The Fourth Garrideb blog has also been publishing excerpts from The Diogenes Club, originally published in 2016. Here's an
excerpt-of-an-excerpt from the February 6, 2016 issue which mentions some interesting British coins and coin phrases. Be sure to read the
complete article online. -Editor
There is also a reference in this story to “taking the Queen’s shilling,” a phrase which meant to join the army. It was customary for
British Army recruiting officers to present a shilling to each new recruit.
Testoon. Henry VII
The shilling, a silver coin often called a “testoon” (from the Italian testa for head) at the time of its origin, was introduced by
Henry VII. Henry was the first of the Tudor line (late fifteenth century), an able ruler who succeeded in the task of repairing the damage
caused by the Wars of the Roses. He took great interest in the nation’s coinage, also introducing the sovereign, a magnificent new gold
coin with Biblical texts around the edge to discourage clipping. Henry VII also went back to the profile view of the monarch on the obverse
of the coins, after 300 years of full-face depictions. As the Greeks and Romans had understood a millennium and a half before, the profile
portrait looks and wears better on a coin than does the full-face portrait.
In Silver Blaze, we learn that Straker had five sovereigns in gold in his pockets when he was found dead on the moor, and in The
Greek Interpreter, five sovereigns were paid to Mr. Melas for interpreting. After her wedding to Godfrey Norton, Irene Adler gives a
disguised Holmes a sovereign for being a witness, and there are similar references in at least three other stories.
Sovereign. Henry VII. 1485-1509
During the reign of George III, coins became extremely scarce due to the wars (American Revolution and Napoleonic War), and due to a
scarcity of gold, silver, and, later, copper. At the same time, more coins were needed due to the industrial revolution. In the country,
people made do with the barter system and had little need for money, but increasing industrialization caused migration to cities, where
money was required to pay wages and purchase goods.
By 1797, the shortage of silver was desperate, and the Bank of England had to buy large quantities of Spanish pieces of eight. These coins,
bearing the portrait of Charles III or Charles IV of Spain, were countermarked by the British mint with a tiny image of George III, leading to the
“The bank, to make their Spanish dollar pass Stamped the head of a fool on the head of an ass.”
To read the complete article, see:
Watson Coins A Phrase (2001)
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