The life, times and coins of Queen Anne [Stamp and Coin Mart, November 2010, Page 96, 97]
The reign of Queen Anne is not the most memorable chapter in British history, but the small selection of coins produced during her reign offer the collector great scope, as antiquities expert Brett Hammond explains


Most good queens of England - Elizabeth I, Victoria, Elizabeth II for example - have enjoyed the widespread popularity, affection, even idolatry of their subjects. Alas for Queen Anne, who probably deserves a place among the good queens, her physical appearance (short, fat, squint-eyed); her ill-health (gout and more), and her great troubles with childbirth (her miscarriages and still-births ran well into double figures) all militated against cheering crowds of well-wishers. By the time she died in 1714 her body had become so grossly overweight that she had to be buried in a coffin that was almost square. And after death her memory lived on only because her name became associated with an elegant if ornate style of architecture on which she had no personal influence at all.

Yet despite such a burden of misfortunes Anne was, if fact, happily married. True, her husband, Prince George of Denmark, a reputed drunkard, was unpopular with the general public; but Anne loved him, and their private domestic life was reported as blissful. Anne also possessed the enviable knack of making close friends of the right people. One was George Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, who proved himself one of Britain's greatest soldiers. He was a master of battlefield tactics, able to move his troops swiftly and to concentrate firepower where needed. As a result he won four glorious victories over Britain's arch-enemies the French - at Blenheim (1704); at Ramillies (1706); at Oudenarde (1708); and at Malplaquet (1709). Anne and Parliament expressed their gratitude by building him a new home: Blenheim Palace, where, almost two centuries later, Winston Churchill was to be born.

The years of Anne's reign (1702-1714) witnessed monumental changes in Britain's position in the world, commencing with the union of England and Scotland and the creation of Great Britain, a nation on the threshold of the Industrial Revolution and the dawning of the British Empire. Ours was by far the richest and most scientifically advanced country in Europe, with glitteringly talented people such as Swift, Pope, Wren, Locke, Newton, Defoe and many more that Anne could count as subjects. These were the years when Britain gave the world its first daily newspapers when a British inventor dreamed up milk chocolate when the world benefited from Arkwright's spinning jenny and Jethro Tull's seed drill, to name but a few British sparks of genius.

Her brief twelve years as sovereign gave future coin collectors relatively few new pieces; but some bearing her portrait merit attention, not least the copper farthing issued only in her final year, 1714. Like the monarch herself, this was a squat-shaped piece which soon earned the nickname dump farthing among poor folk who used it regularly in their change. It might have slipped into obscurity as the 18th century progressed, but instead it became the subject of an unsubstantiated rumour that very few Queen Anne farthings had been minted and that collectors would buy them at vastly inflated prices. One historian has suggested that the origins of the rumour can be traced to Yorkshire where, around 1755, an advertisement appeared in a local newspaper announcing that a woman had lost a Queen Anne farthing which possessed great sentimental value, and that she would pay a substantial sum of money for its safe return. Almost immediately staff at the British Museum (founded 1753) began to report a steady stream of callers bringing Queen Anne farthings from as far away as America, Ireland and Scotland in anticipation of quick sales. The museum bought very few, but on the strength of the rumours the price paid by dealers kept on rising. As late as 1802 one specimen went for 750 guineas. The frenzy has cooled today; but these farthings still command strong prices. The reverses of her silver money - crowns, halfcrowns, shillings and sixpences - offer variety thanks to Anne's peculiar position with regard to the thrones of both England and Scotland. Technically she was the last queen of Scotland ... the last queen of England .... and the first queen of Great Britain. The anomaly arose because she was already queen in both realms before the Act of Union (1707) which created the new sovereign state of The United Kingdom of Great Britain. Prior to unification the cruciform shields on the reverses of these coins showed the arms of England, Scotland, France and Ireland separated by sceptres, and with a rose filling the centre of the coin. Those minted after the union showed the English and Scottish arms conjoined on two of the shields, with the Irish and French shields between them. The central device altered from a rose to a star.

All silver coins of Anne's reign previously minted uniquely for Scotland were recalled to the Edinburgh mint where they were melted down and re-circulated as United Kingdom coins but bearing the E mintmark of the Edinburgh mint. Most Scots expected the Edinburgh mint would produce all of the coins required for Scotland in the future, but it ceased production after 1709, with all work transferred to London. Because no copper coins, apart from the above mentioned farthings, were produced during Anne's reign, existing Scottish coppers were allowed to remain in circulation in Scotland even after the union. They continued to serve as pennies and halfpennies for more than fifty years, becoming ever more worn with the passage of time.

Another group of eagerly sought-after silver (and rarely gold ) coins of this reign have the word VIGO below the queen's bust. They relate to an Anglo-Dutch naval expedition sent, in 1702, to capture Cadiz. The ships laid siege to the port for a month but failed to break the defences. Homeward bound, the fleet learned of 17 treasure ships returning from South America that had taken refuge in Vigo Bay to escape the attentions of the enemy. The English and Dutch attacked at once, losing several hundred men to a stiff resistance, but eventually capturing some of the treasure that the Spaniards had been unable to unload. The gold and silver booty was taken to England where it was turned into English coins at the Tower Mint. In commemoration of the event the name VIGO found its way into the design.

When Anne died without an heir in 1714 the Stuart dynasty came to an end. The crown passed to the House of Hanover, with George I wearing it as Britain embarked on decades of glory and prosperity in the 18th century. In many small ways Queen Anne had helped to steer her country in that direction.

Note: The high-resolution images of Queen Anne coins featured in the article are reproduced courtesy of the Wildwinds project www.wildwinds.com which is an online numismatic reference whose only current UK sponsor at the time of writing is TimeLine Originals, dealers in Ancient Coins, Collectibles and Works of Art.



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