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WHY COLLECT COINS

Douglas Mudd

Curator Museum - American Numismatic Association



Why I Collect Coins

 

Coin collecting is a highly personal activity.  It involves a choice to devote one’s resources in time and money to an activity that you enjoy and that provides a sense of fulfillment.  There are many reasons why people enjoy coin collecting ranging from the thrill of the hunt in completing a particular set or finding bargain coins that can be resold at a profit, to the special connection with history that coins can provide.  How people collect is as varied as the personalities of the individual collectors.  Some enjoy the technical aspects of coinage – the search for minute variations in the design of a particular series which can give clues as to when, exactly, or how they were struck.  Others focus on the rarity or beauty of particular coins while others enjoy studying the history represented by the coinage.

 

My personal interest in coinage is the connection with history that they can provide – especially in illuminating the outlook, activities, and beliefs of the people who issued them.  Coins are miniature time-capsules that can provide a window into the past to those who know how to read them.  They provide primary documentation of the time in which they were issued that is sometimes at odds with the commonly accepted history of that time. 

 

A historical theme that I find especially interesting is how coinage reflects the political reality of its time.  The coinage of the English Civil War is a wonderful example of how coinage can reflect the politics of a nation in turmoil.  The transition from a Royal coinage typical of the 17th century into one reflecting the republican ideals of ancient Rome and the return to royal forms is a fascinating one and can be traced through six types from 1641 through 1660.  These coin types are represented in several different denominations but for purposes of this example we will stick to crowns because of their size:


            

A typical crown of Charles I prior to the start of the Civil War. Charles is
represented on horseback facing left in armor holding a sword upright and
wearing a crown.  The legend is standardized in Latin;
CAROLUS.D:G: MAG:BR:FR:ET:HIB:REX
(Charles by the grace of God king of Great Britain, France and Ireland). 
The reverse depicts the royal coat of arms with the legend;

CHRISTO.AUSPICE.REGNO
(I reign under the auspice of Christ)

   

A “declaration” crown of Charles I issued after the beginning of the Civil War.
 
Charles has altered the message of his coinage in an attempt to win over the people
of England to his side.  The obverse features the usual equestrian figure and legend,
but the reverse has been altered.  Instead of the usual coat of arms, there is now a contraction of the message;
RELIGIO PROTESTANTIVM LEGES ANGLIAE LIBERTAS PARLIAMENTI
(The religion of the Protestants, the laws of England, the liberty of the Parliament). 
These are Charles’ stated aims in fighting Parliament – he is merely defending the
traditional order of things, which Parliament has unaccountably decided to overturn
through their obstinate attempts at limiting the king’s power.
 
The legend around this declaration reads;
EXURGAT DEUS ET DISSIPENTUR INIMICI EIUS
(Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered: Psalm 68, 1).
This legend was originally introduced by James I and was continued by Charles I –
very appropriate for his Civil War issues

   

Crown issued by the Tower Mint for Parliament. 
The Parliamentary issues of the Civil War are notable because they did not
change from the pre-war issues.  Parliament made the conscious choice to
continue the Royal designs to support their contention that they were loyal to the
king – they just disagreed with the king’s "evil" and "Catholic" advisors!
 
Thus, paradoxically we have the Parliament issuing traditional Royal coinage in
opposition to the king, while the king altered his coinage for propaganda purposes
.

   

Crown issued by Parliament after the establishment of the Commonwealth and the execution of the king.  This coinage was designed to show the new political order in England.  Parliament looked to Republican Rome for their inspiration in creating a coinage designed to represent the Commonwealth – thus individuals could not be represented. The obverse displays the cross of Saint George, which was chosen to represent the people of England because it was not associated with royalty and had been used by English troops for centuries as a national badge.  A major innovation was the use of English in the legends – the first time this had been done on coins and highlights a special feature of these coins The reason for this was two-fold; A) to disassociate the coinage from the traditional Latin language with its Catholic and Royalist connections and B) to make the coinage more “republican” since average people would be able to understand them.  A further innovation was the permanent inclusion of the date of issue for all of the coins.  The obverse legend reads;
THE COMMONWEALTH OF ENGLAND. 
Another interesting feature of these coins is that they are overtly English since the arms of Wales and Scotland are not represented as they were on earlier coins.  The reverse of the coin features two slightly overlapping shields, one with the cross of Saint George and the other with a harp – the symbol for Ireland and the denomination in roman numerals.  The legend reads;
GOD WITH US / 1649(-57). 
This message highlights the dominance of England over Ireland (the overlapping shields) as well as the protestant nature of the government (God With Us was associated European Protestantism – and not Anglicanism, which was too closely aligned with the British monarchy).


   
By 1656, Cromwell began preparations for a new coinage to represent the
new political reality in England, Scotland.
 
Cromwell had himself declared the Lord Protector of England at the end of 1653,
effectively ending the Commonwealth.   Cromwell’s coinage constitutes a conscious
attempt to revive the imagery of the Roman Empire in combination with traditional
royal symbolism.  Cromwell’s bust is displayed togate, with a wreath on his head –
certainly not an outfit he ever wore in life – exactly as Roman emperors had been
portrayed on their coinage. Interestingly, Latin is reintroduced as well as a new
set of arms representing England, Scotland, and Ireland with a lion (the Cromwell
arms?)in the center and a crown over the whole.  Obviously a crown is not appropriate
for a republic, nor even a straight-up dictatorship.  Apparently, Cromwell is setting
himself up to be king in all but name, if the evidence of the coinage is to be believed. 
The obverse legend reads;

OLIVAR.D.G.RP.ANG.SCO.ET.HIB&cPRO
(Oliver, by the Grace of God Protector of the Commonwealth of England,
Scotland and Ireland and etc.)
while the reverse legend consists of Cromwell’s personal motto;

PAX.QUAERITVR.BELLO
(Let Peace be sought through war)

   

The final coin is a crown of Charles II from 1663,
the famous “Reddite” Crown, by Thomas Simon.
 
The obverse features a Laureate bust of Charles II with the legend;

CAROLUS / II / DEI / GRA
(Charles II by the grace of God). 
The reverse has crowned cruciform shields with badge of the Order of the Garter
in the center in center, CC monogram in angles, and the date with the legend;
MAG / BRIT / FR / ET / HIB / REX
(King of Great Britain, France and Ireland) 
Edge:  Sun rising behind clouds;
REDDITE QUAE CAESARIS CAESARI &CT POST
(Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, etc., plus the first word of
“The sun shines after the storm” – referring to the restoration of the monarchy)

 

What a great series of coins, made even more interesting because of the story they represent!

Article by:

Douglas Mudd

Curator

Edward C. Rochette Money Museum

American Numismatic Association

dmudd@money.org






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