The Hibernia Coppers of Colonial America
Imagine living in America during the time of the colonists. You are
living in a new environment; with people from all over Europe, each with their
own customs and languages; and, a variety of monies with which to conduct
transactions. That is one of the most interesting points about colonial
America, the money. America seemed to receive the old worn coins or the
casts-off that no one else wanted to use. One of the most fascinating of
these casts-off are the Hibernia coppers of William Wood. The coins
were made for Ireland by the British, and the Irish refused to use them.
That is how they ended up as a part of the money of colonial America. The
coins have a great story, and that is what most Coin Collectors love about their
coins, the story.
William Wood was the owner of copper and tin mines in the Western section of
England, near Wolverhampton. Being he owned mines, he thought he could
vastly increase his wealth and make money by making money. He was a man
with political power, and by using his political clout he persuaded King George
I to issue, what was called at that time, a patent. The patent was signed
on June 16, 1722, and it authorized Wood to make copper halfpence and farthings
(half and quarter pennies) for Ireland. So that the coinage could not be
used in England as legal tender, the coins to be issued were to be 60 halfpence
to the pound where the British standard was 46 halfpence to the pound.
Within a month of receiving the patent, King George I signed over another patent
to Wood authorizing him to manufacture the Rosa Americana coins for the
American Plantations. William Wood thought all his dreams were about to be
realized, but little did he know those dreams were about to turn into
King George I had an extremely greedy mistress. Her name was Ehrengarde
Melusina. She was the Duchess of Munster and Kendal, and to the common
folk was known as "The Maypole." As soon as His Majesty signed the patents
for William Wood, "The Maypole" seized them and held the patents for ransom.
The price was £10,000. That is equal to about
$500,000 in today's money. What was Wood to do? He had to pay it.
Without those patents, Wood could not even gain access to the Tower Mint to have
the project started, i.e. have the coin designs drafted, and the dies made.
Having paid the ransom, and thereby gaining access to the mint, Wood found
that Sir Issac Newton along with his nephew were appointed to supervise the
manufacture of the coins. Best estimates indicate that striking began in
January of 1723. The coins were freighted to Bristol for shipment to
Because King George I did not consult the Irish Parliament before authorizing
this new coinage, the Irish took this as an affront. In retaliation, they
refused to accept the new coins as legal tender. It did not matter how
well the coins were struck, or the beauty of the design. It did not matter
that the coins were replacing the old worn out coppers that were currently in
use. The Irish Parliament wanted to be consulted, but their petitions to
the King fell on deaf ears. This only further enraged the Irish, and when
they found out about the roll that the King's mistress played in all of this,
the outrage grew even stronger. The Irish indignation converged on that of
the coins' light weight and on that of the "King's whore." The coinage was
suspended about March of 1724, but that did not stop the anger. Jonathan
Swift (author of Gulliver's Travels), under the nom de plum of M.B.
Drapier, published The Drapier's Letters. These publications were
meant to discredit Wood and besmirch his reputation. There was nothing
that either Wood or the authorities could do to resurrect the coinage in the
eyes of the Irish. In 1725, William Wood resigned his patents in exchange
for a pension of £3,000 per year for three years.
Entrepreneurs quickly purchased the Wood's
Hibernia coppers for about bullion value for shipment to the American
colonies. These coins were placed in circulation mostly in New England,
New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and remained in circulation until just
before the Revolutionary War.
The main device on the obverse features a
portrait of King George I with a legend surrounding the effigy that reads
GEORGIUS DEI GRATIA REX (there are some abbreviated versions of this legend that
exist), and the main device on the reverse feature a seated woman with a harp at
her feet (there are variations on this design, too). The inscriptions on
the reverse include the word HIBERNIA and the date.
Although the Hibernia coppers were not
acceptable to the Irish, the coins did fulfill a necessary function in colonial
America. They provided coinage where coins were scarce. The
population was growing, and the monetary situation was becoming increasingly
desperate. Just about any coinage would be put to use. Coin
Collectors of United States coins should investigate the coins use in colonial
America. You will find a wide variety of these relics that will expand
your experiences, and increase your knowledge in American history.
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