Author Topic: Pre-independence coins of Ireland  (Read 3638 times)

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Offline Figleaf

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Pre-independence coins of Ireland
« on: February 16, 2014, 01:52:06 PM »
Though it is likely that Irish tribes invaded England already in the 7th century - they had the boats and the motivation: raiding cattle - official history has the raids as Norman and 9th century. Ironically, Adrian IV, the only English pope, egged on the English to do the reverse. This provided a framework for an exiled Irish overlord to get back to Ireland with a Norman-English army. Wrong move. The English didn't leave.

Ireland's national museum is full of torqued necklaces and bracelets (worn on the upper arm) called cush torc. They served as rewards for brave warriors, as dowry, as tokens of love and as money. They are found in Norman treasures, together with coins and hack silver (Roman and early Christian silver objects, hacked to pieces to be used as means of payment).

From the 11th century, Norman lords started to make coins. By this time, Dublin was divided in a Gaelic part (North of the Liffey) and a Norman part (South of the Liffey), so the mint was probably South of the Liffey. The coins were probably a way to convert hack-silver from conquest and plunder into a more profitable form of money. They looked like sophisticated versions of the Norse coins made in Yorvik, across the water, with slightly better spelling and somewhat better portraits. The influence of the central and Southern English coins is clear in both. These coins were trying to become more acceptable by looking like a coin of Aethelred.

Legends on the coin:
obv: SIHTRC REX DYFLN MP - Sithric king of Dublin MP.
rev: LIDREHIN MOnetarius DYFLN - Lidrehin mintmaster in Dublin

Peter
« Last Edit: February 16, 2014, 02:05:25 PM by Figleaf »
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Offline Figleaf

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Re: Pre-independence coins of Ireland
« Reply #1 on: February 16, 2014, 02:37:03 PM »
One thing led to another. A key figure in the English invasion of 1167-1169 was the earl of Pembroke, who is famously buried in Dublin cathedral. He acquired the title of king of Leinster by marriage. That worried Henry II, the king who didn't like to be argued with, even by Thomas Beckett or his wife, Eleanor of Acquitaine. He set up his youngest son John as Lord of Ireland. John's lordship was pretty bad. Much in character, he made enemies of the Irish as well as the Normans, betrayed his father and rebelled against his older brother, Richard the lion-hearted. He became king of Ireland anyway when the pope gave up his resistance - he had considered Ireland his own fief.

During the period of John's lordship, his head was placed in a circle, making him look quite ridiculous and sporting a monobrow. When he became king, the face was put in a triangle. Not a great improvement. History says nothing on this unique development, but I suspect his lack of popularity may have played a great role with the choice of design. The first cartoons?

Peter
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Offline Figleaf

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Re: Pre-independence coins of Ireland
« Reply #2 on: February 16, 2014, 03:12:32 PM »
A long and dreary period started with familiar patterns repeated over and over again. Local nobles would become assertive when the English king was weak and would betray each other when the English king was strong. In the end, little would change.

That was true for the money also. The "major" innovations of the period 1216-1553 were the introduction of half groats and groats. Below that quiet surface is the fact that Irish coins were of a slightly lower silver standard than English coins. That made silver flow out of Ireland and into England, to the delight of the English kings, who profited from the seigniorage, and the chagrin of English merchants, who were duped by Irish coins, masquerading as English.

The war of roses added to the general confusion, so that a number of Irish coins dispensed with the face of the king altogether and went for an assortment of crown and cross combinations instead. Quality went back steadily, until the design was hardly recognisable, which suited the issuers fine, because the coins were intended to deceive anyway.

Peter
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Offline Figleaf

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Re: Pre-independence coins of Ireland
« Reply #3 on: February 16, 2014, 03:36:04 PM »
The early Tudors believed in centralisation and in using any excuse to get money. The Dublin mint was closed. Irish coins were minted in London, still at a slightly inferior standard, but their use in England was forbidden. By the use of "plantations", English yeoman were steadily curtailing the power of traditional Irish nobility. Frustrated, they revolted once more, again in vain. With the defeat and decapitation of O'Neill, the Irish were at last subjugated, partly by famine.

Henry VIII started using the harp of Brian Boru as the symbol of Ireland. Elizabeth I, who did so much to reform English coinage, continued to issue base silver coins in Ireland. At least they looked better than ever.

Peter
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Offline Figleaf

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Re: Pre-independence coins of Ireland
« Reply #4 on: February 16, 2014, 04:07:45 PM »
The English civil war was actually three religious conflicts, much influenced by the reformation wars on mainland Europe. The ultimate question these times was whether the ruler could decide the religion of his subjects. The treaty of Westfalen (1648) ended these turbulent times with an inconclusive answer and general exhaustion. That set the scene for the French revolution, which questioned the ruler's power in an even broader sense.

Ireland revolted against English colonisation once again in 1641. England was unable to repress the rebellion effectively, as it became embroiled in its own problems from 1642. In the end, Irish infighting provided an English victory, followed by vicious repression in the Cromwell years.

Emergency coins of three camps - catholic Irish, protestant Irish and English varied greatly in quality, from crude, but of good quality to counterstamped and largely illegible. Many tried to imitate good coins, usually English.

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

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Pre-independence coins of Ireland
« Reply #5 on: February 16, 2014, 05:02:31 PM »
The Stuarts, like the Tudors before them, treated Irish coinage as a source of income, but they added an important innovation. Rather than giving the coinage rights to whoever the current favourite was, they would farm out the rights to the highest bidder. The practice started in 1625. It was suspended during the war years, but after 1653, the hated lightweight royal farthings were replaced by a wave of equally lightweight, but Irish-made private tokens. They are a delightfully raucous lot, from all parts of Ireland, all trades and creatively executed. In 1660, coinage was farmed out to Sir Thomas Armstrong. His farthings were scandalously light and largely unacceptable. The Irish governor saw fit to forbid the circulation of these coins in 1661.

Conventional numismatics holds that the St. Patrick halfpenny and farthing are coins. I think they are more likely to be tokens. Failed tokens at that, because they were quickly forbidden and shipped to the colony of New Jersey. That doesn't make them American coins, but they are regularly taken up in coin catalogues anyway.

A second wave of token issues, coinciding with the first English token wave, came about in the period 1676-1679. This finally convinced the authorities that better coins were needed. William Armstrong (son of the Thomas mentioned above) and George Legg's halfpennies 1680-1684 managed to pack enough weight to be acceptable. They were also Ireland's first machine-struck coins. The Irish citizenry - not its nobility - had finally made a point.

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

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Pre-independence coins of Ireland
« Reply #6 on: February 16, 2014, 05:32:01 PM »
The Stuarts were quite easily deposed in the glorious revolution. Once more, this time in Londonderry, Irish protestants fought Irish catholics, paving the way for an English victory. Having tried and failed in religiously divided Scotland, the Stuarts made another attempt in dominantly catholic Ireland. It ended at the river Boyne, but the episode left coin collectors with a load of royal tokens dated by month: the gun money series. While it is true that James' gun money were partly made of worn out cannon, most of the metal came from pots and pans collected from the population. This can clearly be seen from the metal of the coins. Cannons were made of copper, pots and pans were usually brass. See shilling November 1689 shown.

When William had vanquished James, he had the gun money devalued to about intrinsic value. This is sometimes seen as "economic warfare" on the Irish. I don't agree. Most coins in those days circulated at something akin to intrinsic value. William was conservative, but not vengeful. After the battle of te Boyne, trust in the tokens was lost. At least letting it circulate at intrinsic value would save the cost of melting, refining and re-coining.

The coinage of William and Mary and William alone largely follows the standard of the coins of Armstrong and Legg, that would be a standard for some time to come.

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

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Pre-independence coins of Ireland
« Reply #7 on: February 16, 2014, 07:12:10 PM »
The Hanovers were the last to farm out Irish coinage. The 1722-1724 halfpennies and farthings minted by William Woods of Bristol in his own foundry were not half bad by Irish standards or British colonial standards, but lightweight by British standards. They were children of their time, struck by a wealthy merchant on machines driven by steam.

Jonathan Swift cleverly used the coins to build a case for Irish independence. In a series of pamphlets, Drapier's letters, he denounces the coins as a product of Mr. Woods, while the Irish were well aware that Woods had obtained the patent by bribing the mistress of the king, Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenburg, Princess of Eberstein, Duchess of Kendal, Duchess of Munster, Countess of Feversham and Baroness Glastonbury, a particularly unpopular person of the king's entourage. In the uproar and boycott that followed, the patent was withdrawn, the farming system discredited, but Ireland did not gain independence. Woods's patent also included a series for the American colonies, the Rosa Americana coins. They were readily accepted there, so it made sense to ship the ill-fated Irish coins there also. That doesn't make them American coins.

Aided by steam-driven presses, the Woods coins were quickly  replaced by yet another wave of tokens. They could be stopped only new coins. These were struck at the London mint and of good weight. To prevent any further unrest, any profit from the issue was to be credited to the public revenue of Ireland. The first mintage (1736-1738) stopped the lightweight tokens. There was a regular supply of coins until 1755. By 1760, new coins were needed and ready, when the king died. The coins were not shipped, Ireland again saw a coin shortage and a new wave of tokens ensued, known as the Voce Populi series for their legend. The story becomes monotonous. In 1762, the 1760 coins were yet shipped to Ireland and the Voce Populi series was declared illegal and circulated in the American colonies. That doesn't make them American coins.

Peter
« Last Edit: February 17, 2014, 11:54:12 AM by Figleaf »
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Pre-independence coins of Ireland
« Reply #8 on: February 16, 2014, 07:53:59 PM »
The British government, determined not to have any more tokens in Ireland, followed through with regular shipments of halfpennies until 1782, when their hand was forced by the Napoleonic wars. The price of copper shot up and the London mint simply stopped making new coins. Predictably, as in Britain, lightweight tokens appeared again in great numbers. Unlike earlier token issues, this is the first time that the token issues in Ireland and England actually coincided and had the same cause. Steam presses made a minter of any merchant rich enough to afford one.

As in England, the issues started with copper in 1789 (earlier tokens of this series were Welsh). As Wellington's peninsular campaign became more successful, the silver he sent home was converted to official token coins for the account of the Bank of England. These gave rise to counterstamped and re-struck silver private tokens.

By 1800, the act of the Union had absorbed Ireland into the United Kingdom. However, times were turbulent and an Irish coinage was still needed to keep the chances of unrest down. Always improving machinery advanced the cause of the Birmingham mint. Their 1805 series may be called the first modern coins for Ireland. They were very well received marvels of technology, but there was no follow-up coinage, even after Napoleon had at last found his Waterloo.

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

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Pre-independence coins of Ireland
« Reply #9 on: February 16, 2014, 08:41:12 PM »
The 1805 coinage had set a new standard. It was one the token makers could equal, if they had the money to buy the machines. Between 1811 and 1830, yet another wave of tokens came across Ireland, again closely connected to similar circumstances and tokens in Britain. The series was not as long. One notable contribution was from Edward Stephens*, who put the duke of Wellington on his token. Wellington was as Irish as dean Swift had been English...

In an attempt to beat this series, official coins were again struck in 1822. In 1823, all Irish coins were withdrawn. Ireland would receive English coins only. It could have been the last word on Irish coinage, but it wasn't. In 1845, a great famine broke out, claiming a million lives. It beat the last bit of trust in Britain out of every Irishmen. Stories and slogans put the blame (mostly deservedly) on Britain and British landlords. A final issue of farthing tokens attest that even in this abysmal period, there was a shortage of coin. The scene was set for a hard, violent and bitter fight for Irish independence.

Peter

* The same Edward Stephens was responsible for the amusing evasive pennies marked LUKE XX. CHAP.  XXV: VER. - 24 Shew me a penny. Whose image and inscription hath it? They answering, said to him: Caesar's. 25 And he said to them: Render, therefore, to Caesar the things that are Caesar's: and to God the things that are God's.
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Pre-independence coins of Ireland
« Reply #10 on: September 25, 2018, 11:41:15 AM »
The 2018 annual WoC event gave us the opportunity to visit the harp on almost all Irish coins. It is as brown as a bronze coin, a bit smaller than I had imagined and part of the "Book of Kells" exhibition on the grounds of Trinity college. It sits in a very impressive library hall, unobtrusive, but in the good company of many thousands of books, but disfigured by Irish mirroring glass. Sadly, Trinity college was once the final step to unemployment, except for those few who obtained tenure and the many who emigrated. Among those tenured was Edmund Burke, the father of conservatism. His legacy is so abused today he wouldn't recognise it now. His statue, in front of Trinity college, gazes at the Bank of Ireland, making him of numismatic interest also.

Observing the harp turned on the philosophical side of SpaBreda, which is a good thing that can be imitated with an Irish coin, so he is included here also.

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

Offline chrisild

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Re: Pre-independence coins of Ireland
« Reply #11 on: September 25, 2018, 02:32:01 PM »
The designers of the Free State coins had two options by the way - see the attached image (from the Airgead exhibition). As for the Bank of Ireland, that confused me a little. The BoI is a commercial bank, not to be mixed up with the Central Bank of Ireland which used to be almost next door, about where College Green becomes Dame Street. But about a year ago, the central bank moved to North Wall Quay, near the Samuel Beckett Bridge ... which is designed to resemble a harp. And so the circle closes, hehe.

Christian