Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments, a Digital Edition

Plate 1.56: English Gold and Silver Coins

Plate: Engraved by George Vertue (1684-1756) in 1739, after his own drawings (Alexander 2008, 358). The plate concludes a series preceded by Plates 1.37-1.38 and 1.43.

Objects: This print depicts thirteen coins minted by English monarchs between the fourteenth and the early-seventeenth centuries.

1. Gold Quarter Florin of King Edward III (c. 1344), from the collection of Brian Fairfax (Folkes 1763-66, 10; Evans 1900, 243). An example of this coin can currently be seen in the British Museum (1864,0713.17).

2. Gold Escu of King Edward III (after 1337), sometimes also described as a chaise or an écu d’or, from the collection of the “master of the free-school at Southampton” (Ducarel 1757, 16; Snelling 1769, 7). An example of this coin can currently be seen in the British Museum (1920,0816.239).

3. Half Groat of Edward III (before 1369), from the collection of James West (Ducarel 1757, 13; Snelling 1769, 4; Potter 1960, 142). A different example of Edward III’s Calais half groat can currently been seen in the British Museum (1993,0423.23). The open-crowns suggest that this coin may be a half-penny (Hewlett 1906, 267).

4. Half Groat of Edward Prince of Aquitaine [the Black Prince] (c. 1368-1372), from the collection of James West (Ducarel 1757, 21; Snelling 1769, 8).

5. Groat of Edward Prince of Wales [the Black Prince] (c. 1362-72), from the collection of James West (Snelling 1769, 8; Hewlett 1908, 141).

6. Gold Angel of Henry VI (c. 1470), from the collection of Peter Sainthill (Kenyon 1884, 52-53). A version of this coin can be seen in the British Museum (E.4663).

7. Quadruple Noble or Double Sovereign of Henry VII, Type 4 (c. 1503-04), from the collection of Henry Hare, third Baron Colerane (Lawrence 1918, 234). An example of this coin can be seen in the Royal Mint Museum.

8. Tournay Groat of Henry VIII (c. 1514), from the collection of H[ugh] H[oward] (Snelling 1769, 17; Hewlett 1919, 182).

9. George Noble of Henry VIII (c. 1526-29), from the collection of Henrietta Louisa Fermor, the Countess of Pomfret (Rawlings 1900, 49). An example of this coin can be seen in the British Museum (1915,0507.640).

10. Sovereign in Crown Gold of Elizabeth I (c. 1565), also described as a pound of twenty shillings, and likely a pattern piece, from the collection of George Sawbridge about whom no information appears to survive; two specimens of this coin survive in the Ashmolean Museum (Brown and Comber 1989, 109).

11. A Pattern Piece for a Gold Crown of Edward VI (c. 1547), from the collection of Edward Harley, Earl of Oxford. An image of the matching pattern piece for a shilling can be seen in the British Museum (E.3390).

12. Pattern Sixpence of Elizabeth I (1575), from the collection of Richard Mead (Borden 1983, 111).

13. Portcullis Crown (Eight Testerns) of Elizabeth I (c. 1601), from the collection of Henrietta Louisa Fermor, the Countess of Pomfret. An example of this coin can be seen in the Museums Victoria (NU 425).


Top: N.o IIII.

Gold Quarter Florin of King Edward III (c. 1344):
Label: Quarter Floren of K. Edw. III / penes Brianum Fairfax Arm.

Gold Escu of King Edward III (c. after 1337):
Label: French Escu of Gold of K. Edw. III. / penes Scholae Hantoniensis Magistrum.

Half Groat of Edward III (c. before 1369):
Label: Half groat Ed: III. / penes J. West Arm.

Half Groat of Edward the Black Prince (c. 1368-1372):
Label: Half groat of Ed. Pr. Of Aquitain. / penes J. West Arm.
Obverse: EDW… REG ANGL
Reverse: PRINCIPS. . . IE

Groat of Edward Prince of Wales [the Black Prince] (c. 1362-72):
Label: Groat of Ed. Pr. of Wales. / penes Jacobum West Arm.
Reverse, Inner Circle: PRNCPS AQITAN
Reverse, Outer Circle: GLOR INX CELCIS DEO ET IN TRA . . . PAX

Gold Angel of Henry VI (c. 1470):
Label: ANGEL of Hen. 6. / penes P. Sainthill Arm.

Quadruple Noble or Double Sovereign of Henry VII, Type 4 (c. 1503-04):
Label: A Quadruple NOBLE or Double Sovereign of Hen. VII. / penes Nobiliss. D.m Colerane.

Tournay Groat of Henry VIII (c. 1514):
Label: Tournay Groat of H. VIII. / penes H.H. Arm.

George Noble of Henry VIII (c. 1526-29):
Label: George Noble of H. VIII. / penes Nobiliss. Comitissam de Ponte Fracto.

Sovereign in Crown Gold of Elizabeth I (c. 1565):
Label: Sovereign of Q. Eliz. / penes G. Sawbridge Arm.

A Pattern Piece for a Gold Crown of Edward VI (c. 1547):
Label: A remarkable Piece of K. Edw. VI. / dw. 20. gr. 3. / penes Nobiliss Oxoniae Comitem

Pattern Sixpence of Elizabeth I (1575):
Label: A rare 6 pence of Qu. / penes R. Mead M.D.

Portcullis Crown (Eight Testerns) of Elizabeth I (c. 1601):
Label: The exportable Piece of Eight Testerns commonly call’d ye Portcullis Crown of Qu. Eliz. / penes Nobiliss. Comitissam de Ponte Fracto.

Bottom: Sumptibus Societat. AntiquariÓ• Londini 1739


Gold Quarter Florin of King Edward III (c. 1344):
Label: From the collection of Brian Fairfax, Esquire.
Obverse: Edward, King of England and France, Lord of Ireland
Reverse: He shall be exalted in glory.

Gold Escu of King Edward III (c. after 1337):
Label: From the collection of the “master of the free-school at Southampton” (Ducarel 1757, 16).
Obverse: Edward, by the grace of God, King of England and France
Reverse: Christ conquers; Christ reigns; Christ commands.

Half Groat of Edward III (c. before 1369):
Label: From the collection of James West, Esquire.
Obverse: Edward, King of England
Reverse: Leader of Aquitaine

Half Groat of Edward Prince of Aquitaine [the Black Prince] (c. 1368-1372):
Label: From the collection of James West, Esquire.
Obverse: Edward, King of England
Reverse: Prince of Aquitaine

Groat of Edward Prince of Wales [the Black Prince] (c. 1362-72):
Label: From the collection of James West, Esquire.
Obverse: Edward, King of England
Reverse, Inner Circle: Prince of Aquitaine
Reverse, Outer Circle: Glory to God in the Highest, and Peace on Earth.

Gold Angel of Henry VI (c. 1470):
Label: From the collection of Peter Sainthill, Esquire.
Obverse: Henry, by grace of God, King of England and France
Reverse: By thy cross, save us, Christ, Redeemer.

Quadruple Noble or Double Sovereign of Henry VII, Type 4 (c. 1503-04):
Label: From the collection of the most noble Lord Colerane.
Obverse: Henry, by grace of God, King of England and France, Lord of Ireland
Reverse: Jesus, passing through the midst of them, went his way. (Luke 4:30)

Tournay Groat of Henry VIII (c. 1514):
Label: From the collection of Henry Hare, Esquire.
Obverse: Henry VIII, by grace of God, King of France and England
Reverse: The city of Tournai 1513

George Noble of Henry VIII (c. 1526-29):
Label: From the collection of the most noble Countess of Pomfret.
Obverse: Consecrated by this sign, my mind knows no fear
Reverse: Henry, by grace of God, King of England and France, Lord of Ireland

Sovereign in Crown Gold of Elizabeth I (c. 1565):
Label: From the collection of George Sawbridge, Esquire.
Obverse: Elizabeth, by grace of God, Queen of England, France, and Ireland
Reverse: Jesus, passing through the midst of them, went his way. (Luke 4:30)

A Pattern Piece for a Gold Crown of Edward VI (c. 1547):
Label: From the collection of the most noble Earl of Oxford
Obverse: Edward VI, King of England, France, and Ireland, etc.
Reverse: Fear of the Lord is the fountain of life. 1547

Pattern Sixpence of Elizabeth I (1575):
Label: From the collection of Richard Mead
Obverse: Elizabeth, by grace of God, Queen of England, France, and Ireland.
Reverse: I have made God my helper. 1575

Portcullis Crown (Eight Testerns) of Elizabeth I (c. 1601):
Label: From the collection of the Noble Countess of Pomfret
Obverse: Elizabeth, by grace of God, Queen of England, France, and Ireland.
Reverse: I have made God my helper.

Commentary by Crystal B. Lake and David Shields: Published in 1739, Plate 1.56 concludes the four-part plate series that also includes Plates 1.37-1.38 and 1.43. Like these prints as well Plates 1.20 and 1.55—two other numismatic plates from Vetusta Monumenta not identified as part of the series—Plate 1.56 reflects the attempts made by members of the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) to produce a comprehensive history of English coinage termed the Metallographia Britannica. This print joins Plates 1.20, 1.43, and 1.55 in recording especially rare numismatic specimens that were difficult to assemble into the chronological ordering of the history of English coinage exemplified by Plates 1.37-1.38. Like Plate 1.43, this print registers the difficulty of producing a history of English coinage, specifically, by documenting five medieval coins that were minted by English kings in France.

Plate 1.56 reflects the interest antiquaries took in coins and medals as objects of both history and art; at the same time, the plate speaks more directly than the others to Martin Folkes’s (1690-1754) interest in coins’ weights and values. By and large, the thirteen items depicted on the print are remarkable as incredibly rare specimens, as new discoveries, as the earliest-known types of a kind, or as markers of changes relative to coins’ valuation. With regards to the latter, this plate reflects Folkes’s particular hobbyhorse and anticipates Plate 1.69 which depicts a late medieval manuscript detailing the “standard of weights and measures in the Exchequer.”

Vertue’s Composition Process and the Methods of Antiquarian Numismatics

The numismatic plates that culminate with this print—the last of its kind to be engraved and eventually published in the Vetusta Monumenta series—were produced over the course of sixteen years, starting shortly after the Metallographia Britannica project began in 1721/2. Tracking developments in Vetusta Monumenta’s numismatic prints year by year highlights the complex, multifaceted nature both of antiquaries’ research on coins and medals and of Vertue’s working conditions. In 1723, Vertue began engraving specimens that would later appear on Plate 1.20 and Plate 1.55. In 1731, when Plate 1.20 was full, Vertue engraved the tables that comprise Plates 1.37-1.38. In 1734, Vertue produced Plate 1.43, which glosses Plates 1.37-1.38, and returned to work he had begun eleven years previously on Plate 1.55; when that plate was full in 1739, he engraved this one. The four-part series that this print concludes was completed over the course of eight years, between 1731 and 1739.

Conceivably, the design of the four-part numismatic series that this print concludes could have been established before the work of engraving began in 1731. However, the eight-year gap between the production of the first and last plates in the series, especially when considered in the context of the time-lapsed oscillation that characterized Vertue’s work on Plates 1.20 and 1.55, hints at the possibility that the SAL embraced the Metallographia Britannica as a long-term work in progress. In other words, the composition histories of Vetusta Monumenta’s numismatic prints evince a research method that was responsive to, perhaps even welcomed, the digressive qualities of numismatic studies. As Vertue prepared his engravings of Tudor and Stuart coins and medals, he appears to have left space for discoveries of not only new items but also new details relative to the objects he had already engraved. Additionally, Vertue’s composition process reflects the variety of ways that he and his fellow antiquaries conceived of organizing numismatic specimens. Collectively, Vetusta Monumenta’s numismatic prints imagine coins and medals’ relationships to inhere in chronological developments, geographical sites of origin, metallic substance, design, scarcity, and in the artists who worked for the mint.

Scarce and Exceptional

The border of Plate 1.56 identifies the print as part of the four-part series that includes Plates 1.37-1.38 and 1.43. In his own notebooks, however, Vertue identified this plate as a counterpart to Plate 1.55, which features medals and milled proof pieces associated with Stuart royals. Vertue described Plate 1.55 as “Scarse [sic] English Coins” and 1.56 as “Medals. &c dito [sic]; he completed both in 1739 (Alexander 2008, 358). Two items on Plate 1.56—Edward VI’s “remarkable piece” and Elizabeth I’s 1575 sixpence—extend the history of pattern pieces and milled coinage that Plate 1.55 also documents. The “Remarkable Piece of K. Edw. VI” looks exactly like a pattern piece for a silver shilling, but in a tinted version of the print, the coin is gold, and Folkes believed it to be a gold crown minted c. 1550 (Folkes 1763-66, 10-11). Likely, the “remarkable” coin is a proof created at the point in Edward VI’s reign when he shifted from minting coins under his father’s name and using his father’s iconography to issuing his own branded coinage (Morrieson 1916, 138).

The “rare 6 pence” of Elizabeth I on Plate 1.56 speaks to the history of milled money recorded by the the proof pieces of Charles I on Plate 1.55. Elizabeth I undertook a recoinage in 1560, and she authorized Eloy Mestrelle (d. 1578) to produce coins on machinery he had recently installed in the Tower mint. Mestrelle milled moneys that complemented but did not exceed the production of hammered specimens. The efficiency of Mestrelle’s machine was officially tested in 1572 and found to be wanting; no more milled coins were officially produced in England until Nicholas Briot (1579–1646) began milling money for Charles I in the 1630s. The sixpence featured on Plate 1.56, however, marks a brief period when Mestrelle’s machine was reactivated. As D.G. Borden and I.D. Brown explain, Mestrelle’s

machinery remained in the Tower, and in 1574 and 1575 a series of very handsome sixpenny and threepenny patterns was struck. Little is known about the origin of these pieces. In style they are similar to some of the fine early mill pieces but the bust is much more flamboyant. It is difficult to believe that they were produced by Eloy who was out of favour and would not have had access to the die shop or his machinery. The portrait is similar to that used at this time on the semi-official Wickliffe and Humphrey pattern billon halfpenny. It is likely that Derek Anthony was responsible for both sets of dies and decided to test the abilities of the machinery that was now lying idle. (1983, 111)

Although Plate 1.56 shares Plate 1.55’s interests in pattern pieces and milled coinage, the coins here depicted—notably, not medals in the most technical sense—relate more directly to those featured on Plate 1.43: the third print in the four-part series that this print concludes. Vertue completed Plate 1.43 six years before he completed 1.56, but the latter extends the former’s focus on those English coins that were minted outside of England by featuring five additional Anglo-Gallic coins: the escu and half groat coined by Edward III, a groat and a half groat coined by Edward the Black Prince (denominated on the print as the Prince of Wales and the Prince of Aquitaine), and a Tournay groat coined by Henry VIII.

Plate 1.56 glosses as an intertext updating the “scheme made by” John Sharp, Archbishop of York (1645-1714), and published as Plates 1.37-1.38 (SAL Minutes I.252). For example, the note at the bottom of the “Table of Silver Coins” (Plate 1.37) attests that “Henry 8 coin’d money at Tournay;” Plate 1.43 as well as 1.56 each include a different example of this coin. Likewise, the note for the “Table of Gold Coins” (Plate 1.38) records that Edward the Black Prince “coin’d Gold in Aquitain,” and here on 1.56 we see two examples of this coinage: James West’s battered specimen of the “Half groat of Ed. Pr. Of Aquitain,” and his more pristine specimen of a “Groat of Ed. Pr. of Wales.”

In contrast to the seven coins on Plate 1.43, however, the thirteen coins on Plate 1.56 are not universally related by virtue of having been minted outside of England, as Edward VI’s pattern piece and Elizabeth I’s milled sixpence both show. This print does more, therefore, than simply acknowledge the exceptions that coins’ provenances introduced into Sharp’s schema. Two coins on the print—the half groat of Edward III and the angel of Henry VI, the former minted in France and the latter minted England—stand as the first of their kind to be minted. They suggest that Plate 1.56 may have been designed to function as a counterpart to the Tables of English Gold and Silver Coins (Plates 1.37-1.38) by illustrating the earliest known examples of coins documented by Sharp.

Genesis Specimens

Although Edward III’s half groat and Henry VI’s angel are the only two coins that obviously conform to Sharp’s taxonomy and chronology as examples of the first of their type to be minted, they establish a theme for the entire print; many of the other coins on Plate 1.56 are what we might describe as “genesis” specimens. Edward III’s quarter florin, for example, was the first gold coin to be minted in England since the Romans had left. Edward III’s escu, c. 1339, appears here as the earliest-known English coin to be issued abroad, backdating by three decades the international history of coinage that Plate 1.43 established; likewise, the Tournay groat of Henry VIII featured on this print antedates the one on Plate 1.43 by two years, and Elizabeth I’s sixpence similarly antedates Plate 1.55’s history of milled coins. The groat and half groat of Edward the Black Prince stand as silver counterparts completing the series of coins minted by that Prince which begins with the gold chaise and ryal on Plate 1.43. Henry VII’s quadruple noble, Henry VIII’s George noble, and Elizabeth I’s Portcullis crown all introduced new denominations. The “remarkable piece” of Edward VI stands as the first gold coin designed during that king’s reign. The sovereign of Elizabeth I was the first coin to feature a double-arched crown (Leake 1726, 73).

By extending and referring to the numismatic prints that Vertue had previously engraved for the SAL, Plate 1.56 situates its specimens in a dynamically developing network of texts and objects. By continuing to document the history of Anglo-Gallic coins, the print gestures to the ways in which coins were themselves movable things that could reflect, refract, and resist political or cultural contexts as well as narratives. Finally, by assembling unique objects dating from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century in the eighteenth-century present, the print manifests a historiography that embraces the varieties of temporal endurances, interruptions, returns, and revisions that often characterized antiquarian studies of the past.

New Discoveries and Growing Networks

Although the Metallographia Britannica never resulted in the omnibus publication the SAL once hoped it would, this print confirms that members of the SAL continued to make new discoveries as they attempted to produce a comprehensive history of English coinage. Likewise, Plate 1.56 suggests that numismatic research expanded the antiquaries’ networks of objects and collaborators in the first decades of the eighteenth century.

For example, when the SAL published Sharp’s “Table of Gold Coins” (Plate 1.38) in 1731, the antiquaries knew that Edward III had minted florins, but they seem not to have seen any specimens. In his Nummi Britannici Historia, Stephen Leake explains that William Camden (1551-1623) claimed that Edward III’s florins “did not differ much from some of the King’s Rose-Nobles in Weight, and whether they differ’d at all in the Impression,” Leake “[could]not tell” (1726, 24-25). Accordingly, Sharp’s “Table of Gold Coins” omits Edward III’s florin, and a note on Plate 1.38 declares that the first gold to be coined in England since the Romans had “[left] this Island [in] A.D. 446” was the noble issue by Edward III in 1345, the “eighteenth year of his reign.”

Unlike Sharp and in contrast to the note on Plate 1.38, Folkes distinguished Edward III’s florins from his nobles in his own Table of English Gold Coins (1736), and set the minting of the first gold coins in England in 1344: the year that the florins were issued. Almost certainly, Folkes had read descriptions of Edward III’s florins in Camden’s Remaines (1636) and John Stow’s Annals (1580); yet like Leake, he had also apparently never seen an example. In agreement with the details reported by Camden and Stow, Folkes remarked in the 1736 edition of his Table of English Gold Coins that the florins were “recalled” almost as soon as they were issued, “but if any of them shall hereafter be found, they will readily be known, by the type of two leopards upon the whole floren [sic], one leopard upon the half, and a helmet upon the quarter” (1). By the time the SAL published the posthumous, revised version of Folkes’s Tables of English Silver and Gold Coins in 1763-66, however, they could include Folkes’s own notes indicating that he had updated findings to report. “Since the publishing of this table in 1736,” he wrote, “the worthy and curious Brian Fairfax, esq. has found and procured the quarter-Floren of king Edward the third” (1763-66, 10). Folkes is referring to the coin that tops Plate 1.56.

Plate 1.56, therefore, documents the recent discovery of Edward III’s quarter-florin: the first gold coin to be minted in England since the Romans had ruled. The representations of an angel minted during the reign of Henry VI and “a Remarkable Piece of K. Edw. VI” likewise document new discoveries that the antiquaries had made. As the case was with Edward III’s florins, members of the SAL knew from various sources that Henry VI had issued angels, but they hadn’t seen any examples. In the 1736 edition of his Table of English Gold Coins, Folkes reports that an “indenture” was made to coin angels and angelets in the reign of Henry VI. He “[had] not as yet seen any of them,” however (1736, 4). The addenda that appeared in the final edition of Folkes’s Tables announced that Peter Sainthill (1696-1775) was the “first” to discover one of Henry VI’s angels, and Sainthill’s discovery is here engraved on Plate 1.56 (1763-66, 10).

Folkes also noted that “Mr. Sainthill has besides met with a gold coin of king Edward the sixth,” and Folkes “had never before either seen or heard of” this coin. After examining Sainthill’s specimen, Folkes declared that “it exactly resembles the half crown of the double rose of king Henry the eighth [sic], and weighs about 28 Troy grains” (1763-66, 10-11). Folkes is likely referring here to the “Remarkable Piece of K. Edw. VI” featured on Plate 1.56. Folkes may have heard about this “remarkable piece” from Sainthill who, like Folkes, was a member of the Royal Society, but Vertue identifies the coin as originating in the collection of Edward Harley, Earl of Oxford (1689-1741). It was “remarkable” primarily as the first gold coin known to be minted by Edward VI; when Edward VI ascended the throne, he continued to issue coinage under the name of his father and using his father’s iconography. The coin pictured on Plate 1.56 matches in design of Edward VI’s shilling, but the weight given for the coin—as well as a tinted version of the plate—confirm that it was probably a gold, not a silver, specimen. Notably, Vertue completed two preparatory drawings for this coin, experimenting with how best to convey its hefty weight and size. 

In addition to commemorating new findings that antiquaries had made regarding numismatic history, Plate 1.56 marks a widening network of contributors to the Society’s Metallographia Britannica project. Familiar collectors whose items appeared on previous numismatic prints appear here alongside a host of new contributors. Henrietta Louisa Fermor, the Countess of Pomfret (1698-1761) and Richard Mead (1673-1754) provided items for Plate 1.55, which also includes—as this print does—a specimen from the Harleian collection; James West (1703-1772) had previously supplied specimens for Plates 1.43 and 1.55. With Plate 1.43, three new numismatists provided items for the SAL to engrave: Hugh Howard (1678-1738), Brian Fairfax, the younger (1676-1749) and Henry Hare, third Baron Coleraine (1693-1749). Plate 1.56 includes additional items from their collections as well as items from two more new contributors to the Society’s research, Peter Sainthill and George Sawbridge (dates unknown). Remarkably, Edward III’s escu was preserved in the free-school at Southampton.

Joan Evans has shown that attendance at the Society’s meetings waned in the 1730s, and the number of objects that were brought in for consideration dwindled accordingly (1956, 92). Along with Plate 1.43, Plate 1.56 suggests that members of the SAL turned to personal relationships and correspondences in order to redress a lull in the Society’s institutional prestige. Perhaps the previously-published prints had helped the SAL to expand its network of contributors and collaborators by encouraging their viewers to take a second look at their own collections and to share details about the rarities therein.

Additionally, according to Evans, “medieval studies” in particular reached a “a low ebb” after 1730; “[t]he generation of the Saxonists was dead;” “[a] new relation between Church and State discouraged ecclesiastical polemics and with them the study of ecclesiastical history;” and with George II on the throne, “[t]he study of national history offered no hope of preferment or patronage, since it could hardly be turned to the glory of a German dynasty” (1956, 98). Medieval coinage, however, dominates Plate 1.56, suggesting that antiquaries continued to be intrigued by and to search for such antiquities. Anchored in the center of the print, Henry VIII’s “George Noble” may serve as a tacit appeal to George II, inviting him to take a personal interest in the history of the nation’s coinage. From near the top of the print, Edward III’s gold escu might similarly have appeased the Romanists among the Society’s ranks, standing as not only the first gold coin minted in England since the Romans had left the island but also as a coin that Bishop Tunstall (1474-1559) famously and conveniently declared to be “nearest to that of the antient Romans” in terms of the quality of its gold (Leake 1726, 28).

Numismatic Mathematics

Although Edward III’s “French Escu” and Henry VIII’s “George Noble” may have been included as a means of appealing, respectively, to the aesthetic and political sympathies of Plate 1.56’s skeptical viewers, both coins speak more directly to the print’s function as a history of fluctuations in coins’ valuation. As Tunstall’s comment about the affinities between Edward III’s escu and gold Roman coins attests, the history of coins was also a technical, mathematical history of alloys, weights, and exchanges. Whereas Edward III’s gold escu enjoyed the distinction of having adhered to a particularly high gold standard, Henry VIII’s noble was notorious for anticipating his so-called “Great Debasement.” Beginning in 1544, Henry VIII reduced the amount of gold as well as silver in his coins, earning himself the nickname “Old Coppernose.” When Henry VIII introduced the George noble as a new coin in 1526—which equaled 6s 8d as the old noble had done but weighed less and included less gold than the old noble—he undertook an early experiment in debasing his coinage (Munro 2011, 446).

In this regard, Plate 1.56 reflects Folkes’s numismatic hobbyhorse: coins’ weights and values. When Folkes returned from his grand tour, he read his “Dissertation on the Weights and Values of Ancient Coins” at a meeting of the SAL in 1733. Beginning with Edward III’s quarter florin at the very top, almost every coin on this print stands as a case study of the difficulty numismatists like Folkes encountered when trying to determine what old coins were worth based on their weight, metal, and relative value. Edward III’s florins were quickly removed from circulation because their gold was not up to snuff (Clancy 1992, 332). Minted in the Tower of London in April 1344, the florin’s overvaluation led just three months later to its exchange by bullion weight; in August 1344, the florins were withdrawn from circulation altogether, melted down, and replaced by the gold rose noble, so called because of the rose design on its obverse (Brooke, 1916, 106). Camden recorded the suspicion that the nobles issued shortly after the florins might have been similarly corrupted: “made by projection or multiplication Alchimicall” (1636, 187). Anxieties over the nobles’ value, however, were allayed by the third coinage of Edward III that occurred between 1346-51.

Folkes’s brief mentions of Edward III’s florins indicate that his interest in the coins was largely a matter of parsing what they were worth. In 1736, Folkes relied on sources such as Camden and Stow to report that the florins originally weighed “108 Troy grains” while the nobles that replaced them in the second coinage of 1344-46 clocked in at “136.7 grains” (1736, 1). In the revised, posthumous edition of Folkes’s Tables, it’s unclear whether or not Folkes had weighed Fairfax’s recently-discovered florin, but he had weighed another new discovery: a noble minted in the year 1347. Folkes compared that noble to one minted seven years later; both weighed less than the first-issued nobles but virtually the same as one another, indicating that the value of gold coinage had been settled and stabilized in Edward III’s third coinage (1763-66, 10).

As Folkes prepared his own tables for publication in the 1730s and 40s, he commissioned engravings from Vertue to serve as the tables’ illustrations. Several of the coins pictured on this plate were probably engraved specifically for Folkes’s project and therefore reflect his obsessions. In 1732, Vertue supplied Folkes with engravings of coins issued by Edward III; some of these may have been the basis for the coins of that king that appear on this plate (Pagan 2003, 159). Similarly, A. Mallison claims that the Elizabeth I sovereign—a rose-marked sovereign in crown gold, and likely a pattern piece—was “first published by Martin Folkes” in 1745, “in the plates which he caused to be prepared to illustrate” a revised edition of “the Tables of English Coins” (1933, 9-10). The sovereign in question is incredibly rare. Mallison discovered it in the Ashmolean Museum, where it had been catalogued by the antiquary Samuel Pegge (1704-1796). Mallison believed it to be the only coin of its kind in existence, although another example quickly surfaced in Christ Church (1933, 11; Sutherland 1934, 8-14).

Neither example of Elizabeth I’s sovereign perfectly conforms to the engraving that appears on Plate 1.56, but the engraving of the coin that Mallison attributes to Folkes and dates to 1745 corresponds exactly to the one here illustrated. Mallison attests that the 1745 engraving was “undoubtedly” based on “the actual coin in question,” yet he admits that there are two “discrepancies” between the engraving and the coin. The engraving “shows a faint-line inner circle quite close to the legend, traces of which are visible on the coin and are clearly the remains of a guide-line used by the die-sinker to keep the letters in a circle” (Mallison 1933, 10). This faint-line inner circle appears on the coin in Plate 1.56. Likewise, Mallison detects a “a senseless piece of punctuation in the middle of the abbreviation TRANS’. Making it read TRA * NS’”; “this,” Mallison declares, “is a mistake,” and it is a mistake that also occurs on Plate 1.56 (1933, 10).

Vertue may have been working with a variant of the sovereign that has since been lost, but Mallison’s findings suggest that Vertue engraved at least a few—perhaps, even, all—of the items featured on Plate 1.56 at Folkes’s behest. Folkes, however, does not seem to have shared Vertue’s enthusiasm for documenting coins’ designs; no engravings accompanied the editions of Folkes’s tables that he published in his own lifetime. In 1736, Browne Willis (1682-1760) complained about the lack of engravings in a letter to Folkes, perhaps leading him to renew his collaborative efforts with Vertue and spurring the completion of this print and Plate 1.55 in 1739 (Pagan 2003, 159). When the SAL published a new edition of Folkes’s Tables in 1763-66, Francis Perry (d. 1765) revised Vertue’s engravings and provided additional illustrations. Elizabeth I’s sovereign appears in that edition exactly as it does here in Plate 1.56: with the supposedly mistaken punctuation in the legend on its reverse (1763-66, Plate X.11).

Folkes does not say much about this seemingly singular sovereign of Elizabeth I, but he may have realized that it was a rare example of a sovereign valued at twenty shillings struck in crown gold by Elizabeth I during a period when it was thought that no such coins had been minted (Brown and Comber 1989, 92). As Brown and Comber explain, the example here pictured is “[c]ompletely different from any other normal currency piece” (109). Folkes knew that Elizabeth I had minted “sovereigns of crown gold at twenty shillings each” between 1558 and 1561, after which a pyx occurred and a recoinage commenced; the new coins were identified by new mint marks, and the twenty shilling crown gold sovereign was supposedly discontinued until it was revived in 1593 (1763-66, 7; Brown and Comber 1989, 93). Yet this sovereign bears the old rose mint mark, indicating its status as a piece of crown gold, and Folkes dates it himself to the year 1565 (1763-66, 148).

For nearly all of the coins listed in his tables, including the sovereign of Elizabeth I, Folkes provides data regarding their weight. Plate 1.56 documents the weight of only one specimen—the “remarkable Piece of K. Edw. VI”—but almost all of the coins on the print are notable as the first denominations of their kind to be introduced or as coins that mark shifts in the weights, alloys, or relative value that occurred in the history of England’s coinage.


With its overlapping interest in scarce coins, exceptions, and first-of-a-kinds, Plate 1.56 embodies a historical methodology that glints with aspects of what Michel Foucault, drawing on Frederich Nietzsche, characterizes as genealogy. Sharp’s tables (Plates 1.37-1.38) are conventionally genealogical. They map the history of coins onto royal succession, thereby suggesting that with each succeeding monarch’s reign, the quantity and variety of the nation’s money increased incrementally. As Foucault explains, however, genealogies do not necessarily produce histories that proceed inevitably from starting points that have predetermined the conditions of the present ([1971] 1977, 71-100). In contrast to the genealogy construed by Sharp’s tables, Plate 1.56 returns viewers repeatedly to multiple beginnings that unfurl into discrete historical threads without ever spooling into a grand narrative or explication of the whole.

By accommodating the numismatic overflow from Sharp’s tables, extending Plate 1.43’s history of English coins minted in France, antedating Plate 1.55’s history of milled money, and illustrating scarce specimens, new discoveries, and first-of-their kinds, Plate 1.56 emphasizes the genealogical nature of the numismatic research that members of the SAL conducted. In this print, the history of English coinage is heterogeneous and dynamic; coins’ designs and denominations originate and transform in different eras, places, and specimens. Plate 1.56 thereby reflects not only the complex history of the nation’s coinage but also the variety of historical information that the study of coins could produce.

Like the other prints of coins and medals in Vetusta Monumenta, this one underscores the aesthetic pleasures of numismatics. Vertue’s shading emphasizes the coins’ three-dimensionality, inviting viewers to imagine holding these “scarce” items in their hands; organized roughly in chronological order, the print invites its viewers to admire advancements in coins’ designs and production even as they may have considered coins’ ephemerality by confronting coins that were singular, had been withdrawn from circulation, or were never minted in large quantities. The half groat of Edward III reproduces the cartoonish simplicity of the king’s portrait on its obverse; the inscription of Edward the Black Prince’s Aquitain half groat is obviously worn down, and the stamp of its reverse appears offset; the edges of other coins are ragged.

Although Vertue conveys a pleasing narrative of progress by preserving aspects of the oldest’ coins’ material states, he also renders coins on this plate as he did on the others: as idealized versions of themselves. The portraits and the imagery on Plate 1.56 are, on the whole, forcefully and clearly struck and concordantly, they are striking. More than the other prints of coins and medals in Vetusta Monumenta, however, Plate 1.56 stages the technical as well as the affective contours not just of coins or medals themselves but of the research methods that their study demands. Folkes’s concern with coins’ weights and values—his efforts to systematize coins’ heft, alloys, and relative worth—signals the ways in which this print registers the difficulty of finding and categorizing so many small pieces of old metal and also of understanding and conveying their significance in the past and for the present.

While engaged with Folkes’s tables and tabulations, Plate 1.56 nevertheless appears to question whether or not a numismatic calculus could really transcend the disruptions and digressions that members of the SAL encountered in the course of trying to complete their Metallographia Britannica. Squared borders of sturdy, symmetrical bay leaves frame the other three prints in the series. Like Plate 1.55, however, Plate 1.56 features a partial and wispy border. At the top of the print, the border is a curious mixture of solid stony substance, fabric, vines, and feathery tresses. As the top border drops down the left- and right-hand side of the print, it curls and transforms into offshoots; sometimes, the border terminates and another begins where the previous one ended, or an additional border emerges suddenly from the background, its point of origin impossible to see. In this way, Vertue’s border mirrors the numismatic diversity and divergences that the print itself documents. The flowers crowded into the wreath that frames the label identifying this print as the fourth in the series look almost like mintmarks—roses, or fleur-de-lys, or acorns—that are hard to distinguish from one another; yet one more way, perhaps, that Vertue tried to symbolize the practical challenges as well as the pleasures of numismatic research.

At the bottom of the print, three feathers appear to lift up the “exportable piece” or silver Portcullis crown of Elizabeth I, which “was not really current English coin,” as Folkes explained; Portcullis money was coined exclusively for “the use of the East India merchants, to be exported by them in their trade” and it conformed, accordingly, “to the weights of the Spanish piastre” (1763-66, 61-63). The assorted histories encoded by the other coins on the print converge here at the bottom; the Portcullis crown circulated outside of England, it marked a new denomination, it was rare, and Vertue’s engraving would eventually make its way into Folkes’s Tables (1763-66, Plate XV.5). Elizabeth I’s Portcullis money constituted a failed experiment; merchants had continued to exchange Spanish silver. The three feathers seem to comment on the coin’s exportability and its lightness; although the coin was technically large and the eight testerns was the heaviest of the Portcullis moneys issued, the silver weighed less than that minted for English circulation following Elizabeth I’s restoration of Henry VIII’s debased coinage.

By complementing a large, heavy coin with three feathers, Vertue stages the print’s—and Folkes’s—overall concern with figuring the fluctuating value of coinage. Two crenelated lines extend outwards from the three feathers on the right and the left; these two lines echo the rumpled edges of the other old coins on the plate. These rumpled edges speak to the age of the coins and the technological progress made in the mint, but they also invoke the filing and clipping that debasements and revaluations accelerated and that recoinages often sought to redress; coins that had been clipped, filed, or worn would have inevitably compromised the accuracy of the weights that Folkes measured, making it difficult (often impossible) to verify precisely which coin corresponded to which coinage.

The crenelated lines that extend outward from the three feathers terminate by gripping two solid tendrils, one short and the other longer. The short tendrils swoop downward to the left and the right, sprouting short, plant-like offshoots; the longer tendrils swirl and curl, appearing alternately as stone, fabric, and feathers. On the far left and the right of the border, the longer tendrils terminate in solid spirals, and a version of the Society’s emblematic lamp (cf. Plate 1.1) sits atop those spirals on both the left- and the right-hand side of the print. Smoke from the lamps wafts a third of the way up the print, pointing towards Elizabeth I’s “rare” sixpence and Edward VI’s “remarkable” piece. These are the only two coins so described; “rare” and “remarkable” neatly encapsulate the print’s overall curatorial logic. “Rare” and “remarkable” likewise speak to Folkes’s pursuit of individual coins’ weights and relative values while also reminding viewers of the print that a numismatica mathematica would have to confront the same heterogeneity that compromised the Metallographia Britannica. Figured as the smoky light that wafts from the Society’s emblematic lamps, new discoveries and new schemas constitute new genealogies without superseding others in Plate 1.55; the lines of Vertue’s border return viewers repeatedly to the material heterogeneity of the coins assembled on the print.

By 1739, the Society’s Metallographia Britannica project must have felt like a case study in Zeno’s paradox; the more coins and medals that antiquaries discovered, the less likely it seemed that they would be able to produce a comprehensive catalogue or complete chronology of English coinage. The very bottom of the print, however, appears to welcome numismatics’ genealogical sprawl. The three feathers that lift the Portcullis crown also establish an inset frame; at the very bottom, a scalloped shell design with flowers like mint marks teeming in its curves seems to curl both inwards into the print and outwards towards the viewer; the left and right borders connect to the swirls on which the Society’s emblematic lamps sit. Just above the scalloped shell design, Vertue has placed the attributional label and the date of the print’s publication—but notably, there is ample space in between this label and the top of the inset frame where the three feathers float: as if the print were designed to accommodate future numismatic discoveries.

“Genealogy,” Foucault writes, can “identify the accidents, the minute deviations—or conversely, the complete reversals—the errors, the false appraisals, and the faulty calculations that gave birth to those things that continue to exist and to have value for us” ( [1971] 1977, 81). Plate 1.56 displays “minute deviations” from the numismatic histories charted by the other three plates in the four-part series, thereby highlighting as well as correcting “errors” and “false appraisals” that had characterized previous research on British coinage. In so doing, this print “disturbs what was previously considered immobile; it fragments what was thought unified; it shows the heterogeneity of what was imagined consistent with itself” (82).

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