Copper alloy coin
Irish Penny (obverse & reverse)

Minted in London during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, these coins provided Ireland with small coinage while keeping silver in England. (Small silver denominations had been absent from the Irish currency since early in King Henry VII’s reign.). The coins depict a crowned harp on the obverse side, a symbol used to represent Ireland as early as the 13th century. The legend around reads POSVI DEV ADIVTOREM MEVM, meaning “I have made God my helper”. The reverse side depicts a shield with the royal coat of arms of Queen Elizabeth, with three fleur-de-lis in the first and fourth quarters of the shield, and three lions passant in the second and third quarters. The surrounding legend reads: ELIZABETH D G AN FRA ET HIBER RE, meaning “Elizabeth by the grace of God Queen of England France and Ireland”

These coins were produced with three different mint marks – a trefoil, a star, and a martlet. In the image above, the star mint mark is visible directly above the shield on the reverse side of the coin. The star mint mark is the most commonly identified mint mark for Irish pennys in the Jamestown collection. Irish pennies and halfpennies with the star mint mark were produced between May 20, 1601 – May 24, 1602.

People in Ireland rejected these coins, thus raising the question of how these artifacts got to Virginia. Did they come in the pockets of individuals who either had seen military service in Ireland or had been involved with the English settlement of Ireland in the early 17th century? Or were these coins a cheap way for London to satisfy the colonists’ need for small change? In addition to this use, these copper objects would have also been valuable items for trade with the Native Americans. A total of 125 copper Irish pennies, and 16 copper Irish halfpennies have been found at Jamestown, making Irish coinage the most common early 17th century currency in the settlement.