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The coins that mark Guy Fawkes Night

Without a doubt, one of the most famous dates in British history, the 5th of November is celebrated every year and has been since the 17th Century.  On the 4th of November, in 1605, plotters (including the notorious Guy Fawkes), conspired to destroy the House of Lords and with it, King James I. The Gunpowder Treason Plot failed. Guy Fawkes was caught in the vaults beneath the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder. The conspirators were of course captured, tried and executed in the months following the event.

Guy Fawkes night festivities at Windsor Castle, c. 1776

On the 5th of November (the day after the plot was uncovered), church bells were rung across the country, and Parliament later enshrined this date in law as a public day of celebration. This remained until 1859. Today, fireworks and bonfires are still used to celebrate the day the plot was uncovered, as they were three centuries earlier.

Dutch Jetton celebrating the discovery and failure of the Gunpowder Plot. Dated 1605

Coin collectors need not look far for numismatic objects to mark this eventful year. Coins of James I can be obtained with relative ease, at all price points, depending on the condition of course. Dates written in Arabic Numerals have featured on English coins since the reign of King Edward VI (1547-1553), but by the reign of James I (1603-1625), few pieces actually included a date. For those seeking a coin bearing the date itself, silver sixpences bearing ‘1605’ on their reverses are scarce but can be acquired for around £150 in fair condition.

For coins which do not feature dates, we must look to the mint marks for clues as to their time of manufacture. Mint marks were utilised in English coins from the Medieval period onwards, for administrative purposes, denoting mints, and ascertaining dates. Using this method, we cannot pin undated coins down to the nearest year, but the nearest two years. In the ‘First Coinage’ of James I, the mint mark of a Lis ⚜ denotes the dates of 1604 to 1605.

James I gold Spur Ryal, Tower Mint, mint mark rose, 1605-1605

In the ‘Second Coinage’ for a coin possibly dating to 1605, we must look for the Lis ⚜ again (1604-5), and the Rose ❀(1605-6). These mint marks appear again during the much later ‘Third Coinage’ of James I, and it is important not to confuse the two coinages. The yearly catalogue ‘Coins of England & the United Kingdom’ will demonstrate the three coinages and various bust types of James I, including mint marks.

If you have any questions regarding the coins from this period, please feel free to contact us by e-mail or phone. From all of us here at Baldwin’s, we hope you have a fantastic Bonfire Night.

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