Some Coin Issues are ‘Almost British’|
May 23, 2013
A look through the long record that is British history will reveal some fascinating stories, events and just plain strange items. For example, starting well before the Roman invasion of Britain, there was no true England, just a series of small kingdoms on the island, each one co-existing with the other, and sometimes fighting each other, for centuries.
While Rome and its expanding empire unified much of Britain, it’s influence was not permanent. And the Great Britain that grew and evolved into the political entity we know today did so while building an enormous overseas empire of its own. So it might be surprising to realize that there are a few notable bits and pieces that are quite close to home that never became part of Great Britain proper, but were never really considered colonies, either. Three of them have issued some very interesting coins.
The Bailiwick of Jersey, as this small set of islands is properly called, lies closer to the shores of France than it does to Southampton. If you go to its official website – helpful for any would-be tourists – you quickly find that Jersey seems to be entirely independent of Great Britain, while still retaining the title of Crown Dependency. It has its own laws, its own money, its own famous cattle and its own language, Jérriais. Queen Elizabeth II is head of state as Duchess of Normandy, not as queen. Except, for all that, it isn’t independent.
Great Britain is still responsible for its defense. So, no matter how much the Parliament of the island might be tempted to huff and puff about independence, when the Big, Bad Wolf comes to blow the house down, Great Britain still comes to Jersey’s defense.
The Nazi occupation in 1940 and then liberation in 1945 are still remembered by old-timers.
Whatever the proper political and independent status of Jersey happens to be, it does have the right to issue its own coins and currency. And while these coins are of course independent of Great Britain (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), they have throughout history generally had similar denominations to British coinage. There are differences, such as the Jersey shilling being made up of 13 Jersey pence, instead of 12 British pence. But for collectors, the system is still pretty similar.
If you want to assemble a full set of Jersey coinage, don’t worry too much about date runs. There aren’t really any.
Going back into the 19th century, and to such quirky denominations as the small 1/52nd of a shilling, or 1/48th of a shilling, a person finds they were issued quite randomly, with plenty of years seeing nothing minted at all.
After Jersey went to the decimal system in 1971, someone (either on Jersey or in England) realized that collector commemorative coins might be a way to bring some money into the Treasury. Accordingly, there have been several intriguing commemoratives issued since then. While plenty are in base metals or in silver, the gold pieces spanning denominations from 5 pounds to 50 pounds, honoring the queen’s 25th wedding anniversary, are an especially neat set to try and collect. Since they are gold, they’re not cheap, and never will be. But since they are from Jersey, there’s not really a huge collector market for them. Thus, the prices never go through the roof.
Quite similarly to Jersey, the Bailiwick of Guernsey sits in the English Channel, again closer to France than to England, and has its own set of laws, its own local language, its own special cattle – the whole shebang. And once again, since it is a Crown Dependency, with the queen as duchess, its defense is the responsibility of Great Britain.
Guernsey also has a long history of coins that have been made for use on the islands. Its system may not be quite as confusing as its Channel Island neighbor, but it did have a penny that could be split into 8 doubles. Thus 1 double was 1/8th of a penny, or half of a farthing, if you were using the British system. And there are actually some little copper 1 doubles that a person might collect. There are also some large 8 doubles coppers, which look to be about the same size as a British penny of the time. These coppers have a certain heft in the hand that makes them fun to gather into a collection.
Guernsey also went decimal along with Great Britain, and its decimal coins are usually quite inexpensive. As with Jersey, the circulating coins of Guernsey haven’t usually been issued each and every year. The key to collecting them is being patient, as many dealers don’t keep them in stock on a routine basis.
If it’s even more modern coins of Guernsey that you are looking for, well, the official website, with the mercifully short label: www.gov.gg, will set you up with a lot of information about Guernsey. Amidst all that is a link to the page at which a person can order commemoratives of the queen’s Diamond Jubilee. This qualifies as the latest in what has become a rather long line of commemoratives, some of which have been issued in base metal, and others of which have been produced in silver. The Diamond Jubilee coins, though, do look excellent.
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Isle of Man
There can’t be too many world coin collectors who have never heard of the many coin issues from the Isle of Man. This little island, which sits in the middle of the Irish Sea, has a long history, and a claim to one of the oldest continuous governments in the entire world. Queen Elizabeth II is Lord of Man.
While it didn’t do too much by way of circulating coinage before the decimal system was put into place in Britain in 1971, its commemoratives and bullion coins have taken a prominent place in the numismatic world and the world metals market since then.
Should you choose to be the thorough collector, there are some Isle of Man issues that do go back as far as the 1600s. Unfortunately, they are few in number, and thus tough to find. But there were also issues of farthings, half pence, and pennies in the 1800s that are actually affordable today. While a young Queen Victoria graces the obverse of each, it’s the three-legged triskelion prominently displayed on the reverse that quickly marks these as Manx coins to even the untrained eye. That is, after all, the same symbol that dominates the Manx flag.
If you’d like a look at the most current coinage program and offerings, the website: www.gov.im/post/stamps/coins/ will get you an eyeful; and yes, the word “stamps” is in that web address. While we might consider it strange, in most of Great Britain, modern commemorative coins are purchased at a post office, or online through a postal site. But that doesn’t take away from the selection and in many cases the beauty of what’s being offered there. There is a wide range of crowns, and of 50-pence pieces, with an equally wide array of themes from which to choose. While themes close to Britain predominate – as expected, really – coins such as St. Patrick and the Snake add a bit of an Irish twist to the whole.
Commemorative coins of the Isle of Man which are old enough that they won’t be on the website can often be purchased from well stocked dealers, either at large shows, or through the mail. One of the great aspects of commems from the Isle of Man is that many of them are cupro-nickel coins, which means they won’t cost an arm and a leg – or three triskelion legs, to keep things Manx. There are also plenty of silver issues, and even some gold ones as well. But a person can jump into this area, stick strictly to the base metal coins, and still manage to assemble a handsome collection.
Another area of interest for collectors when it comes to Isle of Man coins are the different bullion issues. In the 1980s, several governments got into the business of making gold bullion coins for use and trade on the world’s precious metals markets. The Isle of Man had already been issuing gold commemorative coins, but chose to start the Angel series. Unlike the other nations in this game, Angels could be as small as 1/20th of an ounce of gold, and as large as 25 ounces. By any stretch, that latter is a lot of gold!
As the Angel series was unfolding, the Isle of Man also issued a small number of platinum Nobles, with weights as small as 1/20th of an ounce and as high as 10 ounces. At the time, there really wasn’t much of a market for platinum coinage. It was a valuable metal to be sure, but not one that was used in any world coinage, at least not then. But with the benefit of hindsight, most of us probably wish we had bought some 10 Noble pieces back when they first came out in 1986.
As if all of this were not enough, the Isle of Man also issued an entire series of precious metal coins featuring the famous Manx cats. Denominated in fractions of a crown, these are also platinum coins, and they generally had low mintages.
Don’t let this final litany of precious metal coins, and their higher prices, keep you away from Manx coinage, though. Like Jersey and Guernsey, there is plenty out there for any collector to choose from, and there are plenty of inexpensive coins in that overall mix as well. Building any type of collection, from any of the three of these “almost British” islands, can be fun, interesting, and quite educational.
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