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Gold Unite

The unite was a type of English gold coin originally produced during the reign of King James I of England. Initially a hammered gold coin worth twenty shillings or a pound, it was a popular type of coin during the early 1600s[1]. Minted sometime during James I’s second coinage reform of 1604 – 1619, the unite was no named for the legend on the reverse side of the coin which stated the king’s desire to unite the kingdoms of England and Scotland. As with all the other coinages that preceded it, the unite was produced at the Tower Mint in London, although this practice was not to remain a constant throughout the unite’s span of mintage.


The gold unite under James I bore various depictions of the monarch depending on the year of mintage and could be considered one of the ‘most updated’ of coinages when it cam to its accuracy in depicting the monarch. While a number of gold unites available for today’s collectors and coin enthusiasts usually depict the monarch bearing a scepter and orb facing the right side, some versions also feature him facing the left, or the front with the latter usually lacking the presence of the royal orb and scepter found in other examples, accompanied by the standard inscription of IACOBVS D G MA BRI FRA ET HI REX (Iacobus Rex Deo Gratia, Magnae Britanniae Franciae et Hiberniae Rex – James, by the Grace of God King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland). Measuring about 37mm in diameter (occasionally varying depending on the relative wear and tear and rare shaving), it was usually made of crown gold – an alloy of some 22 percent gold and some minute amounts of copper for hardness. Unlike other gold coins of the period which usually flaunted Christian symbolism, James I’s unite coins proudly bore his personal arms or the united arms of the four countries (Britain, France, Ireland and Scotland) separating the letters I. R., which stood for IACOBVS REX (‘King James’). The monicker ‘unite’ as previously stated came from the reverse legend ‘FACIAM EOS IN GENTEM VNAM (‘I will make them One Nation’) a biblical quotation from the book of Ezekiel (Chap. 37, verse 22) typical of James I’s notorious religious fervor. This reflected the monarch’s wish for a united kingdom of the four nations which would eventually give rise to the Great Britain of this modern age.

The unite was also not an exclusive currency under the reign of James I, as another monarch, Charles I also minted unites bearing his image during his reign. Following suit with James I’s standard inscriptions, his unites, minted in circa 1630 until the end of his reign in 1649 bore the crowned image of Charles I facing sinister (left) with the inscription CAROLVS D G MAG BR FR ET HI REX (Carlous Dei Gratia Magnae Britanniae Franciae et Hiberniae Rex – Charles by the Grace of God King of Great Britain, France and Ireland). Unlike James I’s unite, Charles’s bore a face value inscribed behind the crowned bust of the king, with ‘XX’ standing for its value of twenty shillings. As with James’s ‘united’ concept, the reverse of Charles’s coin bore the royal arms of England surmounted by a crown, along with the inscription ‘FLORENT CONCORDIA REGNA (‘Through the concord Kingdoms flourish’), again a call for unity. Due to the phrase ‘FLORENT’, it was also sometimes referred to as a gold ‘florin’ or ‘florint’, although it was by no means related to a Hungarian gold currency of the same name.

The tradition – if not custom – of gold unites being minted solely in the Tower Mint in London was temporarily broken during the reign of Charles I, where examples of unites were minted outside of the Tower Mint in especially monitored and sanctioned provincial mints such as Chester, Bristol, Shewsbury, and Oxford among others. These coins (known as triple unites owing to their high face value and unique symbolism) bore mintmarks from the respective sanctioned mints, and were expressly produced to pay wages for troops during the English Civil War of 1642 – 1651[2]. Because examples of unites dating from this period are out of the ordinary, they are considered extremely rare and valuable by numismatists. Owing to their relatively short and small mintage numbers, not many examples of Civil War unites exist today. unites from this period were of two types – locally milled copies of preexisting ones, and special mintages known as triple unites (valued at sixty shillings – i. e. triple the value of a normal unite) that bore a unique depiction of the monarch facing sinister (left) holding a sword, with a tiny olive plume as a sign of peace to his right side. This highly symbolic coin bore a similar obverse legend proclaiming Charles I’s sovereignty of the three Kingdoms, while the reverse bore the legend RELIG PROT LEG ANG LIBER PAR (‘Protestantium religionem, leges Angliae, et libertatem Parliamentaria’) in three lines, superimposed by three olive plumes and the numeric symbol ‘III’ above it, with the date of mintage below, the whole of which was surrounded by the Latin legend EXVRGAT DEVS DISSIPENTVR INIMICI (‘Let God arise and His enemies be scattered’). Examples of both the normal unite and the triple unite of the Civil War period come in different variations and are nowadays exceedingly rare[3].

After the execution of Charles I at the end of the English Civil War, England was declared a commonwealth nation and new unites were issued under the Commonwealth which lasted from 1649 – 1660[4]. As a break from the symbolism and hold of the monarchy, this unites no longer bore the coat of arms of the recently overthrown monarch, and was instead replaced with less ‘kingly’ and more ‘nationalistic’ symbols, with the obverse bearing a Swiss shield with a cross as an ordinary with a corona laurea border, and a unique legend in English which states: ‘THE COMMONWEALTH OF ENGLAND. The reverse depicts two Swiss escutcheons joined side by side, with the left shield depicting a cross as with the obverse, and the right depicting a harp (similar to the heraldic device of Ireland), surmounted by the symbol ‘XX’ (the face value of the coin), and the inscription ‘GOD WITH US’ along with the date of mintage[5]. The exclusive use of English as the language for the coin’s legends was primarily due to the Commonwealth’s wish to distance itself from the influence of Catholicism (as Latin was the lingua franca of the Vatican), as well as the monarchy which was then strongly under the influence of Catholicism[6].

After the end of the English Commonwealth and the reinstatement of the monarchy under King Charles II in circa 1660, the unites issued under his reign resumed its original ‘royalist’ aesthetics, then depicting the bust of the king with a corona laurea, better known as a laurel wreath in the same vein as monarchs and men of note from Classical Antiquity. The inscriptions of the coin resumed the use of Latin and bore the phrase CAROLVS II D G MAG BRIT FRAN ET HIB REX (Carolus II Dei Gratia Magnae Brittanae Franciae et Hiberniae Rex – Charles II by the Grace of God King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland). The reverse of the coin retained a similar pattern to its predecessor Charles I’s unite, and depicted the royal coat of arms between the letters ‘CR’ (Carolus Rex), with the same legend (FLORENT CONCORDIA REGNA). Two issues of Charles II’s unite exists, with the second one featuring its face value depicted behind the head of the obverse bust, while the first issues lacked this detail[7]. As with all hammered coins of the period, the unite was considerably of a less refined look, although the Commonwealth unites were surprisingly uniform for its time, suggesting a milled origin – a practice not yet common until much later, when milled coinage in general would replace the unite. By 1663, the production of the gold unite ceased and it was succeeded by the Guinea, a milled coin vastly superior in appearance and uniformity to the unite, and no other coins valued at twenty shillings appeared from that point until the introduction of the gold Sovereign in circa 1817 – a full 154 years after the abolishment of the unite.

Today, the gold unite, especially those dating from James I’s period as well as the period of the Civil War is highly sought after by collectors due to their rarity. Bullion investors also seek out and purchase gold unites not solely for their gold content, but chiefly for their rarity and historical value which makes them worth more than the gold they contain.

References:

[1] http://books.google.it/books?id=LESLAg3XguwC&pg=PP1&dq=Herbert+grueber+Hanbook
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_Civil_War
[3] http://anglosaxoncoins.homestead.com/Charles1.html
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commonwealth_of_England
[5] http://anglosaxoncoins.homestead.com/Charles1.html
[6] Mulligan, Tom (1972). Better Coin Collecting. London: Kaye & Ward. p. 13.
[7] http://www.petitioncrown.com/CHARLES_II_COINAGE.html


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