The unusual British coin“Guinea”
The old British coin system, used until 1971, was a little bit strange for a modern man. The reason was that it wasn’t a decimal system, based on the values of 100 sub units yet of different coins with different values compared to each other.
So, a pound was equal to 20 shillings, a shilling was 12 pence and each penny was equal to 4 farthing. Therefore, a pound was equal to 20 shillings, 240 pence or 960 farthings. But this wasn’t it.
A three pence coin was known and had the value of ¼ shilling. But also a four pence coin, equal to 1/3 shilling was used. The two shilling coin or the florin was first introduced in 1847 and was 1/10 of the pound.
The most interesting coin in this difficult money equation was a gold coin, named guinea, introduced in the 17th century and minted until the beginning of the 19th century.
This coin was introduced by King Charles 2nd in 1663. The proclamation stated that the new coin will be legal currency starting 27 March 1663. The weight of these coins was established by royal decree and 44 and a half guineas will have the same weight of one troy pound of gold, with a title of 91,66% . The weight was established at around 8.5-8,4 g. The diameter of this coin was established at 25 mm, with slight differences. The coin had the formal value of one pound, being equal to 20 silver shillings.
This coin was nicknamed “guinea” because the gold used for minting it was brought from Guinea in Africa. The area was rich in gold and provided this precious metal in large quantities.
The first guinea, minted by Charles 2nd, had on one side the royal portrait, looking right, laured, and the typical legend, and on the other side the four coat of arms, of England, Scotland, Ireland and France, arranged in the form of a cruciform, with scepters. This pattern was used for all the gold coins minted by this king, until 1684. The successor of Charles, Jacob 2nd, used the same patterns for the coins, except that his bust is looking left and not right. It happens to know the name of the designer of the coin, the artist John Roettier.
Because gold was a rare metal, soon the guinea was worth more than its value. Officially, it was worth 20 silver shillings, but with the gold in it you can swap it for more silver. So, around 1670 the weight of the coin was lowered to 8.4-8.3 g. Despite this fact, ten years later, the coin was bought from the market with 22 silver shillings.
Starting with the reign of William of Orange, the design changed. William hadn’t any blood connection with the royal family and he wasn’t a direct heir, yet the housband of Mary, the daughter of John 2nd. To legitimate his rule, he used on his coin an unusual image. He and his wife both appeared on the coin, standing on each other side, looking right. This image, stamped on a coin that circulated every day, created the impression that William was the same as another member of the royal family, as his wife, Queen Mary. This led to a useful propaganda in his favour.
These coins were minted since 1689 until 1694. Following the death of Mary, in December 1694, the obverse of the guinea changed in 1695, as only William appeared on the face of the coin. In the same manner, the daughter of Jacob and the sister-in-law of William, Queen Anne, appeared on her coins.
The Hanovra dynasty, brought in 1714, used at the beginning of the reign the same design for the coins. This suggested that nothing changed in the everyday life. The design was the same.
But with the reign of George 2nd, everything changed. During his long reign of 33 years, coins were minted every year (except 1742, 44, 54, 57).
The coins minted between 1729 and 1739 sometimes have under the bust the letters EIC, from East India Company, to indicate that the gold was brought from India. In 1745, the letters were LIMA, indicating a South American provenience of the gold.
The design of the reverse changed. Instead of the cruciform coat of arms, the new coat of arms was used.
Also it must be said that during the reign of George 2nd, the problem of cutting the coins was solved. Following an old habit, people used to cut a small portion of a precious metal coin, keeping that small part. A 0.05-0.1 g is not much and you can hardly feel the difference but when 10 or 20 people do that thing, the coin will be less heavy with 1 g. And a coin that based its value on the content of gold will not be equal to another coin, identical but heavier.
Sir Isaac Newton solved this problem. He was the first that introduced the technological procedure of reeding the edges. Every particular intervention will be easy notable from now on.
George 3rd also minted a large variety of gold guineas, with the coat of arms similar to the one previously used, or other designs. The most interesting coin is the 1813 “Military guinea”, specially minted for the duke of Wellington army. This army stationed in the Pyrenees and needed money to buy provisions from the local people. But the locals only accepted gold so a special issue of 80,000 gold coins was produced. The design is unique, showing the coat of arms, crowned, within a Garter, with the French legend “Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense”, and the legend “Britanniarum Rex Fidei Defensor” on the side. It must also be said that in the same year, one gold guinea worth 27 shillings in paper and 21 in silver.
It was the last important guinea mint, as in 1816, the coin was replaced by a new gold coin, worth 20 shillings (one pound) and named sovereign.
A subdivision of a guinea was minted. Ever since 1669, the half guinea was used and sometimes the rare third of a guinea (this coin used on the reverse the royal crown and not the coat of arms). In 1718 and 1764 a quarter of a guinea was also minted.
Despite the fact that this coin isn’t minted and used since 1816, the name still has a great impact in everyday monetary calculation. The term Guinea is still used in modern English, for the value of 1 pound and 5 pence, following the 1971 reform when a shilling was considered equal to 5 new pence. The term guinea is still used in horse races. So used, that modern British coin catalogue considered that it can express the price of that catalogue in guineas and not pounds.
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