The story of the 18th century Cragg Vale Coiners

What did the Coiners do?

The Cragg Vale Coiners clipped and filed the edges of gold coins and return the clipped coins to circulation. They then used the gold collected from several coins to cast blanks which were then stamped to create new coins. This method was much simpler than mixing base metals or plating base metal to produce a fake, which were the methods generally used by other Coiners around the country. It also produced a coin that actually had a value in gold, albeit that the process involved de-valuing a number of genuine coins to obtain the gold required.

The silver and gold coins of this period wore easily due to their soft material, such that the impression on the face was often not clear and the size could also be reduced with wear. In fact most coins by this time were well worn and overdue for withdrawal from circulation which led to an acceptance of worn and underweight coins. The Coiners used this to their advantage by clipping and filing full weight coins to a weight that was still within an acceptable limit. The woollen and worsted trade in the area ensured that Guineas circulated from all parts of the country providing the Coiners with a regular supply of full size Guinea coins.

Clipping and coining was nothing new and had been practiced as long as coins had been used as a means of payment for goods, but in most cases this was carried out by individuals or in small groups. The Cragg Vale Coiners on the other hand, became well organised and they involved numerous people within the local community in one form or another, such that few of the locals remained untouched or unaffected.

Clipping and coining are two distinctly separate actions. Clipping is cutting the material off the edge of coins, collecting the material and usually melting it down to make bullion. Coining is the manufacture of counterfeit coins by using base metal or by using the material collected from clipping.

The usual method of counterfeiting used by Coiners around the country was to produce fake coins using a cheap base metal, which was then plated or treated with a chemical wash to give the appearance of a gold coin. The Cragg Vale Coiners were distinct from this usual method as they combined the product of clipping the coins to collect the gold fragments and forge new coins using real gold.

Many details of the Coiners methods exist in the depositions and examinations contained in the archives. These describe the methods used to clip the gold from the edges of the coin, recreating the milled edges by rolling and beating the edge of the coin along a file, and melting the collected gold down to create a blank. The blank was then stamped with an impression using dies made of spelter, a zinc alloy. The photograph below, kindly provided by Calderdale Museums, shows a pair of Coiners dies and a Moidore coin.

Even those who were not Coiners themselves but lent the Coiners good Guineas benefitted, since the Coiners would pay a small amount to the lender of the coin in payment for some of the gold that was collected. The Cragg Vale Coiners would pay 22 Shillings for a full size coin (worth 21 shillings) and would then clip and shave up to forty Pence worth of gold from it before returning it to circulation for its face value of 21 Shillings. The lender themselves therefore gained a shilling as a result of the transaction whilst not actually being involved in the clipping. This helped to gain support locally and to conceal the activities of the Coiners, since nobody (except the excise collectors and the Government) suffered a loss and generally all involved made a small gain.

The Coiners would use the gold collected from about 7 or 8 genuine coins to create an imitation Portuguese Moidore, with a higher face value of 27 Shillings and feed this fake coin into circulation for its face value. They would only use about 22 Shillings worth of gold to create the fake, so making a substantial profit on each new coin they forged.

It is generally recognised, and actually stated in some of the archive documentation, that David Hartley gained his position at the head of the gang and the title 'King' David Hartley, as it was he that brought the practice to the area, having learnt how to clip and forge coins while he served his apprenticeship as an iron worker in Birmingham where the practice was abundant. One statement from an innkeeper called John Bates reads "
there is also one David Hartley who I believe was one of the first persons that brought this unhappy thing into this country which it is said he learned at Birmingham where I believe it is carried on to perfection", acknowledging David Hartley's involvement in introducing coining to the area.

David Hartley supposedly fled Birmingham in fear that he might be arrested for his involvement there and returned to his family home at Bell House in the mid 1760s and shortly after, evidence began coming to light of the presence of a gang in the area, that was growing in size and support.

History of the Guinea.

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’. 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. This was also the method that the Cragg Vale Coiners adopted in their unofficial Mints.

The production of the first Guineas coincided with the first ‘milled’ coins produced mechanically, and though some hand stamped Guineas were manufactured in the first couple of years, the majority were produced mechanically. 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. Foreign coinage, which was mainly Spanish and Portuguese money, was also in wide circulation and legal tender alongside the English Guinea due to the balance of trade between England, Spain and Portugal at this time. This also assisted the Coiners since these coins not only had a higher value, but they also had geometric patterns on both faces which made them easier to copy than the traditional monarch’s head which appeared on the Guinea.

In 1697, an Act of Parliament that was subsequently made permanent in 1708, made the forgery of gold and silver coin an offence of Treason . It was still possible to make worn Shillings and Sixpences look like worn Guineas or half Guineas, or to make worn half pennies or farthings resemble worn Shillings or Sixpences. Consequently a further Act in 1742 then made it Treason to make a lower denomination coin resemble a higher denomination coin by plating it, or treating it with a chemical wash. Until 1771 the offence of coining only applied to gold and silver coin. Counterfeiting copper coins was treated as a misdemeanour and only carried a two year prison sentence, but was finally raised to felony status in 1771.

Guineas and Moidores.

The images below show the difference between English Guineas and Portuguese Moidores that were in circulation at the time.

The Coiners chose to copy Moidores not only because of their higher face values, but also because their geometric designs were far easier to copy than the head and tail of the Guinea.

1727 George II Guinea

1745 George II Guinea

1756 George II Guinea

1774 George III Guinea

1790 George III Guinea

1704 Portuguese Moidore

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