british gold coins

Rare Gold penny of King Henry III, England c. 1257-58

One of only 8 known coins of this type.

This gold penny of King Henry III (1216-72) marks the first attempt for some six hundred years to reintroduce a regular gold coinage in England, at a time when no other state north of the Alps was issuing such coins. The rarity is due to the short time for which the coins were issued: introduced in 1257, they were probably produced only for a little over a year.

For a long time it was thought that the first English gold coin struck since Anglo Saxon times was the gold florin of Edward III, made in 1344. However, documentation came to light in the 1700’s that in the reign of Henry III a gold penny was struck. This gold penny, made in 1257, was the first English hammered gold coin struck since before the Norman conquest - and came fairly close to being lost forever to the mists of time.

Henry III’s depiction on this coin was a departure from established practice, which had for nearly two centuries confined itself to showing only a bust of the king. This superb depiction of the enthroned monarch is a splendid and ornate presentation of royalty, to match the prestige of the precious metal of the coin. The design seems to have been inspired by earlier coins of Edward the Confessor (1042-66), founder of Westminster Abbey (on which Henry lavished much attention) and an idealized type of king whom Henry was keen to be seen emulating.


A coin for curing the “King’s Evil”; the gold angel of Charles I, London (Tower mint), 1625-1649

The gold ‘angel’ was introduced in 1465 by Edward IV, and was called an angel because it shows the Archangel Michael on the obverse. On the reverse is a medieval ship, which had been on the reverse of medieval gold coins since 1344. It was originally worth one-third of a pound (six shillings and eightpence), but by the sixteenth century it had increased in value to ten shillings, indicated by the Roman numeral X.

The coin dates from the reign of Charles I (1625-1649) and bears the inscription AMOR POPULI PRAESIDIUM REGIS ('the love of the people is the King’s protection’), which was introduced by Charles I. This reflects the king’s concern about popular discontent, which was entirely justified by the events of the English Civil War, culminating in the execution of the king on 30th January 1649.

This coin was pierced so that it could be used in the ceremony of 'touching for the King’s Evil’. It was believed that the skin disease scrofula could be cured by the touch of the king, and thus it was also called the King’s Evil. Sufferers of the disease who were touched by the king were presented with a gold angel to hang around their neck, as an amulet to reinforce the cure.

One of the last people to be touched for the King’s Evil was Dr. Samuel Johnson, one of the greatest literary figures of the eighteenth century, who was touched by Queen Anne (1702-1714). The first Hanoverian monarch, George I (1714-1727), abandoned the practice, which was regarded as superstitious.


An Anglo-Saxon shilling with a figure in profile modeled off a diademed bust of a Late Roman emperor on the front, and double emperor busts on either side of a globe topped with a statue of winged Victory (also modeled off Late Roman coinage) on the reverse.

Cast out of gold.

Made in the 660s by the Anglo-Saxons in England.

Currently held at the British Museum.