At a time when even the highest-value coin in regular circulation (£2) will sometimes hardly cover the cost of a cup of coffee, it is refreshing to be transported back to an era when coins were generally much higher in value. A big part of that value lay in the precious metal that large parts of the British currency were made of down to the 20th century: gold and silver.
This fascinating volume, at once learned and lively, delves into the fascinating story of where that metal came from, for by their nature precious metals are scarce resources. Graham Birch treats the period down to the 17th century in a cursory way; his focus is very much on the early modern and modern periods. Five major themes structure this story: acquisitions by trading companies, spoils of war, British mines, gold rushes, and shipwreck recovery. Fascinating details are picked out for each, with plentiful illustrations.
Review by Rory Naismith
The Metal in Britain’s Coins: where did it come from and how did it get here?, Graham Birch, Spink Books, £40, ISBN 978-1912667437