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22 Dec 2021

A Gold Coin of Good Queen Bess

Christmas is a time for chocolate and as we look forward to hoards of foil coated coins, I will whet your appetite with a solid gold one from a time before chocolate.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme records archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales. Coins of Elizabeth I are one of the most frequently found and reported objects to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. However, the recent discovery of a gold half pound coin from near Shrewsbury is exceptionally rare. Nationally the Portable Antiquities Scheme has fewer than 20 similar coins on its database hosted by the British Museum.

A Gold Coin of Good Queen Bess

The Half Pound coin is one of a series of high denomination gold coins issued during the reign of Elizabeth I (AD 1558-1603). It had a face value of 10 shillings (120 pence) and was made between 1570 and 1572. Within society the use of gold coins is extremely limited and often thought to be restricted to just the wealthiest. In historic value the coin represents the equivalent of the 14 days pay for a skilled craftsperson or a month’s wage for a ‘common labourer’. At the time a loaf of bread would cost a penny and a pound of best beef threepence; A pound in weight of sugar (a real luxury) was a shilling (12 pence), and a quart of beer (quart being 2 pints) was ha’penny (1/2 penny). So, only a very few people within any parish would have been wealthy enough to have had one in their pocket or purse.

Like many objects that are more than 450 years old they are showing their age – and this is especially true for this find. The coin is made with very pure gold (fineness of .992), that means it is relatively soft which makes it easy to distort and this example has also worn smooth through use. While in the topsoil / plough soil the coin has been at the mercy of the farmers plough and machinery. This has led to it being broken / ripped into three parts - two have been recovered – the other is missing, yet to be found.

Finally, Chocolate wasn’t introduced to Britain until at least 1600, at that time it was exclusively a drink. It wasn’t produced as a moulded bar until the mid-19th century.

Merry Christmas from the Portable Antiquities Scheme team and wishing you all a Happy and Peaceful New Year.

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