From the Restoration of the monarchy to the Napoleonic Wars, the guinea was the coin that characterised an increasingly wealthy Britain. It was one of the most popular British coins for 150 years, during which Britain became the world’s major colonial power.
Due to Britain’s influence on the international stage, the guinea became known all over the world, occupying the position of universal acceptance that the dollar occupies today. The guinea was, for almost 150 years, the standard gold coin of the British currency. It therefore stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the Sovereign as one of the greatest British coins in history.
The first guinea was minted on 6 February 1663 and the last was minted in 1813 opening the door for the Sovereign to return in 1817. 2013 marks 350 years since the guinea was first struck.
The guinea was one of the highest value British coins in circulation. Its value was roughly £1 at a time when a footman might earn £8 a year. Those who earned over £500 a year might be considered rich, with the truly wealthy earning salaries in the low thousands.
The early ‘rose’ guinea featured a crowned shield of the Royal Arms whose elaborate detail was compared to an open rose. Guineas of this type were struck from 1761 until 1786.
The second incarnation of the guinea had a shield of the Royal Arms, but from 1787 a much simpler design was adopted which somewhat resembled a spade. It was this design that earned the coin its nickname the ‘spade guinea’.
The ‘spade guinea’ was minted from 1787 to 1799 and became synonymous with British life. The author James Boswell wrote a biography of the eighteenth-century English writer, Doctor Samuel Johnson, which contains several prominent references to the guinea, reflecting its role in society at the time.
We then walked to the Pantheon…I said there was not half a guinea’s worth in seeing this place. Johnson: “But Sir, there is half a guinea’s worth of inferiority to other people in not having seen it.” Boswell: “I doubt, Sir, whether there are many happy people here.” Johnson: “Yes, Sir, there are many happy people here. There are many people here who are watching hundreds, and who think hundreds are watching them.
I would not give half a guinea to live under one form of Government rather than another. It is of no moment to the happiness of an individual. Sir, the danger of the abuse of power is nothing to a private man.
To celebrate the 350th anniversary of the first minting of the guinea, it returns on a 2013 UK £2 coin. The collector pack charts the guinea’s history from its name to the monarchs it served, its place in tradition right up to the modern day, where it still lends prestige to the sport of kings in horse races like the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket.
Own the 2013 tribute to this classic coin