Rare Cromford Dollars acquired by Derby Museums

A hoard of seven post-medieval silver coins that was discovered by a metal detectorist in 2016 has been acquired by Derby Museums (DENO-BBE206). The contents of the hoard include three Spanish-American 8 reales coins known as ‘dollars’ minted in 1801 and 1802, and four very worn British shillings from the late 17th to 18th century.

Cromford Dollar minted in Mexico City in 1802.
Cromford Dollar minted in Mexico City in 1802. Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC BY

The hoard is an important local find because the dollars have been counter-stamped with Cromford Derbyshire 4 9. Cromford in Derbyshire is the site of Richard Arkwright’s water-powered cotton mill, part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.

Arkwright's Mills, painted by Joseph Wright of Derby, c. 1795-6.
Arkwright’s Mills, painted by Joseph Wright of Derby c. 1795-6. Copyright Derby Museums Trust. License: All Rights Reserved.

At the beginning of the 19th century there was a shortage of silver coinage because too few new coins were entering circulation. Royal Mint rules at the time meant that the mint could not buy silver bullion above a certain price and the Napoleonic Wars had caused the price of silver to increase above that level. However, British ships had captured many Spanish ships laden with goods from South America, including many silver ‘dollars’. Business owners used these coins to pay their workers, counter-stamping them with their bullion value. All three of the coins are stamped with 4 9, indicating that they were worth 4 shillings and 9 pence.

Cromford Dollar minted in Lima, Peru in 1802. Copyright
Cromford Dollar minted in Lima, Peru in 1802. Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC BY

The dollars show Charles IV of Spain on the obverse and the Spanish Coat of Arms on the reverse. Two of these dollars were minted in Mexico City, while the other was minted in Lima, Peru.

Mint mark showing the coin was minted in Mexico City
Mint mark on two of the coins showing they were minted in Mexico City. Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC BY.
Mint mark showing the coin was minted in Lima, Peru.
Mint mark on one of the coins showing it was minted in Lima, Peru. The mintmark consists of the letters LIMAE ligated (joined together). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC BY.

One of the other coins is also quite interesting. The original design had completely worn away by the time it was deposited (it had probably been in circulation for 100 years), but the coin was then stamped with three sets of initials on one side (JA, JJ and WW) and BURNSIDE on the other. The coin also has a double bend in it that indicates it may have been used as a love token or a lucky coin.

Silver shilling stamped and bent.
Silver shilling stamped and bent. Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC BY.

The coin hoard is an important addition to Derby Museums’ collection. The Derby Silk Mill is the site of Britain’s first fully mechanised factory and forms one of the three Derby Museums sites as well as the southern most part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. The collection contains several other artefacts that relate to Arkwright’s Mill as well as paintings of the mill by artists including Joseph Wright of Derby.

These coins are currently on display at Derby Museum and Art Gallery as part of the exhibition Derbyshire Unearthed: Coins and Coin Hoards until Sunday 22nd April. The Cromford Dollars will then form part of the new World Cultures gallery at the museum from May 2018.

 

Counterfeits, clippings and copies in Derbyshire

Derbyshire appears to have been a hotbed of coin counterfeiting in the past. Several counterfeit Roman denarii and 17th century half crowns and shillings have been discovered in the county and recorded with the PAS. Counterfeits were silver plated (e.g. DENO-DAAFF0), or made from base silver and disguised with a silver wash (e.g. PUBLIC-F070C6). They can be very high quality copies that would have looked genuine and are now only recognisable because of damage to the coins revealing the copper alloy core  (e.g. DENO-9B79DE).

Silver plated contemporary copy of a Roman denarius of Julia Domna.
Silver plated contemporary copy of a Roman denarius of Julia Domna from Wormhill (DENO-DAAFF0). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. Licence: CC BY
Silver plated contemporary copy of a Roman denarius of Julia Domna
Base silver contemporary copy of a Roman denarius of Julia Domna from near Catton (PUBLIC-F070C6). Copyright: Roger Thomas. Licence: CC BY
Silver plated half crown of Charles I.
Silver plated half crown of Charles I from Wormhill (DENO-9B79DE). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. Licence: CC BY

Later Roman coins were also copied, but not necessarily for malicious reasons. In AD 260, Britain, Gaul and Spain broke away from the rest of the Roman Empire, forming an independent Gallic Empire. The Gallic Emperors minted their own coins (based on radiates minted by the central Roman Empire) in Trier in large quantities, many of which are found in Britain. When the Gallic Empire was reabsorbed by the central Roman Empire in AD 274, coin minting in Trier ceased. The mints in Rome were not used to minting coins for Britain, so there was a shortage of radiates in Britain. The inhabitants of Britain had grown used to a monetary economy, so people began to make their own copies of radiates (known as barbarous radiates) out of old Roman sestertii and other pieces of scrap copper alloy. One of the most well known coin hoards from Derbyshire is the Amber Valley Hoard (DENO-A6AE06) which contains 3631 radiates, all but four of which are barbarous radiates. The barbarous radiates in the hoard are very crude; clearly not meant to fool anyone.

The Amber Valley Coin Hoard.
The Amber Valley Coin Hoard. Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. Licence: CC BY

It was a common but illegal practice to clip the edges of silver coins in order to melt the silver down and use it for other things including counterfeiting coins. Until 1662, most coins were struck or hammered from irregularly shaped pieces of metal, so it was easy to get away with this crime.

Counterfeiting and clipping was a big problem for the authorities who made various attempts to prevent it. During the Roman Republic, some denarii were minted with serrated edges (e.g. DENO-C8C497), a feature thought to discourage counterfeiting. They were only short-lived so they were clearly not successful.

Roman Republican silver denarius serratus of L. Papius, from Holymoorside and Walton.
Roman Republican silver denarius serratus of L. Papius, from Holymoorside and Walton (DENO-C8C497). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. Licence: CC BY

During the medieval period, the change from short cross to long cross coinage in 1247 was probably intended to prevent clipping. Coin clipping and counterfeiting was a crime punishable by death. In spite of these measures, coin clipping and counterfeiting continued and was particularly common during the English Civil War when counterfeiters thought that they were more likely to get away with it. Several hoards of clippings from that period have been discovered in Derbyshire. One of these was found in Alderwasley (DENO-060EAA). The video below is from a Blue Peter episode. Skip to 5:25 to see the finders talking about their discovery.

Derby also has a connection to coin counterfeiting. Noah Bullock set up a business on a boat on the River Derwent, where he clipped and counterfeited coins. He was arrested and only escaped the hangman’s noose because he knew the magistrate. The Noah’s Ark pub in Derby is named after him.

Many of the coins mentioned in the article are currently on display in Derbyshire Unearthed: Coins and Coin Hoards, an exhibition of Treasure and PAS finds at Derby Museum and Art Gallery.