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SunandAnchor - Hammered Coins, including grading

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           The Commonwealth Period comes near the end of the English hammered period. That makes Commonwealth hammered coins doubly interesting as they reached their peak for quality at a time when milling was seriously seen as a competitive technology. Using the hammer had two major advantages - high speed and low cost - both factors dictated that the mint would find it difficult to implement the mill. There was one downside cost which was due to the number of dies which had to be made to sustain production. Typically a halfcrown size die might last on average for 8,000 strikings. With care more with abuse less. On the other hand low quality hammered coins from the mint allowed forgers to make counterfeit coins, mainly the halfcrown. The forgers piece was usually under weight and very badly double struck to the point where it made reading details very difficult. The response of the mint was to include subtle changes to the design of both the reverse and the obverse so that a genuine piece was obvious if the observer knew the changes for each year. The forger never matched these changes for his was made using an early Commonwealth piece as his master copy and his changes were often limited to the date.

           Civil War hoards reveal that only the halfcrown, shilling and sixpence were in daily use in the street with merchants. The gold unite, double crown, gold crown and silver crown have so far not been found hidden away. It appears their production was not for common use but maybe instead for trade which lead to the weight of gold or silver in these coins needing to be carefully controlled to the correct weights and metal purity.Their overall quality is much superior to the low denomination silver in everyday use.  

Silver Crowns 1649  to 1658

          One can spend many hours looking at examples of silver crowns trying to work out how they were made so consistently relative to the lower denominations. It seems the blanks used to make crowns were very round, with a uniform thickness. The diameter of these blanks was very close to the finished article. So the starting point was a blank which was identical or very close to the finished coin with a very narrow weight distribution. One strike of the hammer appears to have been the order of the day as one rarely sees any hint of a double strike. Multiple strikes would have been very difficult to make and the angle difficult to achieve without showing a ridge on the finished coin. Single strike extended the life of the dies.

           In many ways the silver crown gives the viewer an opportunity to see how the physical shape and quality of the silver blank translated to a much more uniform weight of finished coin. A coin often with a complete edge and an unequaled roundness compared to the smaller halfcrown. Finework pieces look to have followed a similar a similar pathway starting with high quality blanks whose flatness was capable of capturing the full detail of the dies.

            Sense that availability of these higher quality blanks limited the issue of silver crowns and any “finework” series. Feel sure Blondeau would have made more than around 100 milled pieces in 1651/1656 if he had had the high quality blanks so necessary for the milling process.

           The toughest coin to make was the silver crown. A selection of hammered silver crowns alongside the milled Cromwell Crown of 1658 is shown. The 1649 examples show that from the start there were some difficulties making crowns with the original design concept. Two sets of dies are shown and neither yielded a good result. The strike can be seen as good as the edge of the coin is complete. However while the Irish Harp may have been acceptable the English cross has a very faint texture. The cross hatching was very poorly reproduced. The process was not capable of reproducing  the fine detail needed. Clearly the answer was not a more forceful strike. Somehow the metal in the centre of the coin had to be encouraged to move.

           That was a problem which took more than a year to solve with the production of new dies for the 1651 crown.    

         The problem appears to have been solved by creating a die which encouraged silver to move more easily when the coin was struck when the strike pressure would make the surface silver become softer with the heat generated. The deepest feature is the edge beading which would trap the silver at the edge of the coin, moving towards the centre, the legend was well struck up while the inner beading was fainter. The English cross in the centre shows multi-depth engraving as well. Notice the cross hatching at the centre and the raised edge bead surrounding the cross and then the deeper cut shield.

           The reverse of the Cromwell Crown displays very similar characteristics with varying depth of engraving suggesting that the engraver for both was the same person - Thomas Symonds.

Crowns angled closeup A
Crowns angled closeup 2
Crowns angled closeup 1

           An interesting point is that this work was only ever applied to silver crowns where the problem of metal flow was most obvious. Other Symond’s dies for testing milling techniques had similar characteristics but they were never employed on other hammered denominations. The extra work involved must have made it a slow process to execute and make the dies. 

           Hammered coins had an Achilles heel. With use, the bulk of hammered coins for day to day use became very worn in the centre. The hammer process for the lower denominations was a process of attrition for the dies in use, particularly the die used to strike the coin.  The odd shapes and flat or ragged edges often seen on finished coins suggests that the blanks for these coins were not round but possibly square or slightly diamond shaped.  They could have been cut out of metal sheeting, weighed and trimmed as necessary to produce a blank of correct weight. The process of striking the coins was then one of hitting the strike die several times, maybe once in the centre and then at a slight angle three of four times to persuade the blank to change to a more round shape. Sometimes a round coin with no apparent double strikes was produced but more often you have both double strikes occurring where dies have moved slightly during the multiple strike process and an odd shaped coin. Before one can say clipping has taken place one should weigh the coin in question to see if it is full weight.

            Wear and tear is dictated by the depth of the beading around the edge of the coin. This beading has to be both deep and present around the edge of a hammered coin to prevent the coin making contact in the centre. The Commonwealth design also used the legend as another layer of protection for the centre of the coin. Any coinage struck off centre has a weak point for future wear in use. These coins will with use immediately display wear around the area where the edge bead is missing. Check out these two hammered halfcrowns for surviving detail and weakness due to absence of outer beading.

IMG_3173a IMG_3178a

For collectors, hammered coins make life interesting because errors making the many dies needed to sustain production are always out there waiting to be found. It seems that errors did not necessarily mean start again. Often the error was corrected and the die placed into use. As an example, a 1658 halfcrown where the second O in COMMONWEALTH had to be struck over an underlying M or N. The second example is another 1651 halfcrown where COMMONWEALTH is spelt with a stop between COMMON and WEALTH. This is probably deliberate and not an error. The stop is there to signify something different about this obverse die. Notice how the sun mintmark is protected by the strong edge bead close by so today we see an essentially perfect small sun mark.  Also you can see three distinctly different obverse die designs for 1651. There were another two in use which goes to show that after two years the obverse design was still a discussion topic at the mint.

58 O over M or N
58 O over M or N closeup COMMONWEALTH error 2

Style Evolution of the Silver Halfcrown, 1649 to 1657


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Grading Hammered Coins

The grading of hammered coins for many coin collectors is a difficult task. This topic is being re-visited to hopefully make the task easier for newcomers.

What can we view and measure are two key points. Measuring weight these days is something we can do very easily with digital scales which provide us with a definitive digital answer on weight. This can be compared to the target weight for the denomination. So let’s say we are looking at a halfcrown. The target weight at manufacture is 15.04gms- for other denominations see http://sunandanchor.com/html/weights.html. Many halfcrowns are below this weight while a few are higher. The centre of distribution is around 14.8gms. This is not to be unexpected as the mint lost money on over weight coinage and gained money on underweight coinage so a target just slightly underweight should be expected. Anchor, and 1655 coinage is typically even lower weight centred around 14.5 gms reflecting a shortage of silver for coinage. Weights down to 14 gms or a little lower  are possible for legitimate coinage. If you see a single digit weight consider you might have a contemporary forgery in your hands.

So weight is the first key characteristic to measure accurately. I like to then place a coin in an initial category between Fine and Extremely Fine using the grading ranges shown in the table opposite.

Weight is a quick rule of thumb - First Cut.

Weight Distribution HCR
Weight Grading Ranges
Grade gVF1 Grade VF2
Grade VF1
Grade EF1

Weight 30.07gms  Extremely Fine                                                       Weight 29.80 gms  good Very Fine                                                  Weight 29.52 gms  Very Fine

Grade F2
Grade gF1 Grade F1
Grade gF2

Weight 29.40 gms  Grade good Fine                                                 Weight 29.16 gms  Grade Fine

I used crowns to display how close grading is for the larger coins. All the above coins cover the weight range of 29 to 30.08 gms and for many collectors would be acceptable specimens. Hiding a 1 gramme loss on a 30 gramme coin is easy, its not so easy on lower weight coins where that 1 gramme can represent as much as 1/3 of the target weight on for example a sixpence.

Weight has allowed us to place the crowns in an order of preference if everything else is equal. So is a good First cut.

From here it it becomes very subjective. What might one encounter ? -

* Physical damage - holes, edge mount marks, scratches, surface staining, surface pot holes
* Surface Corrosion, partial or whole of coin
* Mis-shapen coins to the point where round appears square, many of the lower denominations were struck from irregular pieces of silver, cut down to weight.
* Off centre die positioning from the hand hammer process
* Uneven depth to image on the coin from partially worn dies, worn usually in the centre
* Displaced images from the use of cracked dies
* Cracked flans are often seen around the edges
* Uneven toning or even a recently cleaned coin
* Double striking where dies have been struck and displaced slightly between strikings
* The roundness of a coin is often dictated by the quality of the initial blank, round coins are usually more desirable
* The use of rusty dies which roughen the field areas of a coin
* Uneven wear caused either thru circulation or missing edge bead exposing the centre of the coin to uneven wear
* Previously bent coins used for love tokens which have since been straightened

These are the most common detractors which are taken into account during grading. They are reduced in severity for coins as one looks at the rarer coins as there is a very limited choice available, sometimes only one known specimen which is what it is. The term “for issue” in a descriptor which generally covers this area and periods when the quality of coins produced poor - anchor coinage, hammered Charles II restoration coinage or late Charles I coinage. 

How far can detractors change a weight grade? Depending on number and the severity the effect on overall grade will vary but it is inevitably a reduction in grade.


grade VF2 HCR
grade gVF2 HCR grade VF1 HCR
grade gVF1 HCR
grade EF2 HCR
grade EF1 HCR

 Weight 15.26gms  Extremely Fine                                                      Weight 14.85gms  good Very Fine                                                        Weight 14.66gms Very Fine

Grade gF2 HCR
Grade F2 HCR
Grade F1 HCR
Grade gF1 HCR

Weight 14.40gms  good Fine                                                                Weight 14.20gms  Fine

Grading Exception

This halfcrown is more than full weight at 15.46 grams, so unlikely to have been clipped which suggests it was struck from a thick, square blank and is very likely as struck, retaining much of the squareness of the blank.


STUART. Charles I. 1625-1649. AR Halfcrown (34mm, 15.46 g, 1h). Group IV, type 4. Tower (London) mint; im: triangle in circle. Struck 1641-1643. Charles on horseback left, holding sword and reins / Coat-of-arms. Brooker 371; North 2214; SCBC 2779. Toned, minor flan flaws. Near VF.

From the El Medina Collection

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Grade Exception
Square shillinga James 1

King James 1 shilling, made from a square blank, smaller than the finished shilling - 5.79gms.