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Soho Mint - A World First!

THE BERMUDA COPPER COINAGE OF 1793

 

by David Vice and the late Maj. Fred Pridmore

 

Published in Spink’s Numismatic Circular, October 1976, and re-published here with the kind permission of Messrs Spink & Son and David Vice, with whom the copyright remains.

The Bermuda Copper Coinage of 1793

In 'The Coins of the British Commonwealth of Nations' Part III, West Indies, 1965, a brief account was given concerning the introduction of the special Bermudian copper coinage struck in England in 1793. A total quantity of 72,000 is recorded as having been struck at the Soho Mint, and an appendix to the account contains an extract from the local Act of April 1794 which gave the coin legal tender status as the equivalent of one penny, local currency.

 

Research among the Boulton Papers preserved at the Birmingham Assay Office produced some further information relative to the original order, and this note is based on this. There are four letters and a Journal entry, variously dated between November 1792 and June 1793.

 

The Order

 

The first is a letter addressed to M Boulton on 8th November 1792, stating the requirement for the coins and furnishing a description of the proposed design. It is signed by John Brickwood, the Agent for the Government of Bermuda:

 

Sir,

I want for the use of one of the British Islands some copper coin, & have obtained the sanction of Government to give it Currency in the Circulation. The Device is to be - On one side the Head of his present Majesty and Date of the Year - on the reverse - a Ship and the name of the Island, and the intrinsic Value to be Twelve Pieces for Seven Pence Sterling - please to inform me what will be the cost of a Ton Weight of such Coin, of the best Copper, and whether - a greater or a less quantity than a Ton will make any difference in the price, and when they can be deliver'd.

For your satisfaction in point of surety I refer you to Messr Duncumb Davies & Ingram. & waiting your answer I am

Sir Your Mos Humbl Servt

Jno Brickwood

 

The interesting point in the letter is "have obtained the sanction of Government to give it Currency in the Circulation." This would refer to the Government of Bermuda, but it will be noted in the postscript to Boulton's reply, below, written the following day, that he expresses his unwillingness to execute a coinage bearing the effigy of His Majesty without official approval and that he was evidently under the impression that the proposed coinage had the sanction of the British Government. Boulton's reply details coinage costs at Soho in 1792 which include metal, dies, coinage, packing, casks and carriage to the place of delivery in London:

 

Mr Jno Brickwood, Sir,

I have just recvd your favr of the 8th Int in respect to Copper Coin.

You say the intrinsick Value must be = to 12 pieces for 7d. Pray do you mean to include in that value the Copper & the workmanship, for that will be the intrinsick Value to you, or do you mean the copper only.

The price of a lb of the Coin you mention will be 16 pence but the price of the Copper only will be 11 1/4d for that metal is rose 25 pr cent within one year past.

To this price must be added 20s per Ton for Casks & if one Ton only is Coind, 8 Guineas for dies or if 3 Ton is Coined 4 Guineas or if 5 Ton is Coined nothing

Also the carriage if by Land to London £4 pr Ton

or if by Hull £2 pr Ton.

Perhaps upon the whole they will (including all ye above) cost you 16 1/4d pr lb & that will be the lowest for coin better executed than has ever been done in any Mint whatsoever.

Hence say if 7d buy 12 pieces, therefore 16 1/2d will buy 28 1/3 pieces in 1 pound Wt.

You may depend upon them being made of the finest copper & not of such base metal as is used in this neighbourhood for such purposes.

If these terms are agreeable to you I should be glad to receive your orders in a few days that I may put the Dies in hand before I set out to London where I propose to be on the 17th Int at No 6 Green Lettuce Lane, Cannon Street.

I remain Sr

your most Obedt humble Servt

Matthew Boulton

If you have obtained permission to make the Coin in question with ye head of the King its well: otherwise I should be unwilling to take that liberty.

 

There must have been further letters, including the firm order for the coinage to be undertaken, but these have not been traced. A note by Ruding in his 'Annals of the Coinage of Great Britain,' 1840, records that in February 1793 'two hundred pounds of copper coin were recommended for Bermuda' and he cites as his authority the Register of the Committee of the Privy Council for Trade. From this it can be concluded that Boulton's postscript resulted in Brickwood making an application on behalf of the Government of Bermuda, for the Governor's Despatches to England in 1792 contained the necessary request. Whichever of the two courses, the result was the issue of an Order in Council on 1st February 1793 that accorded Royal approval for the proposed measures of the Colonial Government.’

The Weight of the Coins

 

Boulton completed the coinage, and it left Soho by land carriage for London on 8th May 1793 via Sheratt's wagon. Details of the number of pieces struck are calculated from the Journal entry, and at the rate of 34 to the pound avoirdupois. The selection of this coinage rate requires explanation

 

  1. Boulton's letter of 9th November 1792 refers to a coinage of 28 1/3 pieces to the lb. wt. equating to 247 grains troy each, but this was a comparative illustration between the customer's requirement and actual basic cost.
  2. Hocking, in his work 'Catalogue of the Coins, Tokens, Medals, Dies and Seals in the Museum of the Royal Mint' published in 1906, states "the coins were struck by Matthew Boulton of Birmingham, the dies being engraved by Droz. The weight of the specimen in the mint collection is 214 1/2 grains, or about 32 1/2 pieces to the lb." However, the specimen in the Royal Mint cabinet is a proof striking, and Boulton's Journal entry notes the despatch by coach, on 9th May 1793, of 100 proof specimens and records their weight as 3lbs, or 210 troy grains each, which is 33 1/3 pieces to the lb.
  3. In Boulton's covering letter of 3rd June 1793 returning to John Brickwood a draft Proclamation [see below] Boulton gives the weight of 12 pieces as 5oz 4 grains. This was troy weight and each coin was officially supposed to be 200 1/3 grains, or coined at a rate of 35 to the lb.
  4. Finally, Boulton's Mint Book records the rate as 34 to the lb, or 205.88 grains. This book was used for various notes and estimates for proposed coinages. Under a note for Prices & Blanks in 1812 it mentions: 1793 Brickwood 5d/lb. 34 pieces/lb.

 

The coinage rate of 34 pieces to the pound avoirdupois is confirmed by EF-FDC currency specimens available for examination. The average of five pieces was 205.9 grains. Thus, the number coined was about 83,589, and not the 72,000 previously reported.

 

The Engraver

 

All previous recordings of the coin state that the dies were engraved by the Swiss engraver Jean Pierre Droz, the claim being made on the grounds that the obverse showing the effigy of King George III bears the name of that artist on the truncation of the shoulder: DROZ. F

 

However, an informative article by Brian Gould, in Seaby's Coin & Medal Bulletin, August/September 1972, shows that while Droz was the artist for the obverse design, he could not have executed the reverse showing the ship. The dies for the finished coin were the work of two engravers.

 

Boulton had parted with the services of Droz in the spring of 1791, and another engraver, Rambert Dumarest, a Frenchman, left Soho on 21st July 1791. Boulton was without an engraver from that date until another Frenchman, Noel-Alexandre Ponthon, arrived there in the August. Ponthon remained as staff engraver at Soho until September 1795 when his place was taken by the Flemish artist Conrad Heinrich Kűchler. Kűchler commenced engraving dies for Boulton in 1793 as an outworker but his connection with the Soho Mint in 1793 was too late for him to have executed the Bermuda ship die. A Journal entry for 8th May 1793 shows a charge of 3 Guineas for 'dyes for the ship' which indicates that only one matrix die needed to be engraved to execute the coinage, the obverse being prepared from a punch by Droz for Boulton's English pattern halfpence of 1788-1790. So, with Ponthon filling the position of staff engraver at this period it can be assumed with reasonable certainty that he was responsible for the reverse of the Bermuda penny.

 

A Proclamation

 

Following the completion and delivery of the coinage, John Brickwood wrote to Boulton, on 29th May 1793, with the request that Boulton would complete one blank space in an enclosed draft of the intended Proclamation for giving currency to the coin in Bermuda. This blank must have specified the weight of the coin and Boulton, as the Mint Master, would be a proper person to insert the details. The draft was completed and returned to Brickwood on 3rd June, and Boulton took the opportunity to stress the accuracy of his product by drawing attention to the 1/2% variation or remedy allowance achieved in coinage at the Soho Mint as opposed to that permitted at the Royal Mint at Tower Hill:

 

Dear Sir,

Herewith I return to you the Proclamation you favoured me with, which I have fill'd up according to your request. The weight of 12 pieces being 5oz 4grains with a variation of about 1/2 pr cent or 1/200 part but the variation or remedy allow'd to the Master & Worker at the Tower for Copper Coins is = 1/40 part of ye weight...

 

A Capture

 

Details of the shipment of the coins to Bermuda have not been traced, but Chalmers, in his 1893 work 'A History of Currency in the British Colonies' quoting from an official report, records that on the voyage out a part was captured and carried to France; and about the sum of $600 was received in the Colony, which appeared to be adequate to the demand for it.'

Since this report valued that part of the consignment to reach the island as about $600 local currency and the Bermuda dollar was rated at 6s 8d Sterling, the total number of pieces available for release into circulation must have been about 48,000, providing the valuation was calculated on the local rate for the coin.

 

Circulation

 

As related in the report of the loss, this remaining portion was deemed sufficient and the coins were given a general circulation under the authority of an Act:

 

BERMUDA

Whereas His Majesty has been graciously pleased by his Order in Council of 1st February 1793 to authorize Matthew Boulton, Esquire, of Birmingham, in England, to strike for the use of the Inhabitants of these Islands a quantity of copper coin, not exceeding the value of £200 Sterling; and whereas it is deemed essential to the welfare of the community, that such part of the said coin as is already received be put into immediate circulation, be it enacted &c that the Treasurer be authorised to pay in any Copper Coin that is or may be in the Treasury in consequence of the said Order in Council, to any person having a demand on the Public, 2 1/2% on the amount of such demand at the rate of 12 coppers for 1s. currency, and that the person having such demand be obliged to receive such Copper Coin in payment, at such rate, in the same manner as gold and silver monies are by law or custom made payable in these Islands, until the whole quantity of Copper Coin shall have been emitted from the Treasury, either by payment, exchange or otherwise.

And be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, that in any other payments, after the passing of this Act, no person be obliged to received more than eleven Coppers in any payment whatever, and that on all occasions a tender of a less number of Coppers than twelve be deemed as payment at the rate aforesaid, in the same manner as gold and silver monies are by law or custom made payable within these Islands.

 

The Act passed the Assembly on 24th April 1794, the Council on 25th, and was signed by the Governor on 26th April 1794.

Bermuda 1793