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Cromwell Halfcrown, 1658
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SunandAnchor - Hammered Coins

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           The Commonwealth Period comes near the end of the English hammered period. That makes Commonwealth hammered coins doubly interesting as they reached their peak for quality at a time when milling was seriously seen as a competitive technology. Using the hammer had two major advantages - high speed and low cost - both factors dictated that the mint would find it difficult to implement the mill. There was one downside cost which was due to the number of dies which had to be made to sustain production. Typically a halfcrown size die might last on average for 8,000 strikings. With care more with abuse less. On the other hand low quality hammered coins from the mint allowed forgers to make counterfeit coins, mainly the halfcrown. The forgers piece was usually under weight and very badly double struck to the point where it made reading details very difficult. The response of the mint was to include subtle changes to the design of both the reverse and the obverse so that a genuine piece was obvious if the observer knew the changes for each year. The forger never matched these changes for his was made using an early Commonwealth piece as his master copy and his changes were often limited to the date.

           Civil War hoards reveal that only the halfcrown, shilling and sixpence were in daily use in the street with merchants. The gold unite, double crown, gold crown and silver crown have so far not been found hidden away. It appears their production was not for common use but maybe instead for trade which lead to the weight of gold or silver in these coins needing to be carefully controlled to the correct weights and metal purity.Their overall quality is much superior to the low denomination silver in everyday use.  

Silver Crowns 1649  to 1658

           The toughest coin to make was the silver crown. A selection of hammered silver crowns alongside the milled Cromwell Crown of 1658 is shown. The 1649 examples show that from the start there were some difficulties making crowns with the original design concept. Two sets of dies are shown and neither yielded a good result. The strike can be seen as good as the edge of the coin is complete. However while the Irish Harp may have been acceptable the English cross has a very faint texture. The cross hatching was very poorly reproduced. The process was not capable of reproducing  the fine detail needed. Clearly the answer was not a more forceful strike. Somehow the metal in the centre of the coin had to be encouraged to move.

           That was a problem which took more than a year to solve with the production new dies for the 1651 crown.    

         The problem appears to have been solved by creating a die which encouraged silver to move more easily when the coin was struck when the strike pressure would make the surface silver become softer with the heat generated. The deepest feature is the edge beading which would trap the silver at the edge of the coin, moving towards the centre, the legend was well struck up while the inner beading was fainter. The English cross in the centre shows multi-depth engraving as well. Notice the cross hatching at the centre and the raised edge bead surrounding the cross and then the deeper cut shield.
 

           The reverse of the Cromwell Crown displays very similar characteristics with varying depth of engraving suggesting that the engraver for both was the same person - Thomas Symonds.

Crowns angled closeup A
Crowns angled closeup 2
Crowns angled closeup 1

           An interesting point is that this work was only ever applied to silver crowns where the problem of metal flow was most obvious. Other Symond’s dies for testing milling techniques had similar characteristics but they were never employed on other hammered denominations. The extra work involved must have made it a slow process to execute and make the dies. 

           Hammered coins had an Achilles heel. With use, the bulk of hammered coins for day to day use became very worn in the centre. Wear and tear is dictated by the depth of the beading around the edge of the coin. This beading has to be both deep and present around the edge of a hammered coin to prevent the coin making contact in the centre. The Commonwealth design also used the legend as another layer of protection for the centre of the coin. Any coinage struck off centre has a weak point for future wear in use. These coins will display immediately wear around the area where the edge bead is missing. Check out these two hammered halfcrowns for surviving detail and weakness due to absence of outer beading.

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IMG_3173a IMG_3178a

For collectors, hammered coins make life interesting because errors making the many dies needed to sustain production are always out there waiting to be found. It seems that errors did not necessarily mean start again. Often the error was corrected and the die placed into use. As an example, a 1658 halfcrown where the second O in COMMONWEALTH had to be struck over an underlying M or N. The second example is another 1651 halfcrown where COMMONWEALTH is spelt with a stop between COMMON and WEALTH. This is probably deliberate and not an error. The stop is there to signify something different about this obverse die. Notice how the sun mintmark is protected by the strong edge bead close by so today we see an essentially perfect small sun mark.  Also you can see three distinctly different obverse die designs for 1651. There were another two in use which goes to show that after two years the obverse design was still a discussion topic at the mint.

COMMONWEALTH error
58 O over M or N
58 O over M or N closeup COMMONWEALTH error 2

Grading Hammered Coins

Grade-Potentially Fine
Grade-Potentially VF
Grade-Potentially EF

2/3 rds to full edge - Potentially EF                                       2/3rds to 1/2 edge - Potentially VF                                      less than 1/2 edge - Potentially F

Grade-significant wear or weak strike
Grade-wear, weak strike or corrosion

High Point Wear, areas of Weak Strike and/or Corrosion                                     Significant Wear and/or Weak Strike

                                      1/2 grade less                                                                                            1 grade less

Grading Example

Example - 1652/1 Halfcrown with small 2 in date

Step 1 - half edge = VF Potential

Step 2 - Significant wear or weak strike = minus 1 grade

Result FINE grade

Style Evolution of the Silver Halfcrown, 1649 to 1657

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HCR-2
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