English Penny, Charles I
English Penny, Charles I

These two pennies are difficult to decipher because they were intentionally bent, transforming them from legal tender into a apotropaic tokens, intended to bring the holder luck or keep them safe from unexplainable illness or witchcraft.

If the pennies were unrolled and the markings were made clear, they would both show on the obverse side the bust of Charles I wearing a ruff collar and a crown and facing to the left, with “I” placed behind him, indicating the value of the coin. The mint mark is followed by the legend CAROLUS DG ROSA SINE SPINA, meaning “Charles by the Grace of God, a rose without a thorn” surrounding the bust. 3000-JR has a mint mark of a bell, and 1425-JR has a mint mark of two pellets, or dots. Both are lacking inner circles that other mints include surrounding the bust of Charles.

The reverse of both coins are the same, including a nearly round shield containing the royal coat of arms with scroll garniture and the surrounding legend JUSTITIA THRONUM FIRMAT, meaning “Justice strengthens the throne”. 1425-JR in addition to being folded was also pierced directly through the top of the shield such that, if suspended, the shield would hang right side up but the opposite side with the King’s bust would hang upside down.

Charles I’s coinage is perhaps the most complex of all British monarchs. During his reign, coins were struck at different locations, using material from different sources and with a number of different obverse and reverse designs, legends, and mint mark combinations. Charles I was king from March 27, 1625 until January 30, 1649. This was a tumultuous time in Britain, with complex religious, political, financial, and international dynamics. Conflicts came to a head and the English Civil War began in 1642, resulting in the capture, trial and execution of Charles on the grounds of high treason.

Due to ongoing conflict, official coinage was issued under the King from 1625-1642, but issued by Parliament after they seized the tower mint on August 10, 1642 through the end of Charles’s reign in 1649. Based on their designs and markings, these two coins excavated at Jamestown were issued by King Charles I at the Tower mint, dating them to 1625-1642. One of these two coins was one of the few datable artifacts present in the fill of John White’s House, helping archaeologists determine the date and likely owner of the brick-lined structure. This coin passed hands at Jamestown while the capitol was a thriving port town.