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  • Hibernia Copper Coins

    Hibernia Coppers 1722-1724: Introduction

    As mentioned in the Rosa Americana section, William Wood, owner of several copper and tin mines, hoped to make a profit producing coins for use in Ireland and America. During the first half of 1722 the king's mistress, the Duchess of Kendal, obtained a patent from the Earl of Sunderland for coining copper money for Ireland. Wood thought this would be a profitable enterprise so he purchased the royal patent from the duchess for £10,000. In his indenture from George I dated June 16, 1722 Wood was authorized to produce up to 360 tons of halfpence and farthings for Ireland at 30 pence to the pound over a period of fourteen years for an annual fee of £800 paid to the king. These Hibernia coins were heavier and thus intrinsically more valuable than the coppers then circulating in Ireland. They were certainly less profitable for Wood to mint than his lighter weight Rosa Americana issues. (Hibernia's weighed sixty halfpence to the pound as compared to 120 Rosa Americana halfpence to the pound!). When including the costs of production and the £10,000 fee paid to the Duchess of Kendal, Mossman has calculated Wood would have lost £4,871 over the fourteen years of the patent. Thus from Wood's standpoint the Hibernia coin specifications were too generous based on the cost of production.

    It has generally been held that the Irish did not accept the Hibernia coppers. However, Danforth has recently suggested that the coins were accepted at first but over time the Irish regected the coins. Danforth believes the coins continued in use until 1737 when they were replaced by regal Irish coppers. Others have suggested the Irish refused to use the coinage on nationalistic grounds and that they relied on other coppers (which included the Saint Patrick coppers). What they needed was silver coinage of sixpence, shillings, half crowns and crowns, which the English were not willing to export. Jonathan Swift led the Irish attack on the English coinage in his publication of The Drapier's Letter in which he accused Wood of profiteering. The protests of Swift and other Irish intellectuals is usually taken as the reason that Wood quit the project within three years; very few Wood's Hibernias have been uncovered in Ireland.

    Possibly because Wood also produced the Rosa Americana series for the colonies, it has been suggested the unwanted Hibernia coins ended up in the American. Although a few examples have been discovered in America, Mossman (p. 134) has concluded:

    "There is no evidence of any substantial colonial circulation for these coppers . . . although it can be reasonably concluded that any current European coins could have ended up in North America, either brought over by the steady stream of immigrants or in the merchant trade"

    Furthermore, following the colonial rejection of his Rosa Americana coinage, it seems unlikely that Wood would have attempted to send the rejected Hibernia's to the colonies. Mossman has further suggested that some Hibernia coins may have been imported into the United States in the early Nineteenth century along with English trade tokens. Apparently these English coppers circulated in areas such as Savannah, Georgia, until the Civil War. Thus, like several other coins including the Elephant Tokens, the New Yorke in America Token, Roche's Voce Populi coppers, and the Rhode Island Ship Medal, to name some of the more well known examples, these coins have traditionally been associated with American colonial series but they probably did not circulate in the colonies.

    Wood's Hibernia series consisted of copper farthing and halfpence bearing dates from 1722 to 1724. Information on the minting locations is discussed in the Rosa Americana introduction. The documents quoted there suggest minting operations were in London and Bristol and did not begin until 1723. The obverse of the Hibernia's shows a bust of King George I facing right with the legend GEORGIUS . DEI . GRATIA. REX . The reverse of most 1722 issues depict a seated personification of Hibernia playing a harp (known as harp left). A few 1722 coins and all 1723-24 coins display a seated Hibernia holding a palm branch in her right hand as she leans on the harp behind her (known as harp right); for all years the legend reads, HIBERNIA followed by the date. There is also a rare 1722 prototype having different portraits with an obverse legend of, GEORGIUS D : G : REX and a reverse with the date in exergue.

    For the Hibernia farthing Nelson listed six types which Breen expanded to eleven. Recently Martin has identified five obverse dies (1-5) and seven reverse dies (A-G), with four subvarieties of reverse B based on the number of harp strings (between nine and twelve), for a total of eleven reverses. These sixteen dies are found in fourteen combinations as follows: 1722 - 1 combination, 1723 - 7 combinations and 1724 - 6 combinations (of which Martin was unable to verify three 1724 combinations). For the Hibernia halfpence Nelson listed nine types which Breen expanded to twenty five. Martin has identified ten obverse dies (1 10) and 17 reverse dies (A-Q), with numerous subvarieties based on the number of harp strings and the size of the 3 in the date bringing the total number of reverses to thirty. These forty dies are found in thirty-six combinations as follows: 1722 - 9 combinations, 1723/2 - 2 combinations, 1723 - 17 combinations and 1724 - 8 combinations.

    Several different device punches were used for the royal bust and Hibernia (Martin states there are at least three different laurel wreath styles and several variations on Hibernia's belt). Interestingly, the device punches for Hibernia had a blank harp so the strings were cut into the individual dies. The engravers did not always use the same number of strings on the harp so that there could be a number of variations from a single Hibernia device. Additionally, many different letter punches were used and they are found in a variety of combinations. When adding all of these possibilities as well as different letter alignment and various die states due to cracks and recutting the number of varieties is quite large. It has been suggested the number of varieties for the halfpence alone is in the 200-400 range! Further, Martin has suggested (as Hodder has shown for New Jersey coppers) that the emission sequence of these dies was not continuous or in strict chronological order, thus a 1722 obverse would be replaced with a 1723 obverse and then later reused.

    Latest revision: January 4, 2001


    Sydney Martin, "Wood's Hibernia Farthings: An Analysis and Categorization," The Colonial Newsletter 34 (November 1994, serial no. 98) 1457-1474 and his, "Wood's Hibernia Halfpence: An Analysis and Categorization," The Colonial Newsletter 36 (January 1996, serial no. 101) 1593-1599; Brian J. Danforth, "Wood's Money: Acceptance or Rejection in Ireland" in The C4 Newsletter, vol. 8, no. 3 (Fall 2000) 17-36, with comments on the article by Phil Mossman in vol. 8, no. 4 (Winter, 2000); Philip Nelson,The Coinage of William Wood: 1722-1733. New York: Sanford J. Durst Numismatic Publication,1989 (reprint of the 1903 edition).

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    Section Contents Hibernia Copper Coins

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