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Hammered coins identification


The identification of hammered coins can be a difficult and laborious process if you don’t know what to look for. The way they were made, and the age of the coin, can make it near impossible to discern the features necessary to identify the coin you have. But with a bit of perseverance and knowledge, it can be done, and below is our simple guide to help with coin identification.

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Hammered coins are made by the oldest form of coin production, and cover fascinating periods of English history. Holding a hammered coin is exciting, but knowing more about the coin helps ground it in history. Identifying the age of the coin, where it came from, and who is featured on it, elevates its appeal. This of course also has the knock-on effect of increasing its value.
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Hammering was a production method used for centuries, and involved the maker hand-striking a blank piece of metal between two dies. This meant that no two coins were exactly the same; with the inscriptions sometimes off-centre, double-struck, or simply incorrect. In many ways these errors make each coin even more unique and interesting.

Identification of hammered coins involves three general categories; the issuing ruler, the denomination, and the issuing mint. By working out one or more of these, it is possible to build a picture of exactly which coin it is that you have.

At BullionByPost, our numismatic experts carefully identify all of our numismatic coins, saving you the job. If you would like to learn more about the process however, then we go into more detail below.
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Coin identification

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Coin identification can prove tricky. Many hammered coins are worn down by time, with portraits and inscriptions faded or missing. Edges can be damaged or clipped, obscuring parts of the text or picture. The breadth of coins in medieval England alone can be daunting, with hundreds of variations based on the mint and dies used. The methods used below can be applied to foreign coins as well, but we are focusing on English coins for the scope of this article.

We’re going to use the silver Penny shown below as an initial example.

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A hammered King Cnut silver Penny. .

This coin is from the reign of King Cnut. It is one of our oldest English coins, and shows a good range of the things to look for in identifying a coin.


Inscription
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The first place to start is the inscription on the coin. This can be one of the most difficult things to identify, but offers a lot of information, and can provide the answer to all three main questions regarding a coin’s identity.

The inscription on a hammered coin can be very faded, or missing due to time and damage. The letters were often stamped poorly, due to limits in the quality of the hammering process. They are also often abbreviated, and in other languages, which can further complicate matters. With familiarity however you can begin to recognise patterns and key words, eventually being able to work out what the inscription says from parts of words or even letters.

Comparing with the normal image above, we’ve edited the picture to highlight the letters on our example coin.

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Identifying the inscription of a hammered silver coin. .

By comparing the two images, you can see how faded the letters can be, with some only decipherable by knowing what to expect. This leaves you with a coin that says ‘CNUT REX ANGLO’ on the obverse. This is Latin and translates simply as ‘Cnut, King of England’. This helps to immediately identify the ruler on the coin – King Cnut, an Anglo-Saxon King who ruled from 1017 – 1035.


Moneyer
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The reverse spells out ‘GODRIC ON GLEP’. This can be a more complicated inscription to decipher, but once again offers a lot of information. Coins at this time required the name of the moneyer (the person who struck the coin/owned the mint) to be stamped on them. In this example that would mean ‘Godric’. The ‘ON’ means ‘of’ in old English.

‘GLEP’ is the more confusing; this refers to the mint location. In old English the ‘P’ is actually a letter called a ‘Wynn’. This looks more like a ‘Y’ with a line across the top, and has since been adopted as a P. Confusing things further, this letter actually refers to a ‘W’, making ‘GLEP’, ‘GLEW’. This refers to the Gloucester Mint. Fortunately, working out the mint is relatively easy with a quick search online, with dedicated numismatics recording the many mints that existed at this time.

So, this means the coin should actually be read as ‘GODRIC ON GLEW’ and in full, ‘Godric of Gloucester’.


Mint mark
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The + (plus) symbol at the top of the coin represents the type of coin, and in this case refers to a Quatrefoil Penny. These symbols are numerous, and like the letters can be difficult to see and decipher. Fortunately, they are also well documented and lists of the numerous mint/coin marks found on old English coins are available online.

In early English history, coin mints were not a centralised and regulated system. The Royal Mint claim their founding date as 886 AD, but there had been mints in London since the 3rd century, under Roman rule. By the time of the Anglo-Saxons, and the striking of our example Penny, there was an estimated 90 mints in England alone.

These were akin to shops and blacksmiths; small independent moneyers, operating on a pseudo-licencing system. As time progressed however, these mints were closed and brought under the central control of the Royal Mint.

Using everything we’ve learned from the inscription; we can tell a lot about this coin. It features King Cnut, is a Quatrefoil Penny and was struck by Godric of Gloucester – this is enough to understand your coin better, and provide the necessary information for a valuation.


Issuing Ruler
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If the inscription is too damaged to make any decision, then the ruler portrait can at least give you a time frame to start working with. Most English coins feature the image of the King or Queen of the time on the obverse of the coin. Occasionally another image is used instead, but in most cases there will be someone shown to try and identify.

Working out the King/Queen from the picture can be difficult, but fortunately the numismatic community has helped here too. By comparing the image on your coin to others, it should be fairly easy to work out who it is you have on the coin. Our British monarch coins section has individual pages for most of the Kings and Queens of Britain, stretching back to the Anglo-Saxon time.
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Coin Specifications
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Another way to determine the type of coin you have would be to measure and weigh it. Coins were made to particular sizes and weights; this was important as their value was derived from using a certain amount of precious metal.

It should be noted, however, that this is not a guaranteed way of identifying a hammered coin. Whether through the rigours of time or purposeful clipping, the coin will likely be smaller now than when struck, and weigh less than originally intended as a result. In some cases it could help you by finding a coin with similar weight and dimensions to yours.

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Predictably, the information on coins changed over time. In most cases though, they make it easier to identify a coin. Mint marks became more precise, and gave smaller time frames, with single year of issue dates used from the reign of Edward VI onward. The quality of the hammering process also improved at this time, although the milling method of coin production would soon take over, bringing significantly better clarity.

If you’re unable to identify a hammered coin, then there is plenty of help to be found online. Dedicated groups of numismatics will likely know exactly what coin you have with just a glance, if needed. Using the tools above however, you will hopefully be a few steps closer to identifying your hammered coin.