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Earliest Dated English Coin

The Earliest Dated English Coin

The earliest dated coin in the name of an English monarch is the Tournai gros or groat struck by Henry VIII subsequent to his capture of the town in September 1513. Snelling1  gives the date as the 21st , Ruding2 the 23rd. Tournai is a small town in present day Belgium, but was in French hands in the early part of the 16th century. It remained under English control until October 1518 when an Anglo-French treaty provided for the return of Tournai to France on the payment of 400000 crowns1 , though quotes the sum as 600000 crowns. 

The Coins
Snelling illustrates the coin below in the section devoted to "Coins struck by the English Princes in France from Henry IV to Henry VIII” pl. 2 no.26 (1769). The notes in this section record that there were only two known, one in the cabinet of the Duke of Devonshire and another formerly held by themselves and now in the collection of Mr Benjamin Bartlett. The illustration in Snelling shows that Brady 290 was not the same coin as the one depicted because the areas of weakness do not match.

Another reference is in Ruding (3rd ed. 1840) Supplement pt.2 pl. XII no.9.

It is clear that the picture is of a very good approximation to Brady 290 having a similar profile, and given the Snelling coin is completely different in shape and indicated areas of weakness, the chances of 2 similarly irregular pieces is remote. 
Brady 290

From Ruding onwards, all literature concerned with this issue suggests that there are a total of 3 known examples. The implication is that the third example came to light during the 19th century.  

To quote Ruding (3rd ed. 1840) on p.vii of the preface. “Of the Plates which illustrate these volumes, it need be said only, that the first 33 were engraven under the inspection of Taylor Combe Esq., Medallist in the British Museum, whose knowledge of the subject, and accuracy of eye, are so universally acknowledged; - that for the use of the following 67 plates I am indebted to the liberality of the Society of Antiquaries; - that Dr. Charles Combe obligingly favoured me with the first plate of the second Part of the Supplement; - that the eight succeeding ones have been added by me, from the best materials that I had the power to procure; - and that to the wish of my highly-respected and most deeply-lamented friend, Barre Charles Roberts, Esq., kindly seconded in the most liberal manner by his father, whom I am proud likewise to call my friend, I owe the four Plates of Anglo-Gallic Coins.”

p.xv of the preface; “An inspection of the Supplemental Plates will show my obligations to my much-regretted friend Barre Charles Roberts, Esq.; for the very liberal manner in which he laid open to me the treasures of his extensive cabinet of English Money, and for the engravings which by his express desire have been presented to this work.”

As the credit for the Anglo-Gallic plates are given to Roberts and we know that Roberts eventually acquired the Bartlett coin, it therefore seems conclusive that the illustration in Ruding is his coin. This is further supported by material in the British Museum where Taylor-Combe’s catalogue of the BM’s Anglo-Gallic coins3 lists a specimen ex Snelling, Bartlett, Hodsoll, Tyssen and Roberts. When it ceased to be held by the BM it not known at present, but it is highly likely that it was disposed of after 1915 when they acquired the best known example from J P Morgan’s son. Previous policy was that the BM would exchange their inferior examples of duplicated coins for pieces held by collectors that were not in the National Collection. Unfortunately, there do not appear to be records of what pieces were disposed of and to whom.

The provenance of this coin can now be given as follows.

With Snelling some time prior to 1769
Benjamin Bartlett, collection sold Gerard 25/4/1787
Edward Hodsoll, collection bought by Tyssen in the late 1700s
Samuel Tyssen 3087, Sotheby 12/4/1802. Bought by Young £11/11/- for
Barrè Charles Roberts, collection purchased by the British Museum in 1810.
Sold/Exchanged by the BM after 1915, exact date unknown.
Glendining 8/7/1970 lot 59 ‘Philippi’(?)
SNC 5/1990 no.2521
Frank Brady 290, Spink 209, 6/10/2011, £22000 + premium
Geoffrey Cope

This coin weighs 3.38g and was noted by Hoc3 as being with Baldwin (no.205). It is not known whether this was prior to or after the Glendining sale in July of that year, but does raise questions regarding the sale name. Usually, sales are attributable to an individual, so the single element name raises the suspicion that the 59 Anglo-Gallic pieces in this sale were in fact put together by Baldwin or another dealer. Individual collectors will regularly maintain details of provenance as this is helpful when selling, though this is not invariably the case. The almost entire absence of any provenances for the coin reinforces this viewpoint. Only lot 1, which has a provenance of ex-Glens 29/11/1967 and lot 59 (this coin) with a provenance of Boyne (1896), Morrieson (1933), Shepherd, Montagu, Murdoch and Dr. Carter collections have any former ownerships noted. In the case of the last coin, 5 of the 6 can be shown to be wrong, whilst the Carter provenance remains unproven. Chronologically Dr. Carter is an option and as his collection was acquired by Baldwin in 1950 provides a possible link to the 1970 sale, but with the other five names clearly wrong it would be inadvisable to quote this as correct. Boyne did not have an example in his sale catalogue, and in any case is recorded as dying in Florence in 18934. His collection was sold at Sotheby in February 1896. Montagu died in 1895 and his collection sold over the next two years. Clearly, neither could have acquired the coin from the other. Morrieson did not have an example of this type, being restricted to the normal portrait type with the crowned T mark. Shepherd, Montagu and Murdoch is a sequential provenance, but for one of the other coins. The next appearance of this coin was in Spink’s Numismatic Circular in May 1990 where it was listed at £5000 (no.2521). From here it passed to Frank Brady and was sold in Spink sale 209, on 6/10/2011 as lot 290. The provenance given in the Brady catalogue is equally wrong. It was not in Montagu as has been shown above, and Morrieson 225 was a lot of seven Henry VII groats with the anchor mark.

The second coin is that in the British Museum, where the accompanying ticket gives a provenance of Shepherd, Montagu, Murdoch, Evans and Morgan. This coin weighs 3.27g and was acquired by the BM 1915 as a gift from J P Morgan’s son. This coin is the finest of the three known and is illustrated in Marcel Hoc’s Histoire monetaire de Tournai (1970) no.206. The provenance is as follows:-

Rev. E J Shepherd 219, Sotheby 22/7/1885
H Montagu 749, Sotheby 11/5/1896
J G Murdoch 439, Sotheby 31/3/1903
Sir John Evans, collection bought Spink c.1908
J P Morgan (d.1912), collection offered to the BM by his son 1915.

Where Shepherd acquired the coin from is at present uncertain.

The third coin is that referred to in Snelling as being in the Duke of Devonshire’s collection and one of only two known examples. The drawing in Snelling is not that of this coin, which might at first be assumed because the weak areas shown do not match the coin illustrated by Hoc (no.204) which was in the collection of Charles Vander Elst. The coin weighs 3.22g. On the assumption that there are only three examples extant, this should have the following provenance:- 

Duke of Devonshire 196, Christies 26/3/1844
J D Cuff 2190, Sotheby 8/6/1854. Bought by Cureton for
E Wigan, collection bought by Rollin and Feuardent 1872.
Ch. Vander Elst in 1970 

The provenance is uncertain between 1872 and 1970 and will require further work to establish the various owners down the years. Cuff’s own catalogue of the Devonshire sale notes that he bought the coin, but in the Cuff catalogue it was recorded as coming from the Thomas sale which by default usually means Thomas Thomas (Sotheby Feb.1844), however there is no lot description fitting this particular type of Tournai groat in the Thomas sale. The only Tournai groat is lot 169 where it is noted as coming from the Henderson cabinet (several sales 1818-30), but the Ruding reference is the relatively common pl.7 no.13 with the profile bust. It is likely the cataloguer made a mistake with the reference. 

There is a fourth dated Tournai groat which is of a different design having no lion or lis beside the shield, nor in the angles on the reverse. This coin is thought to be unique and is now in the British Museum having been purchased at the Lockett sale in 1956 where it was lot 1803. This coin is referred to in Snelling (pl.2 no.27) where it was noted that two were known, one in the collection of Sir Charles Frederick and another in the collection of the late Hugh Howard (d.1738). The question now arises - Is the second example actually the third coin not recorded by Snelling but known in the 19th century? In fact the weak areas seen in Snelling on the lion and lis groat (pl.2 no.26) agree reasonably well with that seen on the unique groat without lions and lis in the fields. This raises the proposition that the unique piece was available to Snelling at some time and the memorised detail used to draw the plate of the Bartlett coin as the design detail is clearly that on the above type.

Snelling noted two examples of the groat without lion and lis as being in the cabinets of Sir Charles Frederick and the late Hugh Howard. A search of the last two sale catalogues did not reveal an example of this type. It is possible that Snelling is wrong and that the third example of the lion and lis groat was one of these two, leaving the coin without lion and lis unique as is currently believed.

Thanks are due to the following people in assisting with this article. Barrie Cook (British Museum), Olivier Elsen (Jean Elsen & ses Fils s.a.), Emily Freeman (Rascoins), Marvin Lessen and Tim Webb-Ware.

1. T. Snelling, A View of the Coins struck by English Princes in France (London 1769) 
2. Rev. R Ruding, Annals of the Coinage of Great Britain and its Dependencies (London 1840)
British Museum, Description of the Anglo-Gallic Coins in the British Museum  (London 1826)
3. M Hoc, Histoire monetaire de Tournai (Brussels 1970)
4. William Harshaw collection of William Boyne Papers, University of Toronto library (Accession number     RB.MS.92.017)