Analysis regarding scarce coins, markets, and coin collecting , #399
A CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
Crowns, Five Shilling silver coins, of King Charles II are not rare overall. Thousands survive of those minted during his reign from 1660 to 1685. The mass-produced British Crowns, however, were designed by John Roettier. The 1663 pattern silver crowns including the Petition Crown of Thomas Simon are extremely rare and are the most sought after of all British numismatic items.
These are ‘in the news’ as representatives of both Simon 1663 pattern crown varieties in silver will be auctioned during the evening of Wednesday, January 10, 2018, at the “The Hyatt Grand New York” in conjunction with the New York International Numismatic Convention. This is one of many auctions by different firms that will occur during the week of the convention.
This particular auction session will be held by a coalition of firms lead by the Goldbergs and including Sovereign Rarities, a relatively new firm featuring luminaries Ian Goldbart and Steve Hill. The cataloguing for the ‘World Coins’ session was handled by Sovereign Rarities, the Goldberg staff and Stephen Harvey.
I have yet to examine the Petition Crown and Reddite Crown patterns in this auction. For the Petition Crown, the catalogue notes some “hairlines and buffing in obverse field in antiquity, otherwise a superb example of the most famous coin in the entire British series. Only two others, both inferior examples, sold at auction in the USA in the past 100 years, Wormser in 1992 and Jenks in 1921.”
Each Petition Crown pattern features a plea in English on the edge for the king to consider this design for coinage and to appoint Thomas Simon the sole chief engraver. Around fifteen Petition Crown patterns survive, several of which are in museums.
The Reddite Crown [above] was struck from the same pair of dies, though features a message in Latin on the edge. Strikings of the Reddite Crown in pewter and pewter strikings of another variety exist. The pewter strikings are considered to be less important than the Reddite Crown patterns in silver and constitute a topic for another discussion.
It seems likely that from six to ten Reddite Crown patterns in silver exist now, just three to seven of which are privately owned. PCGS has certified this piece as ‘SP-35.’ It is thus certified as a non-Proof Specimen Striking, which is entirely plausible. Quite a few of the pieces struck from dies that Simon designed and engraved for Cromwell are clearly special strikings.
Translations of the Latin statement on the edge are not controversial, ‘Render to Caesar that which truly and rightfully belongs to Caesar.’ This statement is followed by an abbreviation for a Latin proverb, ‘After the storm, the sun shines again.’
Clearly, the “storm” refers to the period from 1642 to 1660 during which the English Civil War was fought, the Parliamentarians accrued power and then Oliver Cromwell dissolved Parliament and established his own government. Simon was writing positively and opportunistically about the restoration of the monarchy and the coronation of King Charles II.
This civil war lasted, more or less, from 1642 to 1651. Before, the role of the parliament in London was not well defined. Many influential citizens favored more of a balance of power between the monarch and parliament, with the immediate need for the parliament to have a more solid legal foundation. Also, there was much dissatisfaction with particular policies of King Charles I.
In 1648, the Parliamentarians authorized Thomas Simon to engrave the official government seal of The Commonwealth. Moreover, Simon designed and executed many extraordinary coins and patterns during the Cromwell era. Today, Cromwell silver and gold pieces are highly prized by collectors.
In 1649, King Charles I, father of Charles II, was executed by a faction of Parliamentarians. In 1853, Oliver Cromwell consolidated power and became the ‘Lord Protector.’ Cromwell was never regarded as royalty nor did he represent himself as a king. The rebellion, though, lost much of the little democratic spirit that it had, after Cromwell dissolved parliament.
Charles II, son of Charles I, fled to the continent of Europe. He spent years in France and considerable time in the Dutch Republic, which was formerly known as the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands.
Charles II was a relatively open-minded, fair and flexible king. He was not like the Caesars of Ancient Rome.
The Caesar reference in the edge inscription of the Reddite Crown should not be interpreted as referring to Julius Caesar, nor should it be interpreted as equating Charles II to any of the other Caesars of Ancient Rone.
In 1662 or early 1663, Simon was not just acknowledging the already widely accepted notion that Charles II was the legitimate king. Simon was implying that Simon’s artistic conceptions of the king and of the symbols of the kingdom were true and appropriate, excellent conceptions for the king to behold. Further, Simon was arguing that the work of a foreign engraver, Roettier, should not be rendered for the king. Simon’s viewpoint was a little self-serving and seems characterized by anger.
While the words on the edge of each Reddite Crown were in Latin, those imparted on each Petition Crown [below] were in English. Here is the text, with some punctuation modified, as the original contains a large number of periods and no commas!
“THOMAS SIMON, MOST HUMBLY, PRAYS YOUR MAJESTY TO COMPARE THIS, HIS TRYALL PIECE, WITH THE DUTCH. AND IF MORE TRULY DRAWN & EMBOSS[E]D, MORE GRACE[FUL], FULLY ORDER[E]D, AND MORE ACCURATELY ENGRAVE[D], TO RELIEVE HIM.”
To be understandable to current readers in the U.S., I have here modernized and grammatically enhanced the statements in this ‘petition.’ I honestly believe that my edit of the original accurately conveys Simon’s message. I have referred to 18th and 19th century sources, though this interpretation is my own.
‘Thomas Simon most humbly prays that your majesty will compare this pattern piece for you with that of the Dutchman. If this piece is more truly drawn and embossed, more graceful, more accurately engraved, and better ordered, than his piece, relieve him of his position.’
John Roettier had then recently been appointed chief engraver at the Tower Mint in London, a position that Simon had held for more than ten years, either alone or in association with another engraver. It was a common belief that Roettier received his appointment because of his political connection to King Charles II rather than because of Roettier’s qualifications.
Although Simon’s ‘petition’ is aggressive, boastful and impolite, there is much truth to it. Moreover, Simon’s choice of words is brilliant. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the word ‘emboss’ not only means ‘raise in relief from a surface,’ it also means adorn or embellish. The web site Dictionary.com defines graceful as ‘characterized by elegance or beauty of form, manner, movement, or speech; elegant.’
The mention of the concept of ‘ordered’ is noteworthy; ordered does not just mean well organized, it refers to the following of firm principles or procedures. Simon was asserting that he had created fabulous coin designs that, while extraordinary in structure, form and technique, were in line with the rules for coins that had been established.
Milled Coinage, Technology and Rarity
Until 1663, almost all British coins were hammered, literally struck by hand with dies and tools. Several powerful societies in Europe had adopted screw press technology much earlier than the British did. The term ‘milled’ is often used to refer to coins that were struck via a machine, particularly a screw press or a steam press.
In his current online book (2005), Ken Elks relates, “Milled coins were minted for the first time in [the British Isles in] 1561, [during] the reign of Elizabeth I. A screw press powered by horses was used in their manufacture, under the supervision of a Frenchman, Eloye Mestrelle. The quality of the coins was vastly superior to the normal hammered coinage, but production was much slower. Mestrelle was also resented as an interloper by the mint workers because of his nationality and unpopular because his machinery was perceived as a threat to their continued employment. After ten years Mestrelle was dismissed and the milled coinage ceased. Later Mestrelle turned to counterfeiting, for which he was hanged in 1578.”
The use of a screw press to strike coins resumed in Britain during the 1630s after another Frenchman, Nicholas Briot, was appointed chief engraver in 1628 by King Charles I. This title, ‘chief engraver,’ was unclear as, during most periods, there were multiple chief engravers, and, during some periods, there was just one. The title itself does not communicate the exact role of a specific person who held the title.
During the 1630s, the use of a screw press slowed production and various Tower Mint personnel were unhappy with the coins produced. A decision was made in London, presumably approved by King Charles I, to continue to hammer coins and discontinue use of screw press technology. Briot was then given a position at the Scottish Mint where milled coins were produced from 1837 to 1842.
Patterns and some special issues during Cromwell’s era were milled, struck with a screw press. At the onset of the reign of Charles II, however, coins were still hammered at the Tower Mint in London. Simon had engraved dies for milled coins and patterns for Cromwell and he was very familiar with new technology developed by Pierre Blondeau, another Frenchman. Blondeau worked at the Tower Mint in London during the Parliamentarian-Cromwell era.
In 1660 and 1661, regular issue coins of Charles II were hammered. In 1662, hammered coins were made along with ‘milled’ coins. It was then decreed that, starting in 1663, all coins struck in England would be ‘milled.’
The Petition Crowns and Reddite Crowns were made with the most advanced coining technology of the era. Furthermore, the meticulous detail in the engraving and the quality of the strikes are very important. The forms of design elements and the edge lettering are very impressive. Indeed, the edge lettering was astonishing at the time.
The artistic and technology factors are among several reasons why these patterns are extremely important. Additionally, there were pertinent economic and foreign policy issues. Rarity, too, is a factor.
There are less valuable British coins and patterns that are rarer. The Double Leopard that sold privately in 2016 is far rarer. The Simon pattern crowns of 1663 relate to the ending of the English Civil War and the restoration of the monarchy.
For simplicity and clarity, I refer to English coins as British. Although the United Kingdom of Great Britain was not officially formed until May 1707, pre-1707 English coins were struck on the British Isles; England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and some small islands are all part of Britain, broadly defined.
In ancient times, the Romans colonized the British Isles and used the names Britain and ‘Brittania’ to refer to the British Isles. The Ancient Romans considered the region that now constitutes England to be part of Britain. In the present, people throughout the world think of ‘English’ as a language rather than as an adjective to identify particular objects.
Silver Crowns Are of Paramount Importance
In 1662, the design for a new British Silver Crown was more important than the designs of other British coins. A crown is a category of coins more so than a denomination. A U.S. silver dollar is a crown.
Worldwide, crowns are a category of coins that include German Talers, U.S. silver dollars, Dutch Lion Daalders, the original Japanese One Yen coins, and the Spanish Eight Reales coins (‘Pieces of Eight’) that circulated throughout the world for centuries. These are all large silver coins of similar weights and fineness that played key roles in international trade or were intended to be consistent with the crowns that were a mainstay in international commerce for centuries. Crowns were close enough in size and silver content such that they were accepted in many locations on six continents!
British Silver Crowns were first struck in 1551. Gold Crowns are a different topic.
The British coinage system was substantially modified in 1816. The traditional British Silver Crown faded by 1920, but had been a monetary unit of the world for centuries.
So, the British Silver Crown of King Charles II was extremely important in that it was the ‘coin of the world’ that made clear that the civil war was over and the Stuart dynasty continued along with the restoration of the monarchy. While British Silver Crowns never circulated worldwide to the extent of Spanish Eight Reales coins (‘Spanish Milled Dollars’) or Talers from German speaking societies, British Silver Crowns were widely known and understood. They made political statements.
Is it known by historians now that the Roettier family provided political support to Charles II while he was living in exile? It is not known for certain why Charles II chose John Roettier to be the top engraver rather than Thomas Simon. There are several plausible reasons.
The vast amount of engraving work that Simon did for the Parliamentarians and for Oliver Cromwell personally might have had a negative impact on King Charles II. Simon’s personality and attitude could have have been factors as well.
For whatever reasons, after Prince Charles returned to England in 1660 and became King Charles II, he enabled at least two members of the Roettier family to work at the Tower Mint in London, which was the primary Royal Mint. Later, additional Roettiers joined the mint workforce.
In 1660, the regime of Charles II retained Simon’s services, though he was demoted. Simon became focused on engraving dies for medals and seals rather than coins.
From 1660 to 1662 hammered Charles II Halfcrown, Shilling, Sixpence, Twopence and one penny silver coins were struck, in addition to gold coins of a few denominations. Gold Crowns were produced. Because of the importance of the Silver Crown denomination, it was delayed.
Indeed, the government administered a contest to determine which of the engravers would design the new Charles II Silver Crown. Entrants could submit drawings and patterns. It is clear that Roettier’s proposal was selected, though it is not clear as to why.
Historical accounts of the outcome of this contest vary. It may be true that Thomas Simon did not compete because he thought he had no chance of winning. Simon thus produced the Petition Crown and Reddite Crown patterns to protest his fall from grace and draw attention to himself.
The Petition Crowns could certainly have been produced early enough for Simon to include at least one with his entry in the contest. Simon would probably have been aware that the prescription for the symbolism on the reverse of such silver coins was being changed.
If Simon submitted coin patterns, Petition and/or Reddite Crown patterns may have been judged to be too elaborate, not because of edge lettering. The detail, depth of field and relief were all such that mass production would be difficult. Of course, less sophisticated dies could have been forged for mass production. Even so, officials then may have found Simon’s submissions to be impractical. The contest was about coins, not medals.
U.S. Mint officials in 1907 found Ultra High Relief double eagle ($20 gold) patterns to be very difficult to produce and even Regular High Relief double eagles to be impractical. A less elaborate version of the Saint Gaudens double eagle became a mass produced, regular issue $20 gold coin. The plan in 1662 was to produce British Silver Crowns in massive quantities; they would literally be seen all over the world.
It is possible that Simon participated in the contest in some way, perhaps with just drawings and plans, without coin patterns. He could then have later made patterns to protest the decision to adopt Roettier’s design.
As protest patterns rather than submissions, Simon could distribute them. If so, Simon may have been primarily concerned about being recognized for his talents and making interested people aware of the designs that could have been adopted. He may have been advertising his own talents to a wider audience, while being careful to not offend the king.
People during that era were more concerned about their respective legacies than people in the current era. It seems likely that Simon wished for his career to finish with some thunder, rather than just designing seals for counties or twopence coins.
Thomas Simon had a fabulous career as an engraver. He was considered the foremost engraver of the 17th century. Simon probably wished to have a psychological and emotional impact on Charles II and on influential people who he knew and respected.
©2018 Greg Reynolds