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Auction features Cromwell’s coins
By Kerry Rodgers
March 17, 2017

A remarkable group of Oliver Cromwell patterns from the Michael Druck Collection provided a major highlight of Stack’s Bowers Jan. 13 NYINC sale. Each was an exceptional piece. In their commissioning and design they speak volumes about the end game of a critical episode in British history.

Background

Oliver Cromwell first came to prominence as a Member of Parliament in 1628 and again in 1640. He was an intensely religious man. A religious conversion in the 1630s led to his becoming an Independent Puritan. In the English Civil War he ended up on the side of Parliament (Roundheads).

Despite lacking a military background he proved adept on the battlefield. He was rapidly promoted from a cavalry troop leader to being a principal commander in the New Model Army.

He played a significant role in the defeat of Charles I’s forces and in 1649 was one of the signatories of the king’s death warrant. He went on to dominate the short-lived Commonwealth Rump Parliament before taking a time-out to mount military campaigns in Ireland and Scotland.

He returned to London in 1653 to find the government riven by factionalism. He dismissed the Rump Parliament by force and in its place installed a nominated assembly known as Barebone’s Parliament. It achieved little and on Dec. 16, 1653, Cromwell was sworn in as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland.

For the remainder of his life he was an absolute ruler described variously by historians as a military despot, a regicidal dictator, a ruthless autocrat and a hero of liberty. For Leon Trotsky he was the archetypal class revolutionary.

He died of kidney stones in 1658 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Following the restoration of the monarchy his corpse was dug up, hung in chains, and beheaded.

Coins of the Commonwealth

At London’s Tower Mint coins of Charles I continued to be struck until his 1649 execution. Once the Commonwealth was established its Puritan government required new gold and silver coins. These were to be of plain design with their legends in English. The use of Latin was regarded as symbolic of popery.

Thomas Simon was responsible for the resulting pieces that have been summarized succinctly by Howard Linecar: “Nothing plainer or more lacking in artistic appeal was ever designed for our coinage” … Contemporary sources noted God was consigned to the reverse while the Commonwealth occupied a prominent position on the obverse.

The Commonwealth government invited Peter Blondeau of the Paris Mint to London to strike the coins using his new mill and screw machinery. The Tower Mint workers objected and a competition ensued between Blondeau and the mint staff led by David Ramage who employed equipment left by Nicolas Briot. No official result was ever declared.

Coins of the Protector

When Cromwell took the top job in government in 1656 the Council of State commissioned a new coinage. It wished to portray Cromwell as Lord Protector on the obverse with the reverse showing the Commonwealth’s arms. These now incorporated the personal escutcheon of Cromwell in their center, a silver lion rampant.

Once again Simon prepared the necessary dies from which Blondeau struck patterns.

What happened next is a matter of ongoing debate. A number of numismatic authorities argue there was some hesitation on the part of the Council and/or reticence on the part of Cromwell in proceeding to full production. This presumably occurred once both parties saw Simon’s ornate designs. These provided a shocking contrast to the simplicity of the Commonwealth’s first issue coins.

The obverse echoed that of Roman emperors or, at least, the 1619-1625 laurels of James I. Cromwell is shown crowned with a wreath. The coat of arms on the reverse bears a crown, along with his personal inescutcheon at its center. The legends have reverted to Latin.

In short the designs show Cromwell as having arrogated the symbols of kingship just as he had assumed the powers of an absolute monarch.

However, Spink’s Coins of England & The United Kingdom comments: “Although often referred to as patterns, there is nothing to suggest that the portrait coins of Oliver Cromwell were not intended for circulation. Authorized in 1656, the first full production came in 1657 and was followed by a more plentiful one before Cromwell’s death” …

This interpretation is consistent with many of the surviving silver pieces such as halfcrowns being found well worn in contrast to their sharp, well struck mint state provided by Blondeau’s mill.

Whatever the case, with Cromwell’s death in 1658 the issue was abandoned.


Cromwellian Fantasies

In 1656 Blondeau returned to France. Any patterns he was responsible for would have been struck before he departed. Others are known to have been produced in 1658, presumably using the equipment left by Blondeau but by persons inexperienced in its use. A crack in the die of the crown is pointed to as one result of careless hands.

Following Cromwell’s death the dies for his portrait coinage were sold to the Dutch. They produced some imitative coins immediately that included a crown.

Other dies were prepared by the Dutch. Some eventually found their way back to the Tower Mint.

In 1738 the Tower Mint decided to strike a set of Cromwell’s coins. Crowns were produced from new dies prepared by John Tanner. Shillings and sixpences were struck from the earlier Dutch-made dies. Halfbroads were made from both Tanner and Dutch dies.

 

Michael Druck Collection

Examples of some of the above items were among those offered by Stack’s Bowers when they sold the Michael Druck Collection in January.

The sale was led by a number of varieties of halfbroads (10 shillings). As the Stack’s Bowers’ catalog states, “The Half Broad was never produced by Thomas Simon, so John Tanner created one.”

In other words the halfbroads on offer were fantasies. They can be scarcely called patterns. However, Grueber’s exquisitely detailed 1899 Handbook of the Coins of Great Britain and Ireland in the British Museum states that the Tanner patterns may “easily be distinguished by the omission of the &c. in the obverse legend.” There is a clear intimation that a halfbroad was produced by Simon. This is now known not be the case. Of those sold by Stack’s Bowers only that struck with a Dutch-made obverse lacked a “&c.”

SCWC lists these halfbroads as patterns. Spink’s Coins of England & The United Kingdom ignores them totally and does not list the denomination among coins of Cromwell.

The fact that all are the product of Tanner and the Dutch, did not stop the bidders bidding large to get their hands on one or more of the examples on offer.

Top selling lot in this entire group was a choice Tanner “pattern” half broad (10 shillings) of 1656 with a plain edge in gold (KM-PnA26, S-unlisted). Graded NGC Proof-65 Cameo it raced to $64,625 on a $25,000-$35,000 estimate.

A second all-Tanner example in gold dated 1656 with a reeded edge in NGC Proof-63 Cameo went for $52,875. A third in gold had a Dutch obverse combined with a Tanner reverse. It graded NGC Proof-63 made $22,325. An example in silver struck with the same die pairing romped to $15,275 in NGC MS-62. It came with a plain edge.

One example of a 20 shillings broad was on offer: an off-metal pattern strike in silver (cf. KM-Pn26; cf.S-3225). The coin is regarded as rare in any condition. The one in this sale was an original although the catalog description does not indicate whether it came with an edge inscription. Certified NGC AU-58 it took $18,800 on a $7,000-$10,000 estimate.

For those wanting a Cromwellian keepsake but are of more modest means, one lot consisted of a die squeeze of the same broad in lead, presumably dating from Tanner’s time at Tower Mint. It had been produced without a collar but was in remarkably good EF condition and had no trouble finding a new home for $1,410.

An example of a silver halfcrown with “HIB” in the obverse legend came dated 1658 (KM-B207; S-3227A; ESC-447). It sold for $3,760 with a grading of NGC AU-50.

An extremely rare silver sixpence produced a sharp upturn in interest when it appeared on the block (KM-PnE27; S-3229; ESC-1504). Only four examples are known and that on offer may be one of the few original strikings available to private collectors. It showed considerable but even wear to be graded NGC Fine-12. Its desirability was apparent, however, by its price of $44,650 which came close to trebling the upper $15,000 estimate.

Lastly was a rare copper farthing. No circulating copper coins were produced for Cromwell but a few patterns were struck. That of the cataloged farthing was undated and had a plain edge. The reverse legend reads CHARITIE AND CHANGE (KM-unlisted; S-3230; Peck-390).

Considering its age the coin came in delightful NGC AU-58 BN condition. It easily made a most healthy $21,150.

It is clear there are collectors out there wanting to have and to hold the coinage of the archetypal class revolutionary.



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