Henry VII: “Tentative Issue” groat

Auction 36, Lot 142
Auction 36, Lot 142

“Groats of the latter period of his reign provide us with what are possibly the most beautiful example of the moneyer’s art to be found in the coinage of our country.”

Raymond Carlyon-Britton made this observation in an article published in the 1925-6 BNJ discussing the remarkable shift from a medieval to a Renaissance style portraiture for English coins.

It began with an Act of Parliament in 1503 dealing with the problem of a currency devalued by extensive clipping. In July 1504 a Proclamation declared all clipped coins non-current and new coins were to be made “with a circle about the utter part thereof” so that clipping would be obvious. A part of this declaration was the warning to the comptroller and the warden “to be more careful in examining the coins before passing them from the mint into circulation, upon pain of losing their office.”

There was no specific order to change the classic design and the mint continued to issue facing bust groats. Given the consequence of deficiencies in quality, the Type IV Henry VII groats were carefully produced. The cross-crosslet initial mark groats do seem even now, five hundred years later, somewhat better in conception and production than earlier issues.

At the same time, using the same cross crosslet initial mark, the mint began producing the Renaissance style profile portrait that Carlyon-Britton extolled as “the most beautiful.” Reasons for this design are grist for discussion in detail another time but the influence of European artistic style in art generally as well as in coinage was certainly a key factor. (Carlyon-Britton does not address this issue.)

The two types overlapped in production—“contemporary with full –face groats” as the Standard Catalog puts it. Carlyon-Britton introduced the term “tentative” to describe this shift. This new style proved popular and it looks as if it was an easier design on which to provide an outer circle to prevent clipping. Soon the issue became standard as new dies were introduced without the distinctive double line band on the crown—now a triple line, along with subtle changes in the portrait itself.

English coinage with its long history offers dramatic changes in coin design and production—the adoption of the flat Charlemagne inspired penny, the introduction of the long cross style, the move to machine production in the reign of Charles II, the late 18th century development of a minting technology that took away the hand work in coin production. To this impressive list, the “tentative” issue of Henry VII brought an entirely new artistic expression to English coinage

Allan Davisson

Friday, February 10, 2017

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