The value of medieval coins was their weight in
precious metal. Unlike modern money, which is a "token"
One of the ways the crown had of raising money was to re-issue the coins at a lower weight and keep the difference. Any enterprising soul who decided to try this for themselves, by "clipping" or filing the edges of the coins could be executed. In order to reduce this, and to provide an early warning system that coins were being clipped, a long cross was introduced on the backs of coins, which reached the edges. around the outside of the coin, a pattern of dots was used to show where the outside SHOULD be.
|Henry VI Groat, minted in
Calais, showing Cross and Dot pattern. This coin is
probably not clipped.
Since most coins were not struck centrally, this was only an indicator, rather than a true boundary. In spite of these marks, surviving coins show that clipping was rife.
Modifying or defacing the realm's coinage is still classed as a serious crime in England.
The other way to raise money was to modify the purity of the coins. Throughout most of the medieval period, the English silver coinage was of "Sterling" standard, 92.5% pure. This is where the term "Pounds Sterling" comes from. During the reign of Edward III between 1335 and 1343, this standard slipped to 83.3%, before being brought back to full sterling purity. Gold coins were all minted of 23 3/4 carat purity (99.9 %)
Medieval weights and measures are a real mess, as there were many different standards. In London there were at least six different weights called a "pound", and in addition, foreign traders would use different weights as well. Most merchants would have a set of coin weights to ensure honest transactions.
To illustrate the potential problem, the weight of an early 14th C. penny was officially 32 grains of wheat, (dry, in the midst of the ear), which was equal to 22 1/2 grains of barley. Moneyers referred to weights in terms of grains of wheat, goldsmiths would use grains of barley.
The following charts show the change in weight of the coins during the late medieval period.
The Grains shown are troy barleycorn grains (1 grain = 64.8 milligrams)
Use these charts with my "Coins of the Realm" table to determine weights of coins.
To use the chart, for example to find the weight of a Groat of 1450,
1 Groat = 4 pennies (from "Coins
of the Realm" )
in 1450, 1 penny weighs 15 grains
4 x 15 = 60
Therefore, a Groat in 1450 would weigh 60 grains (3.9 grams)
To use the chart, for example to find the weight of a Richard III Angel,
Richard III was king from 1483 - 1485
1 Angel = 6 + 8/12 shillings (from "Coins of the Realm" )
in 1483 - 1485, 1 shilling weighs 12 grains
(6 + 2/3) x 12 = 80
Therefore, a Richard III Angel would weigh 80 grains (5.2 grams)
Remember 1 shilling=12 pence
1 pound=20 shillings=240 pence
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Background: Obverse of Edward III Groat and Reverse of Edward I Penny