A Brief Introduction to Elizabethan Coins

Coins from the Elizabethan Era, dated between 1558 and 1603, make a very interesting addition to any coin collection. Before adding coins to your collection, it’s important to first understand what coins are considered to be Elizabethan coins and how much they’re worth.

Let’s jump right in.

Elizabethan Era Mark On History

Before Queen Elizabeth II, daughter of King George VI, took the throne at the age of 25 in 1952, there was another Elizabeth who reigned as Queen of England and Ireland during what became known as the Elizabethan Era. She made a very important mark on history including changing the coins.

With a new Queen on the throne, a new era began. It is now referred to as the Elizabethan Era and came directly after the Tudor era. Historians often refer to the time period between 1558 and 1603 as the Golden Age when much poetry, literature, and music was birthed. It was the timeframe of Shakespeare and other deep thinkers. It is considered to be the age of adventure and discovery.

The Queen’s official coronation was on January 15, 1559. She was the last of five monarchs of the House of Tudor and was referred to as the Virgin Queen. But, the new era began in 1558 after the death of the King. It brought many changes and made a huge mark on history as a whole including coins of the time.

Queen Elizabeth I Changes Coins

When Queen Elizabeth I took the throne in 1558, England’s economy was in shambles. As the new monarch, she knew she needed to do something about this. So, she consulted with financier Sir Thomas Gresham and introduced new money now known as Elizabethan coins.

Her understanding of the economic state was that good money drives out bad money. When coins become worn down and devalued but are still in circulation alongside coins of more precious metal, people begin to withdraw the more valuable money.

She also saw the need to be more self-sufficient as a country by taking fewer foreign loans. Her ultimate goal was to restore the currency to make it purer.

Elizabethan Coins were worth what their constituent metals were worth. All coins were made out of gold or silver and not copper or paper. The exchange rate of foreign coins was based upon the amount of money in the form of a coin, or specie, it contained in relation to the English coin. 

Queen Elizabeth I started by demanding that the testoon, or shilling with her father’s image on it, King Henry VIII, be melted down. King Henry VIII had replaced 40% of the coin’s silver content with a base metal. She had the coins melted down to remove their base metal. To replace these coins, she ordered that pure silver shillings be issued. These new shillings held her face on them.

She was off to a good start. Very quickly, this new English shilling with Queen Elizabeth I’s image on it became the most desirable and sought-after coin worldwide.

In 1559, the Queen learned that people in the kingdom were refusing to accept that the base shillings of Edward VI were of 12 good pence value. When she heard of this, she quickly ordered that these coins be marked to indicate they were of lesser value.

English Monetary System

The English monetary system was now based on the Pound, Shilling, and Pence where 12 pence made one shilling, and 20 shillings made one pound. These coins stayed constant in terms of their value. However, Sovereigns, Nobels, Angels, Testoons, and Royals coins held values that changed depending on their weight and their purity.

Essentially, all Elizabethan Coins were silver or gold, even pennies. As her reign continued, by 1561, she had eventually demonetized all other debased silver money.

She was also concerned about the poor. So, she had smaller denominations of money minted. For the first time the following coins were struck:

  • threepence
  • three-half-pence
  • three-farthings

Gold And Silver Elizabethan Coins

In the eyes of the public, gold was always more valuable than silver. Queen Elizabeth I had gold denominations issued that included:

  • fine sovereign of thirty shillings
  • pound
  • half pound
  • crown
  • half crown

She also had a series of angels, half angels, and quarter angels issued that held the same values as the half-pound, crown, and half-crown.

The basic denominations under Queen Elizabeth I was:

  • pounds
  • shillings
  • pence

12 pence make a shilling, and 20 shillings make a pound. The symbols used to denote the con’s worth were £ for Pound, “s” for Shilling, and a “d” for a Penny.

Gold Coins issued included:

  • Sovereign, 20 s – A sovereign is a gold coin that is worth one pound. Even though the pound was the basic monetary unit, there was no coin called a pound until after 1583. For most of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, the Sovereign was the Pound. Whenever the Pound was issued, a 30s fine sovereign was minted as well as Half-Sovereign.
  • Pound, 20 s, also Half-Pound
  • Royal, 11 s 3 d, This coin was not minted since Queen Mary’s time but was still in circulation. It is sometimes spelled without the “o” as Ryal or even Rial.
  • Angel, 10 s, as well as Half-Angel and Quarter-Angel
  • Noble, 6 s 8 d – This was an old coin that originated with Henry VIII but was still in circulation
  • Crown, 5 s – This was a small gold coin that was also issued in silver with the same value as well as Half-Crown
  • Angel – A common gold coin in circulation worth 10 shillings, ½ pound.
  • Crown – The most common coin in circulation that is worth 5 shillings. The Crown was issued in both gold and silver.
  • Half-crown – A coin worth 2 shillings 6 pence.

Silver Coins issued at the time included:

  • Shilling, 12 d
  • Sixpence, 6 pence
  • Groat, 4 pence
  • Penny – A silver coin worth a penny, not a pence.
  • Thruppence, 3 d
  • Testoon, 2 1/4 d – This coin was also called Tester. It was an old coin of Henry VIII that was still in circulation
  • Tuppence, worth 2 pence, also called a Half-groat
  • Three-Half Penny, 1 ½ d
  • Penny 1 d, the plural form of the penny is pence
  • Three-farthing, ¾ d
  • Half-penny, ½ d, also called Haypenny or a ha’-penny
  • Farthing, ¼-penny – There was no Elizabethan Farthing coin. A coin that was worth only a farthing was considered impractical as it was too small.