This coin, found near Shrewsbury, Shropshire, is one of a series of high denomination gold coins issued during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603). Elizabethan coins are among the objects most frequently reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). Gold half-pound coins like this one, however, are exceptionally rare: to-date, the PAS has recorded fewer than 20 such stray and single finds nationally.
The coin has broken into at least three pieces (one of which is missing), probably due to plough damage, but we can still tell that it was made between 1570 and 1572 using very pure, and relatively soft, gold. The coin has worn smooth in some areas, but the obverse shows a crowned bust of Elizabeth, facing left, with the legend ‘[E]LIZABE[TH] [D] [G] [A]NG FR ET HI REGINA’ (‘Elizabeth, by the grace of God, Queen of England, France, and Ireland’). On the reverse, there is a crowned shield of arms, bounded by the legend ‘SCVTVM [FIDEI] [PR]OTEGE[T] EAM’ (‘The shield of faith will protect her’).
Gold coins were extremely rare in early modern England, and their use would have been restricted to the wealthiest in society. With a face value of 10 shillings (120 old pence), this coin represents the equivalent of 14 days’ pay for a skilled craftsperson or a month’s wage for a common labourer. At the time, a loaf of bread cost a penny and a pound of best beef cost threepence, while a pound in weight of sugar (a real luxury) was a shilling (12 pence), and a quart (2 pints) of beer was a halfpenny. That is to say, only a very few people within any parish would have been wealthy enough to have had one of these coins in their pocket or purse.
For more information on this find, see https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/1039181 or search for HESH-AEAEC4 on the PAS database.
The Portable Antiquities Scheme is an initiative to encourage the recording of archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales. For more information on the Scheme, and to browse its database of over 1.5 million finds, visit www.finds.org.uk. Text for this find was written by Peter Reavill, Finds Liaison Officer for Shropshire and Herefordshire.