Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Coinage of Colonial America

 A 1745 British silver shilling, with a bust of George II and the stamp "LIMA" (Peru) under the bust.  Why would a British coin have a Spanish possession stamped on it? Keep reading to find out...

The reverse of the coin, with the crown-and-roses design of possessions England claimed - England, Scotland, Ireland, and France (yes, English monarchs claimed to rule France until 1801).

Coinage was scarce in colonial America.  Many colonies in the seventeenth century even accepted quahog wampum as currency, at a rate as high as 2 to the pence for the lustrous purple ones in the early 17th century.  This practice died out by the 18th century, however, as copper coinage and paper currency became more widespread.  Hard money remained scarce, nonetheless, and the value of colonial paper issues fluctuated with a colony's solvency and the distance from the place of issue.

Coins of several European countries circulated throughout the colonies as well - British, French, Spanish, and Dutch in particular.  Values were fixed by colonial legislatures, often at different rates, but the real value was generally based on weight and purity of the metal and was subject to negotiation between buyer and seller.

The University of Notre Dame has a great website for colonial coinage and currency, for those who are interested, with overviews and illustrations of coins and currency from most colonies, as well as European coins that circulated.

See: Colonial Currency at Notre Dame
See: The Coins of Colonial and Early America at Notre Dame

Oh, and why is the silver shilling marked "LIMA"?  In 1743, at the height of the War of the Austrtian Succession, or King George's War, as it was known in the American Colonies, a British fleet under Admiral Anson captured the entire Spanish treasure fleet from New Spain and Peru.  Much of the British silver coinage of 1745 and 1746 was minted using this silver, and to mark its origin, and probably as an "in your face" taunt, the British Crown had these coins stamped "LIMA" in commemoration.

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