Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, markets, and coin collecting #361
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds …..
Henry VIII is the most famous king in the history of England, and perhaps had the most impact on history of any English king. His second daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, may be the most famous English monarch of all. His first daughter, Queen Mary I, is also very famous and played an important role in history. Coin collectors now may acquire Groats (Fourpence silver coins) of Henry VIII for less than $500 USD each, sometimes for less than $200.
Henry VIII was born in 1491. He became king in April 1509 and died in January 1547. Information about him may be found in my article about an important Gold Sovereign.
Although historical and cultural information related to Groats is presented, there is not background information about Henry VIII here. The focus is on Groats, which are exciting coins that are available for modest prices.
In March 2015, an NGC-certified Henry VIII Groat, with the details of an Extremely Fine grade coin, publicly sold for $99.88. An Irish Groat, circa 1540, struck under the reign of Henry VIII, sold for just $79 in September 2016. It was NGC-graded VF-35.
Relatively original and technically strong Henry VIII Groats could certainly be acquired in the near future for less than $500 each. There are many Henry VIII Groats that have sold for less than $200 in recent years, though some of these have serious problems. Even so, it is enjoyable to collect them.
In August 2014, Heritage sold a lot of three NGC-certified Groats, one from the 1526-44 period, one from the 1544-47 period, and one struck in Henry’s name with his portrait after his death. Although one of these three Groats received a numerical grade, Fine-12, all three would probably be considered non-gradable, with Fine level details, by experts in U.S. coins. Even so, they all have discernible designs, some natural toning, and would be fun to own. The trio sold for $141, less than $50 each, not a vast sum for historically important, rare coins.
Groats are excellent choices for budget-minded collectors, beginners and history-minded collectors. As Fourpence coins, they are around four times the weight of one pence silver coins (silver pennies). Groats are large enough to effectively display multiple historical symbols, legends, and a portrait of a monarch. Design elements are visible without magnification.
These were workhorse coins of their eras. For many centuries, Groats were often used to buy goods and services, and were received in change in the context of larger transactions.
The Meaning of a Groat
“Groat is derived from the Flemish and Dutch word groot meaning a ‘great’ coin and is the same as gros in French and grosso in Italian,” according to an essay by Peter Woodhead, which appeared in a Spink catalogue in 2011.
Woodhead’s reason for a Fourpence coin in the year 1279 is that 240 pence equaled one pound and 160 pence equaled one mark, both easily divisible by four. His explanation may not be accurate.
Woodhead focuses on the number four. The focus instead should be on the numbers three and 12. The number of Troy ounces in a Troy pound is the same as the number of inches in a foot, 12.
I theorize that the Fourpence denomination was chosen because of the roles that threes and twelves played in British culture and history. Twelve pence equaled one shilling. A Fourpence coin was one-third of a shilling.
Three barleycorns equaling one inch, three feet equaling one yard, three teaspoons equaling one tablespoon, three palms equaling one span and three groats equaling one shilling are all connected as parts of a tradition within British culture to use threes in measurement. On the British Isles, people were accustomed to thinking in terms of thirds and multiples of three.
The History of the Groat
Groats were introduced under the reign of King Edward I. In England, the silver penny had been the leading unit of coinage in Anglo-Saxon times, circa 600 to 1065. A Groat amounted to four silver pennies.
Edward I Groats were probably struck from 1279 to 1281. According to the Spink Standard Catalogue (48th ed. – “2013”; London: 2012, p. 171), “no Groats were issued in the years” from 1282 to around 1351.
Groats were re-introduced by King Edward III during or shortly after 1351. Coinage programs were ambitious under King Edward III for reasons that I discuss in my piece on Edward III Gold Nobles. Groats were minted for centuries.
All of the Tudor monarchs issued Groats: Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. Stuart monarch Groats are collectible as well.
King James I issued Halfgroats, but probably not full Groats. James I reigned from 1603 to 1625. King Charles I (1625-49) and his son King Charles II (1660-85) issued Groats or similar Fourpence coins. There were no Fourpence coins issued by the Commonwealth, 1649 to 1660.
Collectors tend to think of Groats as hammered Fourpence coins. The Fourpence silver coins later found in Maundy sets are certainly different concepts. Even the circulating, machine-struck, Fourpence silver coins made for centuries, starting in 1670, are a separate series, really a different denomination.
The Groats of the first coinage of Henry VIII (1509-26) feature a portrait of Henry’s father, King Henry VII. Most of these were struck at the Tower Mint in London. Some were struck in Tournai, a city that is now part of Belgium, and was won in 1513 during battles with France.
In 1519, Tournai again was brought under French control by a provision in the Treaty of London of 1518. This was a major peace treaty in the history of Europe. The signatories were Burgundy, France, England, the Holy Roman Empire (a federation, primarily of German societies), the Netherlands, Spain, and the Vatican. Additionally, the negotiations and consequences elevated Henry VIII in terms of reputation, credibility, and power.
Tournai Groats are rare, and forgeries are around. Beginners should just ignore the whole issue.
The Groats of the second coinage (1526-44) were lighter in weight and featured a fairly clear portrait of Henry VIII. His facial features markedly differ on different Groats during this era.
There are many varieties of Groats of the second coinage. The least scarce is generally referenced as Spink Standard Catalogue S-2337E. All the S-2337 varieties are similar, and all were struck in London. There is a variety (S-2338) on which a title regarding Ireland was added.
There are also varieties of second coinage Groats that were struck in York (S-2339-40). A very distinctive ‘hat’ mintmark is linked to Lord Chancellor Wolsey, Archbishop of Canterbury.
There are multiple major varieties of Groats of the third coinage (1544-47). Some varieties stem from readily noticeable differences in the portrait of Henry VIII. Moreover, there were third coinage Groats struck at the following mints: Tower (London), Southwark, Bristol, Canterbury and York.
It would be awkward to attempt to explain all the mintmarks here, which are indicative of a system that is much more complicated than policies governing the use of the mintmarks in the U.S. Collectors of English coins are not as focused on mintmarks as collectors of U.S. coins. English coins are often collected by design type, or major variety irrespective of mint.
On coins produced during the coinage of 1547 to 1551, titles and portraits of King Henry VIII continued to be used after he died in January 1547. Such posthumous coins are really the first coinage of the regime of Henry’s son, Edward VI, who became king when he was 10 years old.
Under Henry’s reign, Groats and Halfgroats were minted for Ireland, too, during the mid-1530s and early 1540s. The designs of these are notably distinct from those of English Groats.
Groats of 1509 to 1526
There have been two landmark collections of Groats auctioned during the last half-dozen years. In October 2011, Spink auctioned the Frank Brady Collection of English Hammered Groats. On March 17, 2016, Morton & Eden auctioned the Motcomb Collection [of] English Groats, Edward I [to] Mary I. Both these auctions were conducted in London.
Collectors in the U.S. are probably more familiar with offerings by Stack’s-Bowers, the Goldbergs and Heritage. Auction results for various Groats are cited to provide ideas as to market values. Specific coins are not being recommended, and particular certified grades are not being endorsed here. Coins must be seen in actuality to be be properly evaluated. It is important to not draw a conclusion from any one auction result.
The first coinage of Henry VIII features portraits of Henry’s late father, Henry VII. Finding a Groat of this type is not difficult, especially a representative of the least scarce variety (S-2316). There are subvarieties of S-2316, some of which are very rare. Most collectors ignore such varieties.
In September 2007, a Groat the landmark collection of Robert Hesselgesser was auctioned by the Goldbergs. His S-2316 Groat was NGC-graded as AU-55, had pleasantly toned, and then brought $633.
In March 2015, a London Mint, NGC-graded VF-35 S-2316 Groat was sold by Heritage for $329. In August 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an NGC-graded EF-45 S-2316 for $734.88.
All Groats of this type were struck in London, except a small number that were struck at Tournai. The already mentioned Motcomb Collection contained some of the rarer die varieties of 1509-26 Groats, which are more expensive. Representatives of three of the rarer die varieties realized £1,400 ($1,764), £2,100 ($2,646) and £2,600 ($3,276) respectively.
The most expensive of the three was from Tournai, which has a fascinating history and would be a splendid topic for a future discussion. This discussion is aimed at collectors who are unfamiliar with silver coins of Henry VIII.
1526 to 1544
During 1526, Lord Chancellor Wolsey “reduced the Groat from 48 to 42+(2/3) grains, which agrees with the average weight of many surviving Groats of Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII,” states C. A. Whitton in the British Numismatic Journal (Vol. 26: No. 6,1949, p. 59). By 1545 or so, the specified weight was down to 40 grains, one-twelfth a Troy ounce.
The second coinage is characterized by several other changes. The most important is that these feature portraits of of Henry VIII himself, not his father.
As already mentioned, the least scarce Henry VIII Groat (variety S-2337E) is generally available at modest prices. There is not a need to know the definition of the S-2337E variety to understand that it is the least scarce major variety of the second coinage of Henry VIII Groats, 1526-44. As these coins did not have dates, Spink Standard Catalogue reference numbers are sometimes helpful in distinguishing them.
In August 2016, Heritage auctioned a S-2337E Groat that is in an NGC ‘details’ holder with a notation that the reverse has been “scratched.” This coin may possibly have additional problems, though it is well struck and probably has pleasing natural toning. It has the ‘details’ of a VF-30 grade coin. The price realized of $199.75 is reasonable, from a logical perspective. This is an appealing coin that is nearly 500 years old and stems from the reign of the most famous of all English kings.
In June 2015, an NGC-graded Fine-15 S-2337E Groat brought $176.25. In December 2014, an NGC-graded VF-30 S-2337E Groat went for $188. On the NGC holder, it is said that this $188 coin was earlier in the collection of John J. Pittman, who is extremely famous among collectors of U.S. coins.
Better quality pieces are relatively more expensive. In March 2016, Heritage sold an NGC-graded VF-35 S-2337E Groat for $423.
In June 2013, the Goldbergs auctioned a S-2337E variety Groat that is NGC-graded AU-55. It brought $690.
Near the end of Henry’s life, the financial condition of the English government worsened. The debasement of coins was one of several poorly reasoned policies to address budget shortfalls of the government.
In January 2016, an NGC-graded Fine-15 Groat of the third coinage was auctioned for $235. It was struck at the Bristol Mint, which had commenced production in 1546. According to Whitton (1949), the Southwark and Canterbury Mints opened in 1545 and produced Groats. In the Motcomb Sale, at least one well detailed, Henry VIII Groat from each mint sold for less than the equivalent in pounds of US$500.
In January 2013, at the New York International Numismatic Convention (NYINC), Stack’s-Bowers auctioned two uncertified (raw) Henry VIII Groats from the 1544-47 period. I examined both of them.
The first has the sharpness of an EF-45 to AU-50 grade coin. The portrait of Henry VIII has considerable detail, with his beard and facial expression fairly clear. The toning is natural. This coin was struck on a very imperfect planchet and the reverse die was rusty. The reverse is clear enough, yet has some negative issues. It is non-gradable by U.S. standards. The $440.63 result was strong, though understandable.
The second in the same auction was struck at Canterbury. It brought the same $440.63 result, though was a much better value. Although the strike is very uneven and the reverse die employed was very worn, the overall quality of this coin is impressive, much better than the just mentioned Tower (London) Mint piece.
On this Canterbury Mint coin, the king’s facial expression seems quite different. It almost appears as though he is chuckling and winking at the viewer of the coin.
This Canterbury Mint Groat has naturally toned nicely, with pleasing shades of medium gray, brown-russet tints, and a little orange-russet color. It is an appealing coin that may receive a numerical grade in the AU range from NGC or PCGS, if submitted.
In September 2013, a London Mint Groat (variety S-2370) was auctioned by the Goldbergs. It was NGC-graded EF-45 and has a sticker of approval from WINGS. That coin has appealing natural toning, mostly a mellow gray hue with considerable orange russet within design elements. The mint-caused imperfections, however, are substantial and a little annoying. It brought $368, a result which is consistent with the just mentioned Canterbury Mint Groat realizing $440.63 less than two months earlier.
Henry VIII Groats for Ireland
The Irish Groats and Halfgroats of Henry VIII are known for their symbols, especially a harp. A coin of the first harp type, from the 1530s, was PCGS-graded AU-50 and auctioned at the September 2014 Long Beach Expo for $352.50. This piece was probably struck in 1536. In June 2014, an NGC-graded EF-40 Anglo-Irish Groat, with deep brown-russet toning, sold for $246.75.
In December 2014, a coin of the second harp type (1540-42), which is NGC-graded as AU-50, was sold by Heritage for $411.25. In June 2014, two sold for $258.50 each, one was NGC-graded EF-40 and the other was NGC-graded EF-45. They are of slightly different varieties.
There are many Irish Groats of Henry VIII that have publicly sold for prices between $100 and $500. It would be easy to collect a few of these.
Generally, for prices ranging from $100 to $700, a large number of Henry VIII Groats could be purchased. A type set of five Groats is very much practical: a Groat from each of the three English coinages of Henry VIII, a Groat from the Irish coinage of Henry VIII and a Groat from the first coinage of King Edward VI, which was in the name of Henry VIII.
An alternate objective may to to assemble a set of Henry VIII Groats from each of the mints that produced them: Tower (London), Bristol, Canterbury, Southwark and York. Such a set of mints could be completed while spending less than $500 on each coin.
© 2016 Greg Reynolds
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