Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments, a Digital Edition

Plates 1.37-1.38: Tables of English Coins

Plates: Engraved by George Vertue (1684-1756) in 1731 based on a “scheme made by” John Sharp, Archbishop of York (1645-1714) (SAL Minutes I.252). Plates 1.37 and 1.38 are numbers one and two, respectively, of a four-plate series that also includes an engraving of English coins struck in silver along with a gold seal of Pope Alexander IV (Plate 1.43) and an engraving of several gold and silver coins of English kings (Plate 1.56).

Objects: Two tables arranged vertically in ascending chronological order based on English monarchs with horizontal categorizations denoting types of coins, also arranged in ascending order based on value. The tables record which coins were produced in England during which monarchs’ reigns. Plate 1.37 represents the silver coins that were struck during each reign, including: pennies, half-pennies, farthings, groats, half-groats, three-pence, shillings, sixpence, crowns, and half-crowns. Plate 1.38 represents the gold coins that were struck during each reign, including: royals, half-royals, quarter-royals, double-royals, angels, half-angels, quarter-angels, crowns, half-crowns, sovereigns, half-sovereigns, quarter-sovereigns, guineas, half-guineas, double-guineas, five-pound pieces, and quarter-guineas. The minutes report that John Sharp designed the tables (SAL Minutes I.252)


Plate 1.37, Top: A Table of ENGLISH SILVER COINS. / N:o I.

Plate 1.37, Table Rows:
Began in Reign. / Succession of Kings from the Conquest.
1066 William I. Duke of Normandy.
1087 William II. his second Son.
1100 Henry I. the Youngest Son to William I.
1135 Stephen. Grandson to William I. by a Daughter.
1155 Henry II. Grandson to Hen; I. by Maud ye Empress.
1189 Richard I. his eldest Son.
1199 John. Richard’s Brother.
1216 Henry III. Son of John.
1272 Edward I. Son of Henry III.
1307 Edward II. Son of the First.
1327 Edward III. Son of the Second.
1377 Richard the IId. Son of the black Prince.
1399 Henry IV. of the House of Lancaster.
1412 Henry V. Son of Henry the Fourth.
1422 Henry VI. Son of Henry the Fifth.
1460 Edward IV. of the House of York.
1483 Edward V. Son of Edward Fourth, never croun’d.
1483 Richard III. Brother of Edward the Fourth.
1485 Henry VII. Union of the Roses.
1509 Henry VIII. Son of Henry the Seventh.
1547 Edward VI. Son of Henry the Eight.
1553 Mary Sister to Edward the Sixth.
1558 Elizabeth Daughter to Hen: 8 by A Bullen.
1602 James I. Union of the Kingdoms.
1625 Charles I. Son of James the First.
1648 Charles II. Son of Charles the First.
1684 James II. Brother of Charles ye Second.
1688 William III. & Mary II. the Revolution.
1694 William, alone.
1701 Anne. Daughter of James II.
1714 George I. Elector of Hannover.
1727 George II. Son of George the First.

Plate 1.37, Table Columns:
Half Groats.
Three Pence.
Six Pence.
Half Crowns.

Plate 1.37, Bottom: N.B. Eustace Son of Stephen coined pennys.__ Henry Son of Henry 2d coined Pennys. King John coin’d peñy, half peñy & farthings in Ireland.__the following Kings coin’d money there. (till K. Charles, 1st_) the Black Prince Son of Edw,d III. coin’d Peñys.__ Henry 6 coin’d silver pieces of money at Paris.__ Henry 8 coin’d money at Tournay.__ Q. Eliz. coin’d 3 half peñy & 3 farthing peices.__King Cha. coin’d 20.s. & 10.s. peices.__CommonWealth coin’d ½ penny, peñy, 2 peñy, 3 peny, Groats, 6 penys shillings ½ Crown & Crowns.__ Oliver Cromwel 6 peñys shillings, 1 Crowns, & Crown peices. / Sumptibus Societatis Antiquariӕ Lond.

Plate 1.38, Top: A Table of ENGLISH GOLD COINS. / N.o II.

Plate 1.38, Table, Top Left: OF SAXON GOLD COINS. / One or two pieces have been discover’d (only) therefore it’s concluded there has been little or no Gold Coin’d from the Romans leaving this Island A.D. 446 to the 18 of King Edw.d 3.d

Plate 1.38, Table Rows:
First GOLD Coines.
Richard II.
Henry IV.
Henry V.
Henry VI.
Edward IV.
Edward V.
Richard III.
Henry VII.
Henry VIII.
Edward VI.
James I.
Charles I.
Charles II.
James II.
W. m & Mary.
William, alone
George I.
George II.

Plate 1.38, Table Columns:
Rose-nobles, or Rials
Half Rose-nobles, or half Rials
Quarter Rose-nobles, or Quarter Rials
Double Rials
Angelets, or half Angels
Quarter Angels
Crowns of Gold
Half Crowns of Gold
Sovereigns call’d Broad-Peices
Half Sovereigns
Quarter Sovereigns
Half Guineas
Double Guineas
Five Pound Peices
Quarter Guineas.

Plate 1.38, Bottom: N.B. The Black Prince coin’d Gold in Aquitain.__ Henry 6. coin’d half & whole Salutes at Paris.__ Charles 1;st coin’d 3 pounds or three broad peices at Oxford.__ Com̃on-Wealth coin’d, 5.s. 10.s. & 20 Shilling peices. O. Cromwell coin’d twenty Shillings milled pieces._K. William coin’d Pistoles & half Pistoles, call’d Darien money. / Sumptibus Societatis Antiquariӕ Lond.

Commentary by Crystal B. Lake and David Shields: Plates 1.37 and 1.38—along with their companions, Plates 1.43 and 1.56—exemplify the efforts of the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) to develop a Metallographia Britannica: a comprehensive history of English coins and money. “Antient coins” appear first on the list of items singled out for study by Humfrey Wanley (1672-1726) when the antiquaries revived their meetings in 1707, but the interest that members of the SAL took in coins was unexceptional (Evans 1956, 36). On the one hand, coins had intrigued antiquaries since the Renaissance, and there was already a robust body of work on numismatics to be consulted by the eighteenth century numismatist (Haskell 1993, 13-25). On the other hand, the Society’s meetings, which were hosted weekly at the Mitre tavern, must have inevitably privileged the examination of portable artifacts. Coins were regularly discovered throughout the period and appreciated for their ability to speak to a range of antiquarian concerns. As Rosemary Sweet explains, coins “were a valuable supplement to texts: an image could convey information much more rapidly and immediately than could be done through words” (2004, 14). Likewise, coins “illustrated customs such as sacrifices and triumphs, matters upon which written sources were largely silent” (Sweet 2004, 14). Finally, coins “had stronger claims to authenticity than written texts, which were more easily forged, and generated in partisan circumstances” (Sweet 2004, 14).

The Metallographia Britannica project was officially launched in January 1721/2 when it was proposed at one of the Society’s meetings that “it would be much for the honour of the Kingdom, particularly of the Society, to attempt a Compleat Description and History of all the Coyns relating to Great Britain from the Earliest times to our own” (SAL Minutes I.52). To that end, members of the SAL apportioned the work that was to be done amongst themselves. William Stukeley (1687-1765) was tasked with researching the history of British coins, starting with those in Sir Hans Sloan’s cabinet; George Holmes (1662-1749) was to examine the Saxon coins in James Hill’s collection, and Hill was to inspect Lord Harley’s collections of the same. Roger Gale (1672-1744) was assigned to investigate Roman coins, and Samuel Gale (1682-1754) was made responsible for Danish coins (Evans 1956, 72). Hill brought Roman coins to the next meeting and then, shortly thereafter, a haul of English coins (SAL Minutes I.54). Peter Le Neve also showed an impression of a British gold coin in February 1722, and Roger Gale “brought some earthen baked Molds for counterfeiting Roman Coyn [sic] found at Addlemore near Leeds” (SAL Minutes I.55). In March, Holmes showed two gold and two silver British coins, and Roger Gale reported the news that some Roman coins had recently been discovered in Norfolk (SAL Minutes I.57-58). The SAL purchased twenty-two coins in February and an entire collection in March 1722 (SAL Minutes 1.55, I.58). Although members of the SAL regularly brought coins as well as seventeenth-century numismatic treatises to meetings in the ensuing weeks, months, and years, work on their Metallographia Britannica stalled; it was never finished.

The fits and starts of the Society’s progress on a Metallographia Britannica illustrate the ways in which, throughout the long eighteenth century, numismatic studies entailed problems of both abundance and scarcity. On the one hand, old coins existed in large quantities; the difficulty of identifying, comparing, and classifying so many small and various objects should not be underestimated. On the other hand, breaks in the chronological sequences of numismatic cabinets became difficult problems to solve when previously unknown coins, as well as counterfeits, were discovered. Plates 1.37 and 1.38 reflect the antiquaries’ attempts to impose order on what constantly threatened to become an unruly field of historical inquiry, while the other two plates in the series—1.43 and 1.56—give freer rein to the digressive facets of numismatic research.

Not only did coins present logistical challenges to antiquaries’ attempts to arrange them into some kind of order, members of the SAL also had other areas of interest they were keen to pursue in the 1720s. For example, Plates 1.6 and 1.7 (which depict the ruins of Walsingham Abbey and Waltham Cross, respectively) along with Plate 1.8 (which depicts a map of the Roman site, “Verulamium,” in Herefordshire) exemplify the antiquaries’ ongoing interests in architectural ruins, historical monuments, and sites of excavation. Thomas Hearne famously carped about the variety of piecemeal interests that the Society’s prints appeared to belie in the 1720s (Evans 1956, 70). As Sweet’s discussion of coins suggests, however, numismatic studies complemented antiquaries’ eclectic interests. In his famous treatise first published in 1697, Numismata, John Evelyn (1620-1706) described coins as the most “vocal” of antiquities (1697, 1). By this, Evelyn meant several things. Firstly, coins were thought to be the most reliable antiquities because of their metallic durability, which allowed them to outlast and supplant other documentary evidence. Secondly, coins’ dates and inscriptions allowed them to be plotted in historical sequences and were used to establish chronological orders. Thirdly, antiquaries like Evelyn appreciated coins as pictorial snapshots from the past. Coins’ depictions of monuments, historical dress, and symbolical objects as well as their inscriptions meant that they could be consulted in the service of a variety of historical inquiries. Antiquaries throughout the long eighteenth century, therefore, consulted coins in the course of developing histories of architecture, fashion, and literature, among other subjects.

Plate 1.8 implicitly acknowledges the importance of coins for antiquarian research writ large by marking several sites in Verulamium where urns of coins had been discovered. At the same time, however, plates like 1.7 and 1.8 not only reflect Stukeley’s interests in different kinds of antiquities but also suggest, perhaps, that his enthusiasm for identifying the qualities that British antiquities shared with Greco-Roman antiquities introduced another snag into the Metallographia Britannica project. When Stukeley presented his findings regarding British coins in May 1722, he notably delivered to the SAL drawings of a “great number of British coyns” and declared that those drawings illustrated their “great Conformity with the old Greek and Punic” (quoted in Evans 1956, 72). Although many antiquaries were eager to trace affinities between British and classical antiquities, many also recognized that “framing” their objects of study to a prebaked “hypothesis” could compromise the scientific accuracy of their historical research, as John Aubrey put it in the seventeenth century when he censured Inigo Jones’s claims that Stonehenge was undoubtedly a Vitruvian specimen of Roman architecture ([1665-1693] 1981, 1.19-20). With regards to coins, especially, neoclassical tastes risked sidelining investigations into early British specimens which even their most ardent collectors could admit were “barbarous” (Folkes 1736, 5).

Following Stukeley’s presentation to the SAL of his sketches aligning British coins with classical counterparts, nothing more was explicitly said about the Metallographia Britannia for two years, although members continued to examine coins and consult numismatic treatises from the previous century. When he became president of the SAL in 1724, Algernon Seymour, Lord Hertford (1684-1750), revived the Metallographia Britannia project. The minutes from 1 April 1724 record that “[b]y the President’s recommendation, the Society resum’d the consideration of collecting all the legends and accounts of Coyns that relate to Britain from the earliest ages to the present, in order to describe an Exact Metallographia Brittannica” (SAL Minutes I.112).

Members of the SAL formally assembled themselves into five committees that would focus on the history of British, Roman, Saxon, Danish, and English coins following the conquest, respectively. Heneage Finch, styled Lord Winchilsea, and Stukeley were appointed to study British coins; Roger Gale and Robert Ainsworth, Roman coins; Wanley, the Saxon; Samuel Gale, the Danish; and Lord Hertford, Peter Le Neve, William Nicholas, and one “Mr. Crayke” were assigned to study the English coins. The “first names” of each committee were to gather “all the information that can be had, the drawings & descriptions of all the coyne [sic] under [each] class” (SAL Minutes I.112). Meanwhile, the other members of the committees were “to communicate what comes in [their] way of any class” (I.112). Then, “from time to time,” the Society’s secretary was to collect reports on the committees’ numismatic discoveries, “together with what descriptions or historical matters appertain to them” (I.112). Finally, “when the work [was] judg’d complete,” the SAL aimed to publish the Metallographia along with images of the coins “handsomely engraven by the best hands” (I.112).

Later that month, an unsigned letter was sent to the SAL arguing that the best method for developing a Metallographia Britannica was one that started by cataloguing known numismatic collections in London and its vicinity—perhaps reminding the SAL of work that had already been undertaken for the project and indicating that numismatists were aware, and wary, that a comprehensive history of English coinage constituted an ambitious, daunting project (Evans 1956, 72). It isn’t clear whether the letter-writer’s advice was heeded, but coins of all kinds continued to be presented at nearly every meeting the SAL held for the next several years, and George Vertue was always at the ready to engrave them. Following the April decision to revive the Metallographia Britannica, Vertue brought in drawings of coins from the reigns of William and Mary and James II for members to take a look at the next week (SAL Minutes I.115).

In June 1724, Maurice Johnson (1688-1755) returned to the SAL bearing “some Collections he has made towards our Metallographia Brittanica, for which he had the thanks of the Society, and was desired to continue them” (SAL Minutes I.124). Coins continued to be shown at meetings, and Vertue himself brought in an increasing number of coins, almost all of which were British or English specimens. In April 1725, for example, the minutes record that Vertue brought more than a dozen such coins to one of the Society’s meetings (156). He brought in yet more coins in May and September, and again in January 1726 (159, 172, 181). The Society’s enthusiasm for numismatics, however, appeared to wane shortly thereafter, likely as a result of the controversy that erupted over Stukeley’s method of handling the minute books (Evans 1956, 76). It waxed again in the late winter and early spring of 1728 while the SAL continued under the leadership of Lord Hertford and held their meetings in the somber private rooms of Colonel Floyer in Gray’s Inn (Evans 1956, 82). Vertue showed a few more coins that season (SAL Minutes I.220), while Sir John Evelyn (1682-1763)—grandson of the famed author of Numismata (cited above)—began attending the Society’s meetings and exhibited three separate collections of gold coins.

No more mention was made, however, of the Metallographia Britannica; enthusiasm for participating in the SAL and its meetings, which were moved to private rooms in Gray’s Inn in 1725, wilted (Evans 1956, 82). Although hardly a meeting of the SAL went by without a coin to look at between 1722 and 1731, the year that Plates 1.37 and 1.38 were commissioned, the coins displayed were a hodgepodge. There were Roman, Greek, and Saxon as well as British, English, and Scottish coins brought in for examination, and Stukeley picked up the hobbyhorse he would ride for decades about the coins of the Roman Emperor Carausius (d. 293), before he rode out of town, chagrined by the Society’s squabbling over the minute books (Piggott 1985, 139). The minutes that Stukeley kept demonstrate a marked expansion in the number and chronological range of English coins exhibited at the Society’s meetings. Wanley’s 1707 directive for the SAL had explicitly declared that “by the subject of Antiquities and History of Great Britain, we understand only such things as shall precede the Raign [sic] of James the first King of England,” but by 1722, the SAL had begun to investigate more contemporary objects, including contemporary coins (quoted in Evans 1956, 36). Medals, too, were often considered at the Society’s meetings, as reflected by the development of Plate 1.20, which began with the engraving of Elizabeth I’s Phoenix Jewel and the Armada medals in 1725, then grew in 1727 to accommodate the 1547 Coronation medal of Edward VI and the 1604 medal commemorating the Peace with Spain brokered by James I in 1727, before finally concluding with the addition in 1731 of Browne Willis’s (1682-1760) fine specimen of a silver crown minted during the reign of Henry VIII.

Plates 1.37 and 1.38 likely reflect Willis’s increasing attendance, along with that of Johnson again, at the Society’s meetings once its members resumed gathering at the Mitre in 1729. On 26 November 1730, “Mr. West brought” to the meeting “a Scheme made by Sharp Abp of York of the Gold & Silver Coins of England whereby at one View is seen What Coins were struck by Each Prince with Critical Notes Illustrating the History of the said Coins. which Mr. Roger Gale proposed might be engraven” (SAL Minutes I.252). The antiquaries appear at this point to take advantage of James West’s (1703-1772) presentation to take stock of the coins they had seen in the years since the Metallographia Britannica was first proposed. The following July, “[i]t was by Ballot ordered that the Table of the Coins produced by Mr. West be engraven by Mr. Vertue” (273). Vertue had proofs of the tables in hand by 27 February 1732 (283).

The schema of John Sharp was not, in and of itself, a remarkable discovery. Sharp’s own numismatic research, which he pursued ardently but primarily as a hobby, was well known to antiquaries. In 1697, the same year that Evelyn’s Numismata appeared, Sharp prepared a treatise on English gold and silver coins. He shared his treatise with William Nicolson who made extensive reference to it in his Historical Library (1696-1699), the whole of which was dedicated to Sharp. Sharp’s treatise was addressed to Ralph Thoresby, to whom Sharp also willed his own collection of coins (Till 2004). Parts of Sharp’s treatise were eventually published in John Ives’s Select Papers Chiefly Relating to English Antiquities (1773) and in volume 6 of John Nichols’s Bibliotheca Topographica Britannica (1780-1800), but a manuscript copy could be found in the Harleian collection (Harl. MS 4119). This is probably the origin of Plates 1.37 and 1.38 of Vetusta Monumenta; in the Harleian, Sharp’s tables may have been known to Vertue, who frequently worked for Lord Oxford in the 1720s and 30s; Sharp’s manuscript would also have been available to Wanley, Harley’s librarian until his death in 1726, as well as to West. West’s relationship with Harley’s collections can be detected in the history of Plates 1.66-1.68, and West would notably go on to broker the sale of the Harleian manuscripts to the state in 1753 (see also Harris 1989).

Plates 1.37 and 1.38, therefore, exemplify the ongoing efforts evinced elsewhere in Vetusta Monumenta (see Plates 1.28-1.33, 1.45, and 1.66-1.68, for example) to preserve a history of antiquarianism—in this case, Sharp’s numismatic researches. They also reflect what must surely have been the welcome simplicity of Sharp’s seventeenth-century schema: a basic tallying of which kinds of silver coins (Plate 1.37) and gold coins (Plate 1.38) were minted during the reigns of England’s monarchs, organized chronologically. Plate 1.37 records that only silver pennies were minted beginning in the reign of William I until the reign of Edward I, when half-pennies and farthings were introduced. The table proceeds in a similar manner, charting the addition of groats, half-groats, three pence, six pence, crowns, and half-crowns. Likewise, Plate 1.38 marks the introduction of gold royals, half royals, and quarter royals in the reign of Edward III, followed by the production of double royals, angels, and half angels in Henry VI, and so on through quarter-angels, crowns, half-crowns, sovereigns, half-sovereigns, quarter-sovereigns, guineas, and half-guineas.

Although Plates 1.37 and 1.38 reproduce Sharp’s schema, they also update Sharp’s findings by incorporating various examples of coins that the antiquaries had seen in the years following their decision to begin the Metallographia Britannica project. Sharp, for example, reported that Edward VI was the first monarch to mint a crown, but as illustrated by the 1731 addition of Willis’s own crown of Henry VIII to Plate 1.20—the antiquaries knew that Sharp was here in error (Nichols 1780-1790, 6.6). Plate 1.37, accordingly, marks the silver crown as originating in the reign of Henry VIII and not in that of Edward VI. Likewise, where Sharp maintained that Henry VIII first minted sovereigns as debased gold coins, Plate 1.38 shows that the antiquaries had determined that sovereigns were first minted in the reign of Edward VI instead (Nichols 1780-90, 6.36).

Both plates contain additional text that accommodates what we might describe as outlier cases. In so doing, they preserve as well as update Sharp’s findings and anticipate Plates 1.43 and 1.56, the other two plates in the four-plate series, which depict coins that presented special difficulties for the numismatist and were therefore not readily accommodated by the tables represented on 1.37 and 1.38. Plate 1.37 gestures to these outlier cases, for example, by quickly listing at the bottom the various claimants to the throne who also minted money, the various locations outside of England where monarchs had money minted, and the coins minted during the Commonwealth. Plate 1.38 briefly documents, at the top, the various gold Saxon coins that the antiquaries had discovered and, at the bottom, the gold coins that were minted outside of England, the gold money issued during the Commonwealth, and the “Darien money”—the last gold money to be minted in Scotland—issued by King William in 1701.

As these supplementary notes to the streamlined tables on 1.37 and 1.38 show, numismatic research could sprawl and digress, problematizing the practicalities as well as the ideologies of a project like the Metallographia Britannica. Almost as soon as they were produced, the tables on Plates 1.37 and 1.38 were shown to be in error; just a year after the plates were published, Willis wrote to the SAL about errors in them. Regarding Plate 1.37, Willis pointed out that neither Henry VII nor Edward VI coined halfpence or farthings. Willis would go on to publish his own corrected Table of Gold Coins of Kings of England in 1733. Meanwhile, Martin Folkes (1690-1754) took an increasing interest in the activities of the SAL in 1735, following his return from an extended tour of Europe that he took after having lost his bid for the presidency of the Royal Society in 1727 (Haycock 2008). In January of 1735/6, Folkes read a dissertation he had written on the “Weights & Values of the Antient Coins,” at a meeting of the SAL. Folkes followed up by publishing his own tables of English silver and gold coins later that year, which updated Plates 1.37 and 1.38.

In 1744, the SAL agreed to help Folkes produce a project not unlike the Metallographia Britannica by promising to pay for the engravings; Stukeley, reportedly, spoke out against this plan (Evans 1956, 95). Folkes revised his tables again in 1745 and showed the SAL some drafts of material he was preparing for his omnibus publication, but nothing materialized before Folkes’s death in 1754. Evans explains that the Society’s involvement with Folkes’s numismatics turned out to be a “bad bargain”; the plates related to the history of English coins would finally be published in 1763, but the SAL never managed to produce the kind of comprehensive Metallographia Britannica it had once envisioned (1956, 96).

Although the tables on Plates 1.37 and 1.38 were obsolete almost as soon as they were published, their format preserved the important role that coins as well as medals played as a memoria technica in the study of history throughout the long eighteenth century. The chronological arrangement of coins under the names of the succeeding monarchs who minted them in Plates 1.37 and 1.38 was entirely conventional. Coins, with their prominent depiction of the heads of rulers, were used as devices for memorizing both the lines of succession and the most important historical events that occurred during each ruler’s reign. Coins could also offer moral lessons by standing as pictorial and material reminders of the various character-traits that each of the nation’s monarchs possessed—traits that were to be admired as well as spurned. In this way, however, a survey of English coins could also quickly manifest historical continuities as well as ruptures between the groats of the antiquarian past and the pounds sterling of the present.

Plates 1.37 and 1.38 gesture to these ruptures but ultimately preserve a sense of order, perhaps so as to allow Plates 1.43 and 1.56—and then 1.55, which is not part of the series—to roam into more experimental, unconventional numismatic territory. Narratives of nationhood as well as Britain’s imperial prowess are vexed, but not toppled, by the plates’ supplementary text noting those coins that were minted outside of England. Interruptions and conflicts in the monarchical succession that the tables codify are marked—without disturbing the succession—by the presence of would-be usurpers and the Commonwealth or interregnum in the notes below. Plates 1.37 and 1.38 would have been especially useful for amateur numismatists, those coin collectors who were eager to spend their own money on establishing a cabinet of coins for themselves. At a glance, Plates 1.37 and 1.38 would have allowed a basic collection to be easily arranged into chronological sequence, thereby prioritizing the coins’ mnemonic function as, primarily, a rehearsal of monarchical succession: another quiet but steady narrative for the nation. Likewise, Plates 1.37 and 1.38 would have offered some assurances when purchasing coins for a collection; beware the coin dealer who claims to have a silver crown of Henry VII and a bridge they’d like to sell you.

The specters of counterfeit coins and unstable valuations, however, also haunt these plates, which were notably published after high-profile financial scandals like the South Sea Bubble and anxieties over credit that characterized England’s new nation of shopkeepers, stockjobbers, and merchants. Sharp wrote his treatise in 1697 following William III’s attempt to redress the widespread problem of clipping and counterfeiting, also noted in Evelyn’s Numismata, with a “great recoinage” in 1696; accordingly, Sharp was at pains to explain the absolute and relative value of coins’ metal (see also Plate 1.69).

Sharp begins, for example, by explaining that Henry VIII debased the gold standard from “twenty-three carats three grains and a half fine gold, and half a grain allay” (called “angel gold”) to “twenty-two carats fine, and two carats allay” (called “crown gold”), except for rose nobles and angels, which Henry VIII kept at the old standard, and sovereigns as well as half sovereigns, which he minted according to a different standard: “twenty carats fine, and four carats allay” (Nichols 1780-90, 6.32). This most debased standard was quickly tossed aside, however, and rose nobles as well as angels continued to be minted to the old standard of “angel gold” while all other gold money was minted to the “crown gold” standard—that is, until Charles II started minting money, adopting wholesale the “crown gold” standard. Similarly, whereas the relationship between gold and silver was, during ancient times, set at 10:1, it was set at 12:1 from the reign of Edward I until Elizabeth, Sharp explains; the relationship between the two metals’ worth stayed the same (Nichols 1780-90, 6.33). When one rose in value, so did the other. Elizabeth I, however, raised the value of silver more than she did the value of gold, and since then, the value of gold had risen more than the value of silver.

Sharp sums up the question of what an old coin is really worth this way:

At this time the proportion between gold as silver, as to the value of them, stands thus: One pound weight of crown-gold, reckoning guineas at two shillings apiece (as they are coined to go for no more), is equal to fourteen pound weight of silver, and three parts of a pound, and sixpence over: but reckoning guineas at twenty-two shillings apiece, a pound of this gold is equal to three quarters of a pound, and some thing more. But now, at this rate, a pound of gold of the old standard, after the proportion of twenty shillings apiece for guineas, is equal to fifteen pounds and a half of silver wanting one shilling. But if we reckon guineas as they now go, at twenty-two shillings apiece, then a pound of the old gold is equal to seventeen pounds of silver and two shillings over. So that the value of gold, as it is now current among us, is raised above one third part more than what it was in queen Elizabeth’s reign; whereas silver stands at the same pitch it did then. Let those that are able make their reflections upon this. (quoted in Nichols 1780-90, 6.33)

Plates 1.37 and 1.38 symbolically stabilize coins’ value by prioritizing their historical over their monetary worth. In this way, Plates 1.37 and 1.38 erase as much as they preserve Sharp’s numismatic research, but they also appear to function as a rejoinder to those critics of antiquarianism who beat a common refrain of mocking their fascination with old coins, the monetary value of which was uncertain. As they appear in Vetusta Monumenta, Sharp's tables give numismatists some relief insofar as they do not attempt to parse the monetary worth of old coins. Rather, they simply chart which coins originated in which reigns, thereby promoting a reassuring and generalized narrative of economic progress. In these charts, England appears to get wealthier over time simply by virtue of the fact that more types of coins issue forth from the nation’s mint. Similarly, the symbolic valuation of coins for their ability to preserve and disseminate historical facts as well as lessons in moral virtue via their depictions of the faces of monarchs—a fraught ideological project when the virtues of the monarchs in question proved questionable—would find fuller expression elsewhere; Vertue would lavish more attention on the faces and characters of kings and queens in Plate 1.55, for example, as well as in a project he would shortly begin with the Knapton brothers: the Heads of the Kings of England (1733-36). Here, however, in Plates 1.37-1.38, the coins minted by England’s monarchs are named and tabulated rather than visualized. Vertue’s straight, spacious tables are enclosed by a border of bay leaves growing one on top of the other in sturdy, undulating symmetry. The lead border is itself enclosed by a narrow, clean-hatched edge that invokes a coin’s perfectly-milled rim—no clipping, no corrosion, no corruption, no confusion touches these tables of coins.

Works Cited: 

Aubrey, John. (1665-1693) 1981. Monumenta Britannica, edited by J. Fowles and R. Legg. 3 vols. Boston: Little Brown.

Evans, Joan. 1956. A History of the Society of Antiquaries. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Evelyn, John. 1697. Numismata: A Discourse of Medals, Ancient and Modern. London: Benj. Tooke.

Folkes, Martin. 1736. A Table of English Gold Coins. London: The Society of Antiquaries.

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