Revolution And Rebellion [Stamp & Coin Mart, May 2009, Page 98, 99]
Brett Hammond of TimeLine Originals provides an introductory guide to the collectable items dating back to the English Civil War, some of which can now be obtained for as little as few pounds
The English Civil War spluttered and spurted across the pages of our history books for almost a decade in a series of short, but often bloody battles, skirmishes and sieges that have left a legacy to capture the imaginations of todayís collectors in a number of fields. Numismatists compete for examples of the wide variety of coins it offers. Antiquarians eagerly snap up its relics, which span a price range from under ten pounds to more than a thousand. Historical re-enactment societies, even though they must dress mainly in replicas of 17th century clothing and equipment, enjoy nothing better than buying a genuine artefact associated with a particular Civil War incident or site. Genealogists can obtain copies of documentary records and often trace their roots to establish which side - Roundhead or Cavalier - their blood kin supported. Even outdoor types, who donít share our enthusiasm for collecting, visit battlefields, castles and country houses involved in the struggles. So you must prepare for healthy competition if you wish to own your own fragment from this dramatic period of our history.
Letís start with the coins. When, on August 22nd, 1642, King Charles raised his royal standard at Nottingham Castle and declared war on Parliament, the vast majority of coins then circulating in the kingdom were hammered silver pieces ranging from crowns to halfpennies. Most carried a left-facing portrait of the monarch, though the tiny silver sixpences had a rose on obverse and reverse, while the much larger crowns and halfcrowns carried images of the king on horseback brandishing a raised sword. The majority were made by the time-honoured hand-hammered methods that had scarcely altered since the first English coins were struck a thousand years earlier. A very small number of silver milled coins of Charles were also in circulation before the war began. So, too, were gold coins including angels, unites, crowns and angels; but the costs of war soon saw most gold disappear into hoards or the melting pot. Just as interesting, at the opposite end of the economy, tiny copper farthings, privately made under licence from the king, supplied the needs of the poorest until the outbreak of hostilities. Some carry an abbreviation of the kingís name (CARO) and most have regal emblems such as crowns, sceptres, roses or coats-of-arms on one or both faces.
Also worthy of note are 17th century lead tokens and tallies, some of which must have changed hands while the war rumbled on. They were used as small change, or to keep account, in taverns and farms across the land, many bearing enigmatic initials which genealogists love to examine; a few bearing dates that place them squarely in the war years.
With the king moving his headquarters as the war progressed, and with cities and towns changing sides, and with the London mint firmly in Parliamentary hands, money to pay Royalist troops had to be struck in several provincial towns where old or temporary dies were often used in emergencies. Add the difficulties of laying hands on silver metal, and the need to produce lighter coins as the war progressed, and itís not difficult to appreciate why so many types were struck. No less than sixty different shillings appeared in Charles the Firstís reign, almost all the products of provincial mints operating under wartime conditions. Surprisingly, some of those fascinating numismatic relics can be had in the lower denominations (shillings, sixpences, groats, threepences, half-groats and pennies) for as little as £20
With a more robust budget you might have the good fortune to add a much rarer coin to your collection: one of the siege pieces roughly made by the defenders of Carlisle, Newark, Pontefract, or Scarborough when garrison commanders paid their men by hacking silver plate into appropriately sized chunks and marking them with emblems and (usually) the letters OBS, an abbreviation of the Latin obsidere (to besiege). Expect to pay a four-figure sum for one of the finer examples.
And what of the Parliamentarians who eventually won the war and finally beheaded the king in 1649? Well, throughout the hostilities they minted and used coins struck from the kingís dies at the Tower mint. With Charles dead and the Commonwealth established, the new rulers decided to rid Englandís coinage of Latin inscriptions, regarded as too papist; and to issue coins of similar denominations, but bearing St Georgeís cross and the words GOD WITH US. Examples are keenly sought by collectors, as are the even scarcer Oliver Cromwell issues of 1656-8.
Antiquities collectors on tight budgets can also start quite cheaply with lead - in this case the lead musket balls fired in anger wherever Roundheads clashed with Royalists. These seemingly insignificant artefacts are, in fact, often unique because men who went into battle bearing firearms carried their own privately made matchlocks or flintlocks. They moulded tailor-made ammunition beforehand and they left musket balls of many calibres on the battlefields. Unlike iron pikes and steel sword blades, lead has a long survival rate in the ground, often acquiring an attractive patina over more than three hundred years. At the time of writing, TimeLine Originals stocks include Civil War musket balls for as little as £1.
Vastly more expensive Civil War militaria - for example, lobster pot helmets and cuirasses - become available from time to time as old collections are broken up; but for the enthusiast of limited means there are probably more opportunities with military buttons, badges and buckles from this period. Many men went into battle carrying portraits of the king on personal items such as seals, pipe tampers, even rings. You will find examples from time to time in dealersí lists.
Bear in mind that during the near decade that the war rumbled on, many families across the country continued with their daily lives interrupted in only minor ways. Domestic items from this Stuart period can rightly be regarded as Civil War relics even though they never witnessed the violence. Coin weight and trade weights spring to mind; some occasionally encountered with the kingís portrait or initials. In view of what I said above about the complexities of the currency, coin weights were essential everyday items in any marketplace.
Then there are numerous non-military pewter items including plates, spoons, porringers and more. It would require a book to do justice to the subject ... and fortunately there is a title I can enthusiastically recommend: Domestic Pewter Of 17th Century England - A Historical Re-enactors Guide To The Industry And Its Products. (ISBN 1 85804 199 6; Stuart Press). Supplement such reading with regular visit to the web pages of dealers and you should soon begin to build an interesting collection reflecting this dramatic period in our history.
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