In August 2009 I wrote a short article in The Searcher magazine about crudely holed coins and in 2015 used it – with additional content – in my old blog. When embarking on this new site I was asked if I’d post the blog again because it was informative and very useful. Alas, it was deleted and is now floating around the blogosphere. However, I retained a few notes and, with the help of Wayback Machine, have compiled another that is a more comprehensive blog than the original.
Before I start you may be interested to know that the holed George V gold half sovereign shown below was sold at auction in 2019 for £85. Buying a 1911 coin today – classed as VF – you would expect to pay around £260. For a proof example, the value could be nearer £950.
Simon Says . . .
Disgruntled detectorist Simon Hall, attended an organised dig on a Good Friday when over 70 hammered coins were found. Although he had plenty of signals he was one of only a handful people who didn’t collect. Undaunted and determined not to be outdone, Simon packed his gear on the following Easter Monday and set off to explore one of his ‘own’ sites to find the silver coin that had eluded him.
Situated next to a 12th century church and on pasture for as long as he could remember, the field had recently been deep-ploughed and set with potatoes. The signs were good and it wasn’t long before he was cradling a complete, but crudely holed Charles II penny, which he carefully placed in his finds case.
Things were looking up! He casually ran his detector over the same spot and, to his surprise, had another signal. The coin was another Charles penny, again with a small hole. He checked again and was rewarded with a similar coin which, like the others, was crudely pierced. Simon said: “You can imagine what was running through my mind as I made yet another scan of the hole. My heart was beating fast as I recovered my first Commonwealth penny – it was also holed!”
Although scouring the site very carefully no more coins came to light, but he made a careful note of the find spot – who knows what the next turn of the plough will reveal! It can only be a guess, but when these coins were originally lost, could they have been secured by some kind of string now disintegrated? This explanation is often given but I think not.
Perhaps the myth came about when ancient Chinese coins were minted with holes deliberately in them. The reason being was that they were easier to string – i.e. NOT crudely holed.
Because of the crudeness of the hole and deformation of the metal the real answer to the rough holes is probably to do with the Great Recoinage of 1696, one of the greatest monetary events in history -as explained below, courtesy of the UKDFD.
RECOINAGE OF 1696
The Great Recoinage of 1696 was an attempt by the English Government under King William III to replace the hammered silver that made up most of the coinage in circulation, much of it being clipped and badly worn.
The above shilling is nail-bored, probably as a consequence of measures taken during the Great Recoinage of 1696. It is unfortunate that it was only coins in relatively good condition that were required to be pierced in this way; those that were clipped/worn were not allowed to be tendered. When hammered coins are found in this state (i.e. relatively good condition with crude holes through them), this is invariably the reason:
“Persons having unclipt hammered Monies before 10th Feb. 1695, to cause the same to be punched.; After 10th Feb. no unclipt hammered Monies to be current unless so punched.; Receiving, &c. such appearing to be clipt; Penalty; Quarter Sessions empowered to determine Offences.
And in regard such of the Coins of this Realme formerly made with the Hammer and not by the Mill and Presse and which doe att this time remain Whole and Unclipt will still bee most liable and subject to that pernicious Crime of Clipping or Rounding by wicked Persons who regard their owne unjust Lucre more then the Preservation of their native Countrey.
For the better Prevention thereof bee it further enacted by the. Authority aforesaid That every Person having such unclipt hammered Moneys in his her or their Hands…doe before the Tenth Day of February One thousand six hundred ninety five or before they dispose of the same cause such unclipt Moneys to bee struck through about the Middle of every Piece with a solid Punch that shall make a Hole without diminishing the Silver And that after the said Tenth Day of February noe unclipt hammered Moneys (that is to say) such Pieces as have both Rings. or . . . the greatest part of the Letters appearing thereon shall bee Current unlesse it be soe struck through And if any Piece struck through shall appeare afterwards to bee clipt noe Person shall tender or receive the same in Payment under the Penalty of. forfeiting as much as the clipt Moneys soe puncht through shall amount to in Tale to bee recovered to the Use of the Poor of the Parish where such Money shall bee soe tendred or received And His Majesties Justices of the Peace or the major part of them in the General Quarter Session upon Complaint to bee made to them of such Offence are hereby impowered to take Cognizance thereof and to determine the same and for that purpose to cause the Parties complained of to appear before them and in case of Conviction to issue their Warrant or Warrants to levy such Penalty upon the Goods and Chattells of the Offenders” (sic) Courtesy of the UKDFD
The above, culled from William III Statutes of the Realm 1695-6 basically states : After 10th Feb. no unclipt ham- mered Monies to be current, unless so punched . . . (sic)
After finding similar holed coins, detectorist Paul Mower has an alternative explanation. The field in which his coins were found had a connection with a site of public gallows. He reckons that when thieves and forgers were hanged, a coin was nailed to the gallows as a reminder of their misdemeanour. It left them in no doubt as to the reason for the death penalty. Paul also said that a similar situation existed within the Royal Navy. A sailor found to be thieving from the ship’s provisions or another crew member would often be hung from the yard arm, a coin affixed to the timber …
The ‘coin’ picture above was made with an imitation spade guinea made from brass that I bought from the local market for the princely sum of 10p. They were made in huge numbers during the 19th century for use as gaming counters or for advertising. Some examples copy very closely the design of a proper George III guinea and are occasionally mistaken by detectorists for the real thing!
Paul’s theory was new to me and as I couldn’t corroborate his story, I decided to ask best-selling author of medieval thrillers, Karen Maitland, if she could add anything. I’ve read all of Karen’s works and I know that research into each book she writes is meticulous. Here’s what she said:
I’ve had a look through my books but can’t see any reference to that specifically. It seems highly likely since whatever the punishment, the symbol of or evidence of it was usually hung round their neck or nailed to the pillory or gallows both to remind the criminal. More importantly to warn as passers-by of the penalties for such a crime especially as many would not be able to read.
Similarly, there was also the superstitious belief in the Middle Ages and probably later too, that if you attached the evidence or symbol of the crime to the condemned body or put it on the gallows or on the gibbet or in the grave with them, the devil would recognise it and take them straight to hell where they would be punished. This would ensure the vengeful ghost wouldn’t hang around the town or village and torment the living. So even when the authorities themselves didn’t do it, they are tales of villagers or townsfolk taking it upon themselves to do put evidence of the crime on or near the corpse for the devil to spot as he flew over.
Detectorists who unearth coins with holes either crudely punched or drilled coins often ask questions that may be answered by clicking the following link http://www.forumancientcoins.com/mo…d_coins.html, but some questions go unanswered. Most of the holed coins detectorists come across are crudely punched, leaving the coin malformed.
Many late Roman bronze coins are discovered to have been holed. One theory is that soldiers may have threaded them onto their armour, where they would have served as a combination of decoration and extra protection. Their value as currency was low, so this is feasible.
Some of these coins were used sewn in overlapping fashion to a leather tunic to make scale (mail) armour. Marvin Tameanko, author of ‘Monumental Coins’, says “Checking some notes I made a long time ago, (sources unrecorded) I found ancient holed coins, 2 or 3 holes, which were used as a strainer in the bottom of a clay funnel. This was used to strain grain out of beer.”
I have heard that coins with holes were sewn into the lining of clothes when someone was going on a long journey. Not easily lost or stolen but available when needed.
Last time this blog was posted one of the comments was, “I think there must have been a lot of hangings considering the number of coins with holes. I prefer the simple view that some coins were so small that threading them onto a string was the easiest way of not losing them.”
Randy Dee said: “I shall have to go back to Gallows Hill for more detecting now that bit of information has been divulged. Over the years I have found quite a few of these holed coins and I always thought that they had been disfigured for a dislike to the Sovereign on religious grounds.”.
Paul Mower commented: “There are other superstitions regarding holed coins. In a number of parts of the country there are ‘wishing trees’ often near to sacred springs. People would nail coins to a tree to increase their chance of fertility or to be healed, it was a form of votive offering to the spirits.”
Not sure about that, Paul. I’ve never seen coins nailed to a tree, but hammered into the bark of felled tree trunks. They say that money doesn’t grow on trees, but there are some in Cornwall where that appears to be the case. One of the richest of these is at St Nectan’s Glen in north Cornwall. First picture . . .
Paul Mower said that coins as good luck charms would be nailed to the mast. The Romans also did this, but in their case it was to pay Charon the ferryman of the underworld if the ship sank.
Yes, Sailors have long believed that a coin under the mast brings luck. As you say, the ritual is ‘believed’ to have started with the Romans. I’ve always understood that the Roman custom was to place a coin in the mouth of a dead person to pay Charon. Perhaps you are right. Indeed, there is archeological evidence that goes to prove your point. See HERE.
I don’t know where I got the bit below about a priest finding crudely holed coins on his parishioners’ collection plate. Interesting. Today’s equivalent would be sticking the mucky modern moolah you find in the parking meter. I apologise about the blurred copy.
I am not an expert and simply present some of the reasons for crudely holed coins. I don’t know the definite answer. What do YOU think? Ask an archaeologist . . . Finis