Decoration and protection
Mary and William 5 guineas
The guineas were introduced in 1663 and remained the principal British gold coin up until 1816. They came into being in the aftermath of the English Civil War (1642–1649). During the war, England was declared a free commonwealth but the English Republic lasted less than 20 years. When the Stuarts returned to the throne with Charles II in 1660, the commonwealth coins were seen as an insult to the restored monarchy. They were therefore withdrawn and reminted.
Charles II used this opportunity to modernise the minting of coins. In May 1661, he ordered that all coins should be machine-made and furnished with an edge design as soon as possible. Elizabeth I had already tried to introduce mechanical coining presses 100 years earlier, but without success. Hand-made coins were now finally superseded by uniformly round coins with a significantly better minting quality.
These new gold coins, produced with screw presses, were the guineas. Their name came from Guinea on the west coast of Africa, whose abundant gold deposits the Royal African Company imported to England. This is why many issues feature an elephant mark on the front to indicate the source of the precious metal.
Strictly speaking, the guineas were gold coins with a value of 20 shillings but their true value fluctuated greatly. It rose to as much as 30 shillings during the reign of William and Mary. The value of the guinea was fixed at 21 shillings in 1717. Even in the 20th century, the name guinea was still used in Great Britain to indicate a sum of 21 shillings (£1.05) and prices of land, horses or art were often quoted in guineas. Even after the decimal system was introduced in 1971, the guinea did not disappear completely . Race horses are still traditionally valued in guineas. This is remarkable considering the last guinea coin was struck in 1813. The guinea era ended in 1816, when Britain introduced the gold standard. The sovereign, with a value of 20 shillings, became the new gold coinage.
The minting of guineas represents an important chapter in the history of British coinage. One detail, the edge design, illustrates the progress made. For many centuries the simple, often irregular, coin edge had provided fraudsters with the possibility of scraping off parts of the precious metal. The only protection was to check the weight of each coin. The simple but technically sophisticated solution is to additionally emboss the edge of the coins. Thanks to technological advances, this became possible at that time. The edge of the large five-guinea coin even bears an inscription.
Our showpiece coin is a five-guinea coin minted in the joint reign of William and Mary. Mary was the Protestant daughter of King James II. He had attempted to reinstate Catholicism, to which he had converted in 1672. It was for this reason that, in 1688, William III of Orange, Mary’s husband, was called to Britain by a group of influential members of the House of Lords. James II was forced to seek refuge in France. In February the following year, William III and Mary were proclaimed joint sovereigns of England. However, their joint rule only lasted a few years, as the queen died at the beginning of January 1695.
Their joint reign is shown clearly on the obverse side of our coin, which depicts the conjoined profiles of the king and queen. William’s head is adorned with a laurel wreath. The Latin inscription "GVLIELMVS ET·MARIA DEI GRATlA MAG(nae) BR(itanniae) FR(anciae) ET HIB(erniae) REX ET REGINA" begins on the obverse of the coin and is continued on the reverse side. It describes William and Mary as "by the grace of God, King and Queen of Great Britain, France and Ireland". The inscription ends with the year of issue 1692.
A classical coat of arms is depicted on the reverse side, symbolising the monarchs’ claim to power. The crowned shield contains the coats of arms of France, England, Scotland and Ireland. The Nassau arms with its lion is superimposed in the middle; this is the coat of arms of the House of Nassau-Orange to which William belonged.
The edge inscription of our coin is "DECVS ET TUTAMEN - ANNO REGNI QVARTO" (an ornament and a safeguard, in the fourth year of reign). The words “decvs et tutamen” taken from Virgil’s Aeneid are a direct reference to the function of the edge design.
The stamp for our coin was probably cut by brothers James and Norbert from the famous Flemish coin engraving and medallist family Roettiers, who were engaged at the London mint for several generations.
Kingdom of England
Mary and William (1689–1694)
5 guineas, 1692
Weight: 41.67 g
Diameter: 37.5 mm.