THE SHILLINGS OF ELIZABETH I
Dealer Allan Davisson, in an email to clients earlier today included a short article on Elizabeth I shillings, a number of examples of which appear in his firm's E-Auction
27, closing October 17, 2018. With permission we're republishing the article here. Thanks! -Editor
The first and last Elizabeth I Shillings
Shillings were a Tudor innovation that began with the coinage reform under Edward VI. The reign of Elizabeth saw the denomination expand in scope and complexity to meet the
ongoing challenges of coinage for local economies and expanding international commerce. Over a reign of forty-five years, multiple styles, varying silver content and evolving
technologies continued the coinage reform that began during the reign of Edward VI.
It is too casual an assumption to think the “fine issue” coinage of 1551 solved the problem of debased coinage and the effective fraud it brought to commerce. During the early
years of Elizabeth’s reign, debased coinage was still circulating and was still needed in the marketplace. Countermark centers were established, with local “wise men” given
greyhound or portcullis punches to be used to value circulating pieces. Discriminating value required the ability to identify portrait styles, something you can readily review in
the current Standard Catalog.
Finally, by September 1561, the debased coinage was demonetized and the recoinage was completed. (This was the era of Thomas Gresham who gave us a law that still applies.)* The
first fine silver of 1559-60 with the lis as the initial mark was the beginning of this new establishment of a reliable currency. By the end of her reign there were seven issues,
six major hammered bust types with many variations, a milled coinage and even a couple of pattern issues that were never used for circulating coinage.
The strength of the currency that she left behind reflected an amazing woman who navigated court intrigues, international threats, and even her own tendency toward uncertainty
at times about decisions she had to make. At the end of her reign England was a major power. Coinage was stable and reliable and the engravers and mintmasters had established a
new level of artistic merit to their productions.
This sale features four markedly different shillings of Elizabeth I: a choice and scarce first issue first bust piece, a more worn second bust example of the first issue, an
attractive—though marked in the field and priced accordingly—second issue piece, and finally the rare “2” initial mark last piece of her reign.
A final observation: After handling many Elizabeth shillings and sixpences over the years, I have noticed how often these pieces are “well used.” They were issued in an era
that began with coinage scarcity. They were used in an era where commerce was active and growing. They portrayed an amazing and widely popular ruler and were probably often saved
as pocket pieces or mementoes in less than optimal storage. It is notably easier to find high quality shillings of Edward VI, James I and Charles I than it is of Elizabeth.
(Philip and Mary? A limited coinage and an unrealized plan for silver coinage restoration… A story for another time.)
*”Bad money drives out good.”
To browse the Davisson's E-Acution 27, see:
E-Auction 27 Closing October 17, 2018 (https://davcoin.com/sale/E-Auction%2027)
Wayne Homren, Editor
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