The Proportions of the denominations in English mint outputs, 1351-1485

The Proportions of the denominations in English mint outputs, 1351-1485

Allen, Martin

The British Numismatic Society, Vol. 77 (2007)


Between 1351 and the introduction of the testoon or shilling in 1504 the only silver coins issued by the English mints were the groat, halfgroat, penny, halfpenny and farthing. The gold coinage consisted of the noble with its half and quarter until 1465, when the ryal and angel became the principal gold coins. A knowledge of the proportions of these denominations in the outputs of the English mints would be highly desirable, as the basis for an understanding of the relative sizes of their contributions to the currency in circulation. This is a subject which is potentially of great interest to economic and monetary historians, because the avail- ability or otherwise of coins of particular denominations could have a significant effect upon economic activity, for example in the disruption of retail trade by shortages of small change. It is extremely unfortunate that the records of the royal mints do not usually specify the quantities of each denomination struck after 1351, as the king’s seignorage and the other minting charges were only related to the gross quantities of gold and silver minted.

From 1355 to 1434 the mint indentures often specify the proportions of gold or silver to be allocated to each denomination, but contemporary complaints about the failure of the royal mints to produce enough small change suggest that it cannot be assumed that the indenture proportions were always adhered to in practice. Records of pyx trials might contain some indication of the real proportions of the denominations in mint outputs, but they only provide explicit evidence of this for one brief period in 1413-14. Documentary references to numbers of dies of each denomination supplied or authorized, and estimates of die numbers used based upon die studies, are further sources of evidence, but numbers of dies may not be reliable indica- tors of the relative sizes of the outputs of denominations. Hoards cannot provide direct evi- dence of the proportions, as they tend to be biased towards the largest denominations available to hoarders, but they may give some indication of changes in the proportions through time.

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