In the light of the recent discovery of Richard III’s remains in the ruins of the
Grey Friars Chapel, under a car park, in Leicester there is now even more interest
in the coins issued during his brief reign.
Richard was King of England for just two years, from 1483 until his death in the
fighting at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. He was the last king of the House
of York, the last of the Plantagenet dynasty and his death is sometimes regarded
as marking the end of the English Middle Ages.
Coins of famous early English monarchs have always been a popular collecting theme
and in most cases have proved a really sound investment, the coins of Richard III
being no exception. The coins issued during Richard’s brief reign really mark the
end of England’s medieval silver coinage and although Henry Tudor’s early coins followed
much the same style as Richard’s, with only the name changed, new lifelike images
of the victor of Bosworth soon followed.
The new issues heralded the start of the English art renaissance.
Both gold and silver coins were struck bearing Richard’s name; the most traded and
popular gold coin of the day being the angel, so named from its obverse image of
St. Michael slaying a dragon. The coin was also convenient for the professional classes
as its value was six shillings and eight pence – a third of a pound, which was the
standard fee for professional services. Throughout the late Middle Ages silver coinage
of all denominations tended to follow a standard stereotype; the current monarch’s
stylised facing head on one side and a cross and pellets on the reverse. Medieval
coins often seem crude in appearance when compared with modern issues, but this is
because they were hand hammered onto roughly cut blanks and the weight and purity
of the metal was paramount over production quality
Forming even a representative collection of Richard III coins is no easy feat as
they have increased in value and scarcity quite dramatically over recent years.
Gold coins are the most expensive with the angel [Fig.1] and half angel being the
only types issued and good examples seldom come on the market. When they do you can
expect high if not record prices to be achieved. Silver coins on the other hand do
regularly appear on dealers’ lists and in auctions, but again quality pieces command
Richard’s coins are all marked by use of his own personal badges or emblems at the
start of the wording. His personal badge was the boar’s head and his family emblem
for the House of York was the white rose. The two were sometimes shown as a half
sun and half rose combined. These mintmarks can often be used to distinguish Richard’s
coins when the name on the coin is indistinct or clipped away. Coins and dated documents
are really the only artefacts available that can be attributed with accuracy to a
specific year or time. With Richard’s reign lasting just over two years the production
of coin was understandably rather limited.
Because of their scarcity, forming a collection as such of Richard III’s coins is
difficult and most people settle for acquiring a few representative examples in the
best condition they can afford. Condition and provenance are all-important factors,
especially for those with an eye on investment.
This point is well illustrated by a gold Angel recently auctioned by Spink. It achieved
over twice its pre-sale high estimate, selling for £36,000, simply because of condition
and provenance – and what a provenance! The coin was found close to the battlefield
of Bosworth. You simply couldn’t buy better.
Even more modest coins of this reign have steadily climbed in value over the last
ten years to over three or four times their selling prices of a decade ago. World-wide
news coverage of events such as the discovery of Richard’s long lost remains can
only kindle even more interest in this controversial and much maligned monarch. This
in turn is bound to boost the market for related tangible artefacts, which will then
surely further increase in value.
Alan M Dawson
Hover your cursor to
see the coins in detail
Ponterio Sale 176 August 2013
Lot 20045 sold for US$28,200
The silver groat is probably the most frequently encountered coin of Richard’s reign.
This choice example, with boar’s head mintmark on both sides, was recently sold for
£2,400 by Nigel Mills Coins of London. Actual size 26mm diameter. Halfgroats seldom
appear on the market and are extremely rare.
This magnificent and rare gold angel was recently discovered near the site of the
famous Battle of Bosworth in Leicestershire. It bears Richard III's personal emblem
of the boar’s head.
Spink Coin Auction 4th December 2012, Lot 37. Hammer Price £36,000
Size approximately 25mm diameter.
The coin was sold to a private collector, with a pre-sale estimate of £12-15,000.
Badges, sword mounts and cannonballs, as well as other coins, have been found near
the site of the battle, but the discovery of a contemporary gold coin is exceptional.
The coin is in pristine condition with few signs of wear and tear, suggesting it
had been recently made when lost, c 1484/5
Silver pennies minted in London are extremely rare, whereas those minted at York
and Durham do turn up quite regularly. The asking price, depending on condition,
tends to be between £400 and £800 for decent examples. The coin shown here is a penny
issued by Bishop Sherwood at Durham and is a good example of the type. Actual size
The tiny silver halfpenny is seldom on a full flan and most of the wording is usually
missing, yet even poorly struck specimens command a price in excess of £500. Actual
size of the example shown 11.5mm diameter
The most commonly encountered coin of Richard III is the silver groat or four-penny
piece [Fig.2] which bears the stereotyped medieval facing portrait surrounded by
the abbreviated wording RICARDVS DI GRA REX ANGLI Z FRANC (Richard, By The Grace
of God, King of England and France)
The half groat or two-penny piece is simply a smaller version of the groat and the
penny [Fig.3] follows the format of the previous reign’s issues, again with a stylised
facing portrait and shortened legend.
Groats were struck at both the Tower of London and at York, Richard’s family support
base in the north. Small silver pennies were minted not only at the Tower but also
by the Archbishop of York, Thomas Rotherham, and the Bishop of Durham, John Sherwood.
Their respective issues are marked by the letter ‘T’ and a key either side of the
king’s head for the York pieces, and the letter ‘S’ on the neck of the portrait for
those struck in Durham. Such small silver coins are seldom found on full flans and
the condition of the average specimen is pretty dreadful – yet they still command
high prices due to popular demand for any coin of this famous monarch.
Unlike today’s coinage each denomination contained its face value in silver, so as
the market price of metal increased the size of the smaller denominations decreased.
Silver halfpennies [Fig.4] and even farthings were issued, the latter being less
than eight millimetres in diameter and very thin. They are exceptionally rare being
known only from two or three examples, making them virtually impossible to acquire.