Patterns are coins made and issued on a very limited basis with the authority of Parliament. Sometimes regarded as test pieces so that people in power may judge their overall quality compared to regular coinage.
This is quite separate from subtle design changes or modifications such as beading, the mint made to coin designs to try and shake off the counterfeiters. Also these should be differentiated from very rare “fine work” pieces the mint may have occasionally made to demonstrate the quality achievable with traditional hammer techniques.
Counterfeiters in fact were a large part of the reason for Parliament wanting to look at milled coins produced using Pierre Blondeau’s new equipment to press coins rather than the old technique of hammering coins.
In this period there are three distinct milled issues that were made initially as a test with a view to full implementation.
The first patterns were dated 1651 when Blondeau was commissioned to make examples of silver halfcrowns, shillings and sixpences in silver. A handful of gold examples were also made. The test was limited to around 100 pieces which was sufficient to show what could be done with the new equipment. It is interesting to see the Symonds dies for this issue were very distinctive and confirmed the basic design for coinage from this period. The production resolution achieved was displayed on the strings of the harp, normally just seven are seen but on this issue 14 are discernable. Also the cross hatching on the shields is much finer than than seen on normal coinage. The icing on the cake is provided by the inscriptions around the edge of the halfcrown coins, something just not possible on regular coins. These are impressive coins.
This work was not sufficient to overcome the objections issuing from the mint who charged that hammered coins were much cheaper to produce. As a result there was no adoption of the new milling techniques although the quality achieved was noted.
A second issue of patterns was ordered in 1656. These patterns marked a significant departure in design from the 1651 issue in that these patterns bore the bust of Oliver Cromwell with a shield on the reverse and latin legends previously unseen. The task again fell to Symonds to make the dies and Blondeau to make the coins using his patented milling machines. Again very limited quantities were produced, less than 100. The results as before were stunning. Only fifty shilling pieces, gold broads, and silver halfcrowns were made as a demonstration of what was achievable. These denominations were probably selected for two reasons - the fifty shilling and broad could absorb the production costs and the halfcrown was the most popular coin of the moment in circulation.
The detail on these fine coins did not stand up well to circulation, as it was just too fine so Symonds set about the task of modifying both the bust and the shield on the dies for silver coins, making the detail deeper and coarser to make the coins more robust. This in turn led to the modified design going into production in 1658.
The 1658 issue was to be the final issue of coinage regarded as patterns. There is some doubt this series of silver crown, halfcrown and shilling ever made it into general circulation. The metal used may have originated from captured treasure ships of 1656 which was not a regular supply so there could also have been a shortage of metal. This would explain why only silver coins were produced. More of these pieces are to be found today than hammered pieces of the same date suggesting that what was released were maybe kept as momentos or touch pieces in good condition. It is also possible that traders preferred to trade these coins as weight and metal quality was vastly superior to the hammered issues so they were a much more reliable trading medium.
We will never know the full story but it is probably significant that no pattern coins have ever been found in hoards which suggests that these coins never made it outside the confines of London to the general population. Not even the now famous Thames Hoard revealed a single pattern piece.