William Wood, owner of several copper and tin mines, hoped to make a profit producing coins for use in Ireland and America. Through the king's mistress, the Duchess of Kendal, he was able to obtain a royal indenture to produce coins for Ireland on June 16, 1722. Soon thereafter the Duchess assisted Wood in obtaining a second indenture on July 22, 1722, authorizing him to produce one hundred tons of coins for the American colonies over a period of fourteen years for an annual fee of £300 to the king (£100 in rent directly to the king and £200 to the clerk comptroller) . The coins were made of an alloy called Bath metal composed of 75% brass, 20% zinc (mixed with tin and bismuth) and 5% silver and were to weigh slightly less than half the weight of English coins. The Bath metal planchets had to be hot when they were impressed between the dies to keep the dies from cracking. The heating of the planchets caused gas bubbles to form in the metal, as the planchets were struck while they were hot, these small bubbles did not have a chance to escape and therefore they produced a porous surface on the coins, often with some discoloration.
Wood produced twopence, penny and halfpenny coins dated 1722-1723. According to Nelson the dies were engraved by the firm of Lammas, Harold and Standbroke and were struck at several locations in London (French Change, Hogg Lane and Seven Dials) as well as at Bristol. A notice in the London Post of January 14, 1723 stated that Wood:
...hath erected a building in Phoenix Street, Brown's Graden, near the Seven Dials, for the American coinage, and another in the city of Bristol for the Irish coinage.However on the 18th the Post reported:
Wood began his coinage for Ireland on Monday last near the Seven Dials. In about a week's time he will begin to coin at Bristol pieces for America, which will be made of a beautiful compound metal.
Nelson also uncovered a Treasury document from August of 1722 issuing Wood a license to coin "copper money for Ireland at the city of Bristol." Nelson suspects the principal mint was in London from where coins may have been shipped by wagon to Bristol. Bristol may have been a secondary mint and was also probably used as a distribution center from where at least the Irish coins were shipped by sea to their various destinations. Recently, Sydney Martin stated that Wood's Irish coins were minted in London and the Rosa Americana series was minted in Bristol (Sydney Martin, "Wood's Hibernia Farthings: An Analysis and Categorization," The Colonial Newsletter 34 (November 1994, serial no. 98) on page 1463) but gives no explanation for this theory.
Wood was authorized to make 120 halfpence to the pound (compared to forty-six halfpence to the pound at the Tower of London mint) which, according to Mossman, would yield a 140% profit after adjusting for production costs. Unfortunately, Wood had been required to pay the Duchess of Kendal £10,000 for his Irish indenture (apparently no additional charge was incurred for the American colonial indenture) so he was forced to mint his coins at an even lower weight in order to return a profit! These lightweight coins were not accepted by the colonists. Wood's penny was similar to a London halfpenny and his halfpenny was like the farthing, while his twopence did not correspond in weight to any currently circulating coin. In New York, merchants refused to accept the coins, while the General Assembly of Massachusetts in June of 1722 authorized the printing of £500 in one penny, two pence and three pence paper bills, rather than accept the Rosa Americana coins! Nevertheless, some colonies did accept them, although only reluctantly and only in limited quantities. Among fifty-nine coins found during the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, two were Rosa Americana pennies dated 1722.
Because his coins were not accepted, and therefore no profits could be realized, Wood stopped minting coins in 1723. A few pattern Rosa Americana coins were produced in 1724, and after Wood's death in 1730, an undated twopence pattern was produced (assigned to 1733) by the successors to his coining patent; no further large scale minting was undertaken.
The Rosa Americana coins depict King George I on the obverse with the Tudor rose on the reverse. The obverse legend was one of several forms of the King's name and title while the reverse legend had various forms of ROSA AMERICANA and UTILE DULCI (the useful with the agreeable). The Latin phrase is from the Ars poetica of Horace, line 343: "Omne tulit punctum qui misquit utile dulci" (He has won universal approval who has combined the useful with the agreeable). This line also appears on the higher denominations of the Massachusetts currency emission of October 18, 1776, know as the codfish bills because of the portrayal of the cod on the front of the bills. The quote was also used from 1768-71 on the masthead of the newspaper The Essex Gazette (published in Salem, Massachusetts).
The earliest Rosa Americana coins are the very rare undated prototypes with a large Tudor rose on the reverse, there are two basic varieties of the twopence and one variety of the penny. All three dated 1722 denominations depict a large Tudor rose on the obverse while the 1723 issues have a crowned rose (although a few 1723 halfpence were produced with the large uncrowned rose). Among the dated 1722 denominations Nelson lists one variety of twopence, 5 penny varieties and 3 different halfpence; while for 1723 dated series he lists 1 twopence variety, 1 penny and 2 halfpence varieties. There are also two 1724 penny patterns in bath medal but with variants found in copper and silver. The later very rare undated twopence pattern by Wood's successor differs from the rest of the series in that it has shows a flowering rosebush on the reverse with the legend ROSA: SINE: SPINA (A rose without thorns).
In 1903 Nelson improved on Crosby's classification of the series with a list of twenty different varieties based primarily on differences within the legend of each denomination and year. Breen refined the Rosa listing to 60 different types, Breen 83-142. Under each type Breen mentions the number of varieties included in that type (sometimes as many as 10-12) but he does not explain the specific difference of these varieties. In the above discussion I have limited my comments to the twenty basic Nelson varieties. In the section under the comments on a specific coin I have followed the more detailed distinctions of Breen.
Breen, 22-27; Mossman, 130-136; 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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