England (1544-47) testoon

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Goldberg sale 74, lot 4379
Great Britain c1544 testoon rev Goldberg 74-4379.jpg
This specimen was lot 4379 in Goldberg sale 74 (Los Angeles, June 2013), where it did not sell. The catalog description[1] noted,

"Great Britain. Testoon or Shilling, ND. Henry VIII, 1509-1547. London mint. Third coinage (1544-1547). Obverse: Classic crowned portrait of king facing. Reverse: Crowned rose between crowned H and crowned R. This is the very first English shilling coin. Produced as a new denomination towards the end of this remarkable reign, the coins were poorly made and sometimes turn up with the portrait and design barely visible. This is actually a superb example, and although it has a small edge striking split (as is often the case) it has probably seen little if any circulation. It has a great portrait, with well struck features and the image of bluff King Henry, the serial divorcer and thorn in the side of the Catholic Church is very similar to that seen in a Holbein painting! Very high grade for this crude issue. NGC graded EF-40.

This piece appears to be made from good metal and has a bright, high-grade silver appearance. Unfortunately many Testoons were minted from low-grade silver and have a tell-tale greeny-gray look. Henry VIII openly debased the coinage from 1544 to help finance his wars, and between 1544 and 1546 the silver content of his coins declined by nearly 60%. In the end the quality of England's silver coinage was so poor that the blanched silver surface of the coins soon wore away to reveal the copper alloy beneath, which earned Henry the nickname 'Old Coppernose.'

The last five years of Henry's reign (1542-1547) were almost as gloomy as his father's (Henry VII) had been. He suffered from severe headaches which were growing worse, and an ulcerous leg which caused him great pain. At the relatively young age of 53 he was so obese he was virtually immobile. He obtained some consolation from his last marriage in 1543 to the twice-widowed Catherine Parr, an intelligent woman who nursed her ailing spouse and provided some semblance of normal family life for him. Catherine persuaded Henry to have all of three children at court, Mary and Elizabeth as well as the beloved Edward. Henry made another incursion into France, which merely drained the English exchequer of money skillfully accrued by Thomas Cromwell, and led, among other things, to the debasement of the coinage. Henry died an ageing, obese, capricious tyrant in January 1547, having ascended the throne 38 years earlier in a burst of enthusiasm, a swaggering, tall and talented young man, full of promise and potential. History remembers Henry VIII for his 6 wives and the fact that he led England in a break with the Catholic Church of Rome."

Recorded mintage: unknown.

Specification: silver.

Catalog reference: S.2365.


  • [1]Goldberg, Ira, Larry Goldberg, John Lavender and Steven Harvey, Goldberg Sale 74: the pre-Long Beach Sale, featuring the Arden Collection, Los Angeles: Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, 2013.
  • Lobel, Richard, Mark Davidson, Allan Hailstone and Eleni Calligas, Coincraft's Standard Catalogue of English and UK Coins, 1066 to Date, London: Coincraft, 1995.
  • Skingley, Philip, ed., Standard Catalogue of British Coins: Coins of England & the United Kingdom, 46th edition, London: Spink & Son, 2011.

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