Two Kings’ Heads Not Worth a Crown

Counterstamped Spanish American 8 Real coin issued by Treasury with a value of 4s. 9d. to supplement a deficiency in British silver coins; the original coin, a 1787 F.M. 8 Real from the Mexico City Mint, Mexico. Museum Victoria, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Counterstamped Spanish American 8 Real coin issued by Treasury with a value of 4s. 9d. to supplement a deficiency in British silver coins; the original coin, a 1787 F.M. 8 Real from the Mexico City Mint, Mexico. Museum Victoria, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

SPANISH DOLLARS. Some of your readers are old enough to remember the time when Spanish dollars circulated in this country. They were made current in Britain by stamping them with the head of the sovereign, George III. The punch by which this was done was about the size of the king’s head, or “duty mark,” on silver plate. I have just met with the following epigram on this subject, which is worth preserving in your pages. I quote from a letter of Robert Southey’s, dated April 26, 1797, printed in Joseph Cottle’s Reminiscences of Coleridge and Southey, 1847, p. 210:

I supped last night with Ben Flower, of Cambridge, at Mr. P.’s, and never saw so much coarse strength in a countenance. He repeated to me an epigram on the dollars, which perhaps you may not have seen:–

“To make Spanish dollars with Englishmen pass,
Stamp the head of a fool on the tail of an ass.”

A.O.V.P.

— Notes and Queries, 3rd S. IX. May 5, ’66.

SPANISH DOLLARS (3rd S. ix. 368.) — Your correspondent has committed an error in this couplet, which spoils the sense. The tail of an ass is nothing. On these dollars the head of George III., in an octagon cartouche, about three-eighths of an inch by one quarter of an inch, was stamped upon the neck of Charles III., and this gave point to the line, which should be:

“To make dollars current and legally pass,
Stamp the head of a fool on the neck of an ass.”

H.W.D.

— Notes and Queries, 3rd S. IX. June 2, ’66.

In 1797 an attempt was made by the Treasury to supplement the deficiency of silver coinage by the issue of Spanish dollars, and half, quarter and eighth dollars, countermarked on the obverse with the bust of George III, the stamp, a small oval one, being that used by the Goldsmiths’ Company for stamping the plate of this country. These counterstamped dollars, &c., have on one side the bust of Charles III (or IV) of Spain, and on the other the Spanish arms. The dollar was to be current at 4s. 9d., which gave rise to the saying “two kings’ heads not worth a crown.” On account of the numerous forgeries of this counterstamp, another one was adopted in 1804. It was somewhat larger, octagonal in shape, and with the head of the king as on the Maundy penny of the time. This stamp also was soon counterfeited. In the same year the Bank of England received permission to issue a dollar of the current value of 5s., and this permission was extended in 1811 to pieces of the value of three shillings and eighteen-pence. […] Dies were also prepared for pieces of the value of 5s. 6d. and 9d., but none were issued for circulation.

— Herbert Appold Grueber, Handbook of the Coins of Great Britain and Ireland in the British Museum, p. 150.

Curator: Christian Clay Columba Campbell

Christian Clay Columba Campbell is a Roman Catholic of the Anglican Use. As Senior Warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Orlando, FL), he organised the process by which the parish accepted the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, petitioning to join the Catholic Church. The Anglican Cathedral is now the Church of the Incarnation in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

Personal queries should be directed to me at eccentricbliss dot com.

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