English Duty Marks On Foreign Silver

By Anthony Dove F.R.S.A.

 Fig.1			    Fig.2
While I do not wish to dwell too much on coins, albeit with duty marks, I know a number of spoon collectors have similar examples to the coin illustrated by Edward Daw on page 3 of last month's FINIAL (Feb/Mar. 2003). Some may not be aware that a definitive work on this has been published [1]. To summarise briefly - there was a shortage of English silver coinage in the late 18th century and as the Mint had large holdings of Spanish dollars [2], it was thought that if these were overstruck with the king's head they would be acceptable as coins of the realm. However they had a silver content of only 4s 9d as against the crown of 5s. In addition to the comment in THE FINIAL quoted, another alleged contemporary remark was that it represented "the head of a madman on the neck of a fool"!

To prove that these were genuine plate duty punches Kelly quotes [3] "on 3rd March 1797 the Treasury issued a warrant to the Royal Mint to 'prepare the necessary means of stamping the mark of the King's head used at Goldsmiths' Hall for distinguishing [sic][4] the plate of this kingdom on such silver dollars as shall be sent to your office from the Bank of England'[5]. He further comments that "the first large commission undertaken by the Mint in silver for some time was to be bastardising a foreign coin!" It would be most interesting to know if any of these coins are known with cusped duty marks.

One interesting point that arises is that it did not take long for forgers to make both dollars and duty marks, even striking fake marks on genuine coins.[6] Illustrated here are examples of both genuine (fig.1) and fake (fig.2) duty marks, a comparison showing a lack of detail in the latter. This is general in most pseudo marks as found on China trade and Indian Colonial silver. The duty shown in fig.3, however, shows a very passable head of George III although in a very strange punch outline. This is on an American spoon made by Johnson & Reat of Baltimore circa 1786.

A possible reason for this could be that a group of ex-patriots a decade after the revolution were showing a secret allegiance to "the king across the water" as in the Scottish Jacobite groups. If challenged, the head could always be passed off as that of George Washington! The Jacobite cause was suggested as one possible explanation for the extra head in my spoon of the previous FINIAL (Dec/Jan), which prompted Edward Daw to make his point. It was suggested that the second head (also in a strange outline) could be that of the young pretender and therefore a Jacobite symbol on a Scottish spoon.

While both of these theories may be fanciful, the fact remains that my American spoon has an extremely good likeness of a genuine duty mark, far better than most fakes. A further explanation could be that it represented some form of exportation punch, especially as a fair amount of British silver was sent to America at this time. Could this also apply to the curious shape of Richard Stagg's duty punch (FINIAL, Feb/Mar 2003, p.6)?

Any comments from members would be much appreciated.

1. "Spanish dollars and silver tokens" [1797-1816] by E. M. Kelly - (Spink & son - 1976).
2. Kelly op. cit. p.21
3. Kelly op. cit. p.22
4. It would appear from the use of this word that both the Treasury and Royal Mint were under the impression that the duty head was a mark of quality, rather than simply a receipt of duty.
5. Royal Mint record book no.14
6. Kelly op. cit. p. 28

I would like to thank Michael Golding for taking these photographs.


Charles Kewin kindly writes:
In The Finial, Feb/Mar '03, page 3, Edward Daw gives an interesting note on countermarked 'dollars'. However, he also introduces some incorrect data, no numismatist will be led astray, but for others, the correct story is as follows. The illustrated coin is not of George III, but Charles III of Spain, and was a Spanish-American dollar (8 reales). These were not, of course, struck by the Royal Mint in l780! At the time, there was a shortage of large silver coin in Britain, so captured 'pieces of eight' were countermarked for of use as 4s9d pieces. A few US dollars and French ecus were similarly punched. This was done in 1797, and Mr. Daw correctly states that the silver hallmark king's head punch was used. Later, due to forgery, the countermark was changed to an octagonal shape, with the king's head taken from the Maundy penny die. Proper British 'Bank of England dollars' of 5s were issued in 1804/1810/1811, being completely overstruck Spanish coins, but that's another story.


Tim Kent offers a note:
In relation to 'Two Kings Not Worth A Crown'(The Finial, Feb/Mar.'03, p.3) otherwise known as 'The Head of a Fool on the Neck of an Ass', I fear that Ted Daw has gone a bit wrong! The coins were those of Charles III of Spain (or Spanish America), 8 reales (pieces of eight) and circulated widely. At the end of the 18th century Britain ran short of silver coin, so the Spanish pieces were countermarked: also in 1804 appeared the Bank of England Dollar, which was a full overstrike with a five shilling value.

Later, in 1811, numerous tokens, mainly of one-shilling value, were authorised, and some of these were issued by goldsmiths, e.g. Cattle and Barber of York and James Ferris of Poole (I have both these).


.6. & .7.
The Finial, April/May 2003

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