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First Commonwealth Coinage 1649

Started by Deeman, January 08, 2022, 04:37:48 PM

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An ordinance of Oct 1646 rid the Church of England of its archbishops and bishops. Charles I was beheaded in London on 30 Jan 1649 and the monarchy was abolished. The House of Lords was abolished in Mar 1649 and, with this last act, the centuries-old basis of government in Britain disappeared.

Prior to Charles I's execution, coins bore the monarch's name. Even during the Civil Wars (1642-48), the Tower Mint had continued to strike coins in the traditional style whilst the outcome of the war was uncertain. On becoming a republic, a new design was required to legitimise of the new regime. The issue commenced in 1649 with the striking of the following series of ten coins:

Gold unite (£1), double crown (10/-) and crown (5/-).
Silver crown (5/-), halfcrown (2/6), shilling, sixpences, half groat (2d), penny and halfpenny.

For values down to sixpence, the obverse depicted a shield containing the cross of St George, surrounded by a wreath of laurel and palm to symbolise Parliament's victory and the peace it claimed it had brought. This was circumscribed by THE COMMONWEALTH OF ENGLAND after a sun mintmark at 12 o'clock. The reverse depicted conjoined shields of England and Ireland; the latter represented by a clàrsach (Irish harp). The denomination was above in Roman numerals. At the time, Scotland was a separate nation with its own coinage and Wales was considered part of England and so covered by St George's cross. The shields were circumscribed by GOD WITH US and the date. The Catholic sounding Latin text had gone, replaced by Protestant English!

The half groat and penny had the same designs as the higher denominations, but had no inscription or date. The halfpenny merely had the shield containing the cross of St George on the obverse and a single shield on the reverse containing the Irish harp without any date or denomination.

Due to the appearance of the conjoined shields on the reverse, critics of the new republican regime labelled the authorities as the 'Rump Parliament', as they bore an uncanny resemblance to a pair of breeches and were referred to in royalist circles as 'breeches for the rump'.


Oliver Cromwell dissolved the Rump Parliament in Apr 1653, called it the Nominated Assembly in July and by the Instrument of Government he was made Lord Protector in December. Cromwell died suddenly on 3 Sep 1658. The republican experiment ultimately failed and the monarchy was restored under Charles II in 1660. Those who had signed his father's death warrant, known as the regicides, were rounded up and executed; even the corpse of Oliver Cromwell was exhumed and hung in chains. A similar lack of mercy was shown to the Commonwealth coinage as it was called in for recoining.


Gold coins

Unite (£1)

Double crown (half unite)

Crown (5/-)


Silver coins

Crown (5/-)




Half groat (2d)




I find amazing that the dies must have fallen under the responsibility of chief engraver Thomas Simon. Simon was generally seen as Britain's best engraver. His boss, Edward Green was dead and his co-chief engraver, Edward Wade also. Nathanson writes in Thomas Simon, his life and work 1618-1665: Since his skill in medallic art had been demonstrated during the previous decade, it is inconceivable that Simon could have engraved the dies for the tasteless and uninspiring Commonwealth coins.

Nathanson, clearly an admirer of Simon, is not an altogether neutral party. It would have been wise at least not to DISplease the new guys in town. Simon also showed after the restoration that he was quite good at doing nothing in particular. Perhaps the job was delegated to one of his two under-engravers, as Nathanson suggests, but as chief engraver, they were still his responsibility, weren't they? Craig says: Simon designed as plain a set of coins as ever appeared, in fact saying Simon took an active part in their production. Also, would a sub-engraver of the Tower Mint have been that bad?

As you note, the coins were badly received. In The Mint, Sir John Craig has preserved the origin of the breeches expression:

A silver pair of breeches, neatly wrought,
Such as you see on an old Rump groat.

Furthermore, The disaffcted also gibed at the division at the inscription which put 'God' on one side and 'the Commonwealth' on the other.

Why was nobody held responsible for the PR disaster? Simon would have been a soft target. Instead, Simon was retained after the restoration, suggesting that he had a good excuse to both parties.

My preferred solution to the contradictions above is a scenario in which a high-placed roundhead, fancying himself an artist, made a sketch of what he wanted and Simon gave him exactly what he wanted. The would-be artist would have been above criticism and the fate of the designs were a good lesson not to go the same route again when Cromwell wanted his portrait on the coins (those remained unissued).

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.