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Money of Empire: Elizabeth to Elizabeth

The British Empire, more than any other, set the stage for the modern world in which we live. From small origins during the late 16th century, the British Empire expanded to become the largest empire in history and the most powerful global economic and military power for over a century. By 1913, Great Britain ruled over 23% of the world’s population (412 million people) and approximately 24% of the Earth's total land area. Truly, the sun never set on the empire from the late 18th century through to the mid-20th century. As a result, English has become the language of international communication and diplomacy, with British political, legal and cultural traditions leaving their legacy worldwide.

ceylon with captionBritish naval supremacy and colonial possessions ensured control of the world’s seaways and thus trade, allowing the small island nation to play a role in world affairs out of proportion to its population for over 300 years. This power resulted in economic strength – English monarchs from the time of Henry VII (1485 – 1509) were considered to be amongst the wealthiest in Europe. Britain’s wealth was reflected in the English monetary system, which was a model of stability and became a backbone of the world economy, alongside Spanish Colonial coinage for centuries.

This exhibit uses money and medals to illustrate the development of the British Empire from its tentative beginnings under Elizabeth I (1558-1603) up to the present day. Elizabeth began the first sustained overseas expansion of English settlement to broaden commercial opportunities. The history of the Empire since then is, to a large extent, the story of the development of the modern world. Despite the gradual dissolution of the Empire since 1948, its influence continues to be widespread. There are 62 modern nations that were once part of the British Empire, most of which are now part of the Commonwealth of Nations. The Commonwealth consists of 53 member states united by language, history, culture and shared values. Sixteen of the countries recognize the British monarch as their head of state and continue to display Elizabeth II on their coinage – making her image the most common numismatic portrait worldwide.

Armada medal IN Armada Medal

Elizabeth I, silver medal issued in 1588 to celebrate the defeat of the Spanish Armada by the English navy – and the weather... The defeat of the Spanish Armada was largely accomplished by a violent storm so divine intervention is acknowledged on the obverse of this medal. Since the armada was aimed mainly against Elizabeth, the head of the Anglican Church, its cause was viewed as an attack upon the Church itself and is clearly represented on the reverse.

sierra leone 1791 10 Cents, Sierra Leone, Copper

The Sierra Leone Company was founded in 1791 by British abolitionists and led 1,100 Black Loyalists (slaves and other African-Americans who remained loyal to Great Britain during the American Revolution) from Nova Scotia to Freetown, Sierra Leone's current capital. Birmingham's Soho Mint produced the coins in many denominations. The Sierra Leone Company dissolved in 1807.

Holey Dollar-1972 Australia, Holey Dollar

To address a severe coin shortage, New South Wales punched out the centers of 40,000 pesos (Spanish silver "pieces of eight"). The outer portions of the original coins were restruck with a date and NEW SOUTH WALES and came to be known as "holey dollars." The small center disks, called "dumps," were restruck with a new design and likewise circulated.

Commonwealth unite IN English Commonwealth, Gold Unite 1656

This rare gold coin features the Cross of St. George on the obverse representing England, instead of having the head of a king since the monarchy had been abolished.  It also uses the English language instead of Latin because of the association of Latin with Catholicism. 

ElizabethI half pound Elizabeth I, Gold 1/2 Pound, 1560-61

Early English machine-struck gold coin, rare and beautiful example of Elizabethan coinage. The exhibit has a seldom-seen set of Elizabethan gold and silver coins on display.

Portcullis 8 real IN Elizabeth I, Silver 8 Real Portcullis Money, 1600

First English trade coin struck specifically for use in Asia. A complete denomination set is on display, another numismatic rarity.

The Edward C. Rochette Money Museum would like to thank The Map as History  website — home of the largest collection of animated historical map videos at https://www.the-map-as-history.com.


The museum would also like to thank  The British Pantry and Tea Room for their assistance with the exhibit.

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