History of the Guinea

  

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Guineas were introduced as currency in 1663, during the reign of King Charles II, and were so named as the first coins were made from gold brought to Britain from the African country of ‘Guinea’.

Originally, the value of a guinea amounted to twenty shillings or one pound, but its value changed during the course of its life due to the relative value of gold and silver. By 1694 at the beginning of William and Mary’s reign, the guinea was worth twenty-one shillings and sixpence, rising to as much as thirty shillings by June 1695. Its value was stabilised during William III’s reign in 1696 through devaluation of the gold coinage and restoration of silver coinage, but deteriorated again during the reign of George III because very little silver or copper coin was minted. The guinea was finally replaced in 1816 by the Sovereign.

Until the introduction of the guinea, coins had been hand-stamped, where a coin blank would be placed between a pair of engraved dies and hammered to produce the raised pattern. The production of the first guineas coincided with the first ‘milled’ coins produced mechanically, and though some hand stamped guineas were produced in the first couple of years, the majority were mechanically produced.

The photos below show the designs of guinea coins throughout their life, with 3 main designs being evident.  The two coins to the left feature the heraldic shields of England, Scotland, Ireland and France separated by a cruciform of royal scepters. The next two feature the same shields forming the quarters of a shield surmounted by a crown. The final example is of a ‘spade’ or ‘spade ace’ guinea which is perhaps the best known.

Coins (left to right),  1687 James I Guinea, 1715 George I Guinea, 1759 George II Guinea, 1775 George III Guinea, and 1791 George III Spade Guinea.