine full of coal and water and they would be half the thickness and double the size. Also makes you wonder about how much force required to hammer coins such as this shilling. Possibly not as much as one might imagine give that silver is quite soft.

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  14. A good swap, I'd say. What a fascinating thing to think about: What was happening around the time that that coin first went into circulation. I'd not part with it either, were I you.

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    1. If I'm right in that it's worth around £150, then it is easily worth that just for the thoughts it sparks off.

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