This rare artifact is a trial plate for two Elizabethan coins that were never issued. A trial plate is like a pattern, made with a suggested coin design before approval and subsequent minting. This small copper alloy square was likely intentionally cut so that neither coin is complete. This action voided both coins so that they could not accidentally enter circulation.
The trial plate includes one-half of both an obverse and reverse impression of the two different suggested coins. One coin measuring 13 mm in diameter bears the crowned royal cypher of Elizabeth I (the symbol includes every letter of “Elizabeth I” combined) on the obverse. On the reverse are a portcullis and chains below the date 1601. The portcullis, a symbol adopted by Tudor Kings Henry VII and Henry VIII, is associated with the Palace of Westminster, once the seat of court and now the meeting place of the Houses of Parliament. A small number of this halfpenny manufactured in silver did enter circulation.
The other coin is slightly larger, measuring 14 mm in diameter, and includes on the obverse the same crowned royal cypher with the letters “ED _E OF” in a surrounding legend. The complete legend would have read: “THE PLEDGE OF.” On the reverse, a crowned double rose with the letters “PENNY” (would have read “A HALFE PENNY”) in the surrounding legend. This design is similar to those used on coins issued by Henry VIII and suggested in the documentation of a proclamation of Elizabeth I previously dated to 1576. Still, the crowned Tudor rose was never used by Elizabeth I on any coinage, and the date on this trial plate suggests a much later date for the symbol.
This trial plate is numismatically significant for various reasons, including the attempt to introduce copper alloy coinage to England at the end of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. Irish pennies issued by Elizabeth and dated 1601 and 1602, also found archaeologically at Jamestown, were likely part of the same effort.
The trial plate may have been brought to Jamestown as scrap copper from the English mint for trade interactions with the Virginia Indians. Its presence at Jamestown highlights the influence of specific individuals in the Virginia Company and their social and economic connections in England, impacting life in early Virginia.