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Beating the cheats old-style: coin weights

By Howard Simmons

Throughout history people have cheated; to make dealings fair it is a fundamental requisite for anyone in a position of power to maintain a good system of weights and measures. The battle between the cheat and the authorities has been going on for thousands of years.
Coins have been the target of cheating from the start and forgeries have been made ever since.  But there are remedies.  As dealers we’ve had forgeries of ancient Greek coins (generally plated in antiquity) and others, but we make the distinction between something which was made at the time of circulation of the original coin (contemporary forgery) to obtain goods by deceit, and one made to deceive the collector, investor or academic now, cheating history as well (we don’t like those).
To combat this and to regularise the circulation of coinage, methods of weighing money and testing coins have been made. It is the collecting of these relics that are the subject of our latest Mail Bid auction sale MB77 ending on 24 August 2016.
For example there are a group of coin weights made to test the weight of coins circulating in England at the end of the reign of Elizabeth I.

MB77-4 Elizabeth I angel coin weight

MB77-4 Elizabeth I angel coin weight

Two of them in our current sale together with triangular scale pan, were all found in the Thames: one for an Angel gold coin,

the other for a half crown.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, some foreign coins were circulating, and these coins had a set tariff as long as the weight was correct.   So, confusingly, we have weights for French and Spanish coins which are in the British series.

Brass coin weight for a French gold Ecu au Soleil

Brass coin weight for a French gold Ecu au Soleil, lot MB77-8

This photo shows an example made

MB77-5 Elizabeth I Half Crown coin weight, found in the Thames

MB77-5 Elizabeth I Half Crown coin weight, found in the Thames

Triangular scale pan, Elizabethan period

Triangular scale pan, Elizabethan period, found with Angel and Half Crown weights, in the Thames

to test a French gold Ecu au Soleil.  The coin, crowned arms of France with fleur-de-lys, is depicted on one side with the tariff of 6 shillings on the other. The square style and the metal is very close to the sort of weights made in the Low Countries in the 16th century. There is almost certainly a link here to research; probably a Dutch weight maker came to London bringing some dies and the technology to make weights.

There is still much to learn about these objects and how they relate to the coinage and economy of times past.

Illustrated weights and scale are all in Simmons Gallery Mail Bid Sale 77  finishing 24th August 2016 – catalogue online on our website.

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