HOW MUCH SHOULD I PAY FOR…? GEORGE III SHILLINGS AND SIXPENCES
In the first of a new series of price guides, we sketch the historical background to these interesting coins, and illustrate examples sold at recent auctions, and directly by dealers
George III occupied Great Britain’s throne from 1760 to 1820 as one of our longest reigning monarchs, surpassed only by Queen Victoria and our present Elizabeth II. Those decades have proved of enormous interest to coin collectors who can look back on and study the currency turmoil caused by the Napoleonic War and the American War of Independence. Advanced collectors can also investigate the effects of the traumatic move by the Royal Mint from its ancient premises at the Tower Of London to a new mint on Tower Hill where revolutionary methods of coin production came into service during this monarch’s reign.
Most disruptive of all to the minting of money in those days was the inadequate and often interrupted supply of bullion used to strike silver coinage. During almost every year between 1760 and 1816 silver coin production fell to almost zero for nearly all denomination above the silver fourpenny piece. Only the year 1787 experienced a temporary glut of silver that allowed the Royal Mint to strike sixpences and shillings. All higher denominations were Emergency Dollars, and their fractions, produced by counter marking captured Spanish silver reales with a punch depicting the head of George III and using the foreign coins as substitutes, based on weight, for British currency.
By January 1816 the British public – bank managers, shop owners, market traders, housewives and all the rest – despaired of the uncertainty, disruption and loss that resulted from having to weigh coins to confirm their value. Although the Government repeatedly assured MPs that the new coins would be in circulation ‘very shortly’, no relief came during the entire year. In October 1816 an optimistic report from Tower Hill mint stated that: Pressing of the new coinage goes on at great rapidity, with each machine pressing sixty coins per minute, or 3,600 per hour. With
a ten-hour day, and eight presses at work, the tally for each day is 288,000 coins. The plan is to produce shillings and sixpences to the face value of £2,500,000 coins in the proportion of seven shillings to five sixpences.
Meanwhile, rumours spread around shops and markets throughout the land that when the new coins finally appeared, the Bank of England would refuse to exchange old pieces showing severe wear that had totally obliterated all of the design; also that Continental silver coins British shop-keepers had accepted if their weights approximated to shillings and sixpences, would also be declined by the Bank of England. By the end of 1816 people were resorting to IOUs, to barter, to risking giving credit simply to hold on to their customers.
Deliverance came suddenly as a gush of brand new coinage poured from High Street banks on 13 February 1817. Sight of these bright British bobs and tanners heartened the discontented who were soon too busy spending them to waste energy on riots. The designs and engraving were the work of two brilliant artists: Thomas Wyon and Benedetto Pistrucci, who had produced an obverse displaying a bold and laureate image of the King; and a reverse showing the Royal Garter with a garnished shield within, and a large crown above. The obverse legend read: ‘GEOR:III DG BRITT REX FD’ and the date. The reverse had the standard Royal Garter legend: ‘HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE’ (Shame on him who thinks evil of it). Each coin had a milled edge and a raised rim, both protections against attempts to shave fractions of good silver from the new money.
We found a wide range of asking and selling prices to attract advanced and newcomer collectors alike; these examples illustrate our feature.