Today the coins you find in your change are all produced by the Royal Mint. It’s hard to imagine what life would be like if coins, and the metal to make them, disappeared.
When people have had to go to extreme lengths in the face of emergency, it has produced some of the most intriguing and interesting currencies around. And here are six of the most unusual currencies ever issued, and what drove people to create them.
The coins made from a drinking cup
In 1646 in a town under siege, with no incoming money, the people of Newark needed to find a way to pay soldiers for protection. So they reached for whatever metal they had available to make coins – and that meant their cutlery! Silver cups and plates were surrendered, cut up into small diamond shaped pieces, and had a denomination stamped onto them.
Because of the way these coins were made, you could sometimes see the pattern of the cup or plate from which the coins were made. Understandably these coins, which surely belong in a museum, are hugely desirable among collectors and are rarely available.
The notes that were issued to be devalued
It seems odd that a government would issue money just for it to be devalued. But during WWII when the American army was based in North Africa this is exactly what happened. The American government was concerned that if the Germans were to mount a successful attack, they could take over the currency. Therefore, all notes used to pay soldiers based in North Africa had a yellow seal added to them. This meant that should the Germans take over, the notes could be easily identified by their yellow seal and instantly devalued.
The Russian stamps used as German propaganda
During WW1 the Russian government found it increasingly difficult to issue coins. Instead, they turned to ‘currency stamps’ printed on thin cardboard instead of normal stamp paper. Using stamps instead of coins was a way of saving precious metal for the war effort.
Several denominations of ‘currency’ were issued, with a statement on the reverse stating that each stamp had the circulating equivalent of Silver coins. However some of these stamps soon landed in the hands of Germans who counterfeited them but with one clever detail – the statement on the reverse was changed to an anti-Russian message. The idea was to destroy confidence in the Russian government and devalue the currency.
An unusual English denomination
George III’s reign is known for the vast number of interesting numismatic pieces issued, and the Bank of England emergency tokens are no different. Conflict in George III’s reign had caused financial panic, and thousands of people hoarded silver coins out of fear.
The Royal Mint’s limited ability to issue coins posed a problem as they could not make enough coins for the demand, so eyes turned to the Bank of England. An agreement was made that allowed the Bank to issue emergency currency. However technically speaking these were tokens and not coins, which is why they appear in the unusual denominations such as 1s 6d or 1 Dollar.
Why money was burnt in revolutionary France
In revolutionary France in the early 1790s, the government issued paper money, known as Assignats, backed by the value of clergy property. The government continued to print money, and faced with an influx of counterfeits from Britain, the value of these Assignats soon reached a massive 45 Billion Livres, despite the value of clergy property only being 3 Billion Livres.
In 1796, the notes had lost all of their value and were publicly burned, to be replaced with a new paper money. Any of these surviving notes are incredibly rare as most of them were destroyed, making them very desirable among collectors.
How a Civil War turned a stamp into currency
It’s hard to imagine a small paper stamp, issued over 80 years ago, being used to pay for goods and services. But in Spain in 1938 that’s exactly what happened.
The Civil War caused the public to hoard coins out of fear, and so they all but disappeared from circulation. Because metal was in limited supply, the government turned readily available stamps into ‘coins’. Unlike Russian emergency stamp currency, these stamps were welded onto a special board with the coat of arms printed onto the reverse. The stamp value gave these new ‘coins’ a denomination, and they were released into circulation to help towns and cities trade.
With such a delicate nature and small number, it’s no wonder that these coins are scarce and difficult to track down today.
Nowadays the Royal Mint is well suited to meeting our coin demands so it’s unlikely we’ll ever need to use stamps or cutlery in place of coins! Emergency currency is always a fascinating area for collectors, with some of the rarest and most unique issues having appeared out of difficult and troubled times. It’s not often that these emergency issues appear on the market – but it’s certainly worth keeping an eye out for them!
If you’re interested…
Today you can own one of these unusual and fascinating numismatic issues – a Spanish 15 Centimos ‘Coin’. There are only an extremely limited number of these issues available worldwide, and considering the fascinating story behind these issues, our stock is likely to be snapped up fast.
This year we mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day. The day which marked the end of World War II in Europe and brought long-awaited peace to our nation.
To commemorate this historic anniversary, and one of the most important dates of the 20th century, not one, not two… BUT SEVEN BRAND NEW 50p coins have been authorised for release.
Watch Adam and Yasmin in our latest video where they went LIVE to find out everything you need to know about these brand new 50ps.
If you’re interested
On 29th January 2020 we marked the milestone 200th anniversary of the end of King George III’s reign. And whilst some will remember him as the ‘Mad King’, there is no denying the coins issued during his reign are some of the most iconic to have ever graced the pockets of the British public.
Now, to celebrate his legacy The East India Company has released a new range of Sovereigns that at once pay tribute to this remarkable monarch and also honour the classic coins of his reign.
I’ve picked out some of my favourite designs to share with you today so you, too, can have the joy of discovering the most beautiful coins issued during King George III’s rule.
St George and the Dragon
Designed by renowned engraver Benedetto Pistrucci, the St George and the Dragon design is probably one of the most instantly recognisable motifs in numismatic history. The design first appeared on the modern Sovereign in 1817, when it was struck to replace the gold Guinea following the Great Recoinage Act of 1816, and it still appears on today’s Sovereigns. This made King George III the first monarch to appear on the modern Sovereign, so it’s only fitting really that he is commemorated on a new range of Sovereign coins.
Pistrucci’s iconic design also appeared on King George III’s 1818 Crown, the first type of Crown or Five Shillings to be issued in his reign. This Crown was the first ‘new’ Crown coinage to be struck, and significantly only 155,000 were ever minted – making it highly sought-after amongst collectors today.
The East India Company have chosen to strike a beautiful interpretation of this timeless design on the most prestigious Sovereign denomination – the Five Sovereign. The spectacular scene is framed by the Latin motto “hoit soit que mal y pense”, which translates to “shame on him who thinks evil of it” – the motto of the British chivalric Order of the Garter.
‘Counter Stamped’ Spanish Dollar
The cost of the French Revolutionary Wars, combined with the threat of invasion on the Welsh and Irish coasts, took its toll on the Bank of England resulting in members of the public demanding to withdraw large sums of cash. The result was a currency crisis, as the panicked public depleted the coin and bullion reserves of the Bank of England.
One thing was clear, a solution to the gold and silver coin shortage had to be found, and quickly. At the time most of the Bank’s reserves were held in the most popular coin of the time – Spanish Dollars. To fix the currency crisis King George III authorised the counter stamping of these Spanish Dollars with a ‘puncheon’ of the King’s head as part of the hallmarking. These modified dollars were released rapidly into the market, allaying the currency crisis.
In tribute to this iconic coin, the East India Company has replicated the design on a Double Sovereign piece. The reverse features an effigy of King Charles III of Spain inset with the effigy of King George III to represent the same process as the original Spanish Dollar coins.
Under King George III’s reign Britain witnessed the Great Recoinage Act of 1816, following which the favoured gold coin of the time, the Guinea, was replaced by the Sovereign. This was a huge moment for Britain in terms of its currency as the Guinea had become the very foundation of the British Empire’s growth during the late 17th and 18th centuries. Had the Guinea remained in use it would have been circulating at the time of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo!
In its heyday several different motifs featured on Guineas, but none is as famous as the Spade Guinea. Nicknamed because of the spade-like shield on its reverse, this design featured on the last ever circulating Guinea during King George III’s reign.
In fact, this is the only Guinea to feature this distinctive reverse design, and the Half Guinea issued in the same era is the only Half Guinea to also feature it. This makes the Spade Guinea one of a kind. It is this fact which makes the coin fascinating to collectors and historians alike.
Although the Guinea is no longer in circulation you may still come across its name from time to time in classic horse racing. The longstanding tradition of livestock being traded in Guinea values still exists in some auction houses and horse racing organisations because the name ‘Guinea’ is so intrinsically linked with the ‘sport of kings’.
And now this iconic deign has been faithfully replicated on a Sovereign, issued by the East India Company. It represents England, Scotland, France and Ireland, as well as the German possessions of the Hanoverian dynasty.
It goes without saying that this design is my favourite – the motif is so classic and steeped in history, what’s not to love? Do you have a favourite design, or perhaps you have another coin design from King George III’s reign you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below!
If you’re interested…
You can secure the East India Company 2020 Sovereign now. The coin is impeccably struck to the same exacting standards as the UK sovereign – in 7.98 grams of 22 Carat Gold. All that differs is the design and – crucially – the edition limit. This new issue has a strict worldwide edition limit of 1,820 – over four times more limited than the UK 2020 Sovereign.