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SunandAnchor - Milled Coins

           Milling coins was another ball game, entirely different to hammered coinage. Milled coins were not hammered but pressed between two dies into the metal. The lifetime of these dies was extended over that seen for hammered because the mill slowly impressed the die onto the metal. This gentle coming together in a consistent way led to much longer die life. Also this process was a single act so no double strikings and of course the orientation of the dies was part of the setup of the equipment. There was also a second process where the edge of the coin was pressed with a message. This was deemed necessary to deter owners from edge clipping or filing metal away from the edge before passing a coin on at it’s full value but now under weight. So a much higher quality of coinage but at a higher price and a lower rate of production.

            Pierre Blondeau was invited over from Paris to demonstrate what was possible. The engraver Thomas Symonds was commanded to produce dies to make, halfcrowns, shillings and sixpences, around 300 pieces in total which could then be evaluated along with costs. The mint under the direction of Ramage competed with their own milled coinage but were only able to make 12 pieces. In the end the mint was able to argue that the excessive costs of milling coinage were just too high to bear and that the hammer should continue.

            The Symonds dies were leading edge in that the engraving incorporated the highest level of image resolution to prove what the mill process could achieve. The Irish harp was given not 7 but 13 strings. The cross hatch was of a very fine variety, The inner beading was extra fine usually reserved for “fine work dies”. The outer beading was deep and strong to protect the centre of the coin from wear and tear. On the obverse for the first time leaf veins were incorporated into the design probably to monitor die wear. These were top quality dies produced to test both the engraver and the mill Process. Both Symonds and Blondeau rose to the occasion suggesting that they were a match winning team. Notice also that the shilling and sixpence had no stops at the mintmark which is a common variant seen on hammered dies.  

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Blondeau HCR rev

The “Blondeau” milled halfcrown of 1651 - 34 mm

Edge Inscription -

. IN . THE . THIRD . YEARE . OF . FREEDOM . BY . GODS , BLESSING . RESTORED . 1651

TRVTH  AND  PEACE  1651  PETRVS  BLONDAEVS  INVENTOR  FECIT

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Blondeau Shilling Obv
Blondeau Sixpence Rev
Blondeau Sixpence Obv

Blondeau Milled Shilling - 27 mm                                                                                                                        Blondeau Milled Sixpence - 22 mm

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The “Ramage” milled halfcrown of 1651

Edge Inscription -

TRVTH *  AND *  PEACE * 1651 *

           The “Ramage” pieces are really very strange. One has the feeling that Thomas Symonds with his design was leading the way to the future in that his design embodied features that were to become the design for the future. Clearly the hammer process was incapable of reproducing his finely engraved design but a de-tuned version was adopted for the remaining years.  On the other hand Ramage had produced halfcrowns which were totally different in design and quite crude in image resolution with non-conventional legends. Only 12 examples were circulated which suggests that there were production problems inside the mint. So a clear winning team but no adoption of what was on offer.

           One curious point is that the silver crown were omitted from these trials. This coin required the highest pressure to press the dies. This would have tested Blondeau’s equipment to the limit and Symonds dies. Either the mint only needed to see halfcrowns their largest challenge for coins being clipped, or Blondeau’s press was limited to the size of die it could handle. Either way and opportunity was lost to see if the silver crown was viable using his mill process.  An opportunity which was to cost them dearly in 1658.

           A second trial was to be made in 1656 with a totally new design featuring the bust of Oliver Cromwell himself. Some 2,000 of silver and metal plate was assigned. Three denominations were chosen for the trial - the gold fifty shilling, the gold Broad of 20 shillings and the silver halfcrown which was probably the control for comparison to previous work. Not many fifty shilling pieces have survived, around 9 and the halfcrown suffered a similar fate with very few made. All went well but it was decided that the halfcrown dies needed to be more deeply engraved. Notice again another lost opportunity to run the larger silver crown.

Cromwell 56 HCR Picture98
Cromwell Broad Cromwell Broada

Cromwell Gold Broad of 1656, shallow engraved dies.                                                           Cromwell Halfcrown of 1656, shallow engraved dies.

The more deeply engraved dies were finally produced just before Oliver Cromwell died in September 1658. This time the silver crown was one of three pieces - crown, halfcrown and shilling. These were made in Blondeau’s premises in Drury Lane so his patented process might remain a secret. No records are known of just how many milled coins were made but today they are relatively common which suggests that the numbers were high. The crown presented a problem as the now infamous cracked die appeared early on in the production run. Why ? One has to think of two possibilities. Either the depth of the engraving was too high on the obverse requiring excessive pressure to be applied which cracked the die not once but eventually twice, or the press itself was being used outside its practical range. Cracking a die suggests that the plane of the surfaces of the dies and the metal blank being struck were not parallel and that situation cracked the die in the area where first contact was made between the die and the blank. Die wear suggests the engraving depth on the obverse was also too deep as the centre wear suggests the centre of the coin protrudes more than the raised edge around the coin. 

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Cromwell Crown, early production, circulated,  with a Far East chop mark below bust, 40 mm                       Cromwell Crown, late production, uncirculated, with two obverse die cracks apparent, 40 mm

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Cromwell Halfcrown of 1658 (enlarged), actual size is 34 mm, regarded by many as the finest quality milled piece of the 17th century. Deep engraved dies.

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   Cromwell Shilling of 1658 (enlarged), actual size is 27mm

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