O’Brien Coin Guide: Irish ‘Regal Halfpennies’ of William III (alone)


In 1694 Queen Mary II died of smallpox and William continued to rule alone.

  • In 1694 William set up the Bank of England in order to fund his war against Louis XIV
    • The revolution of 1688, which brought William and Mary to the throne, gave England a measure of political stability and commerce flourished, but the public finances were weak and the system of money and credit was in disarray.
      • The goldsmith bankers had been damaged by the lax financial management of the Stuart kings.
      • There were calls for a national or public bank to mobilise the nation’s resources.
    • Many schemes were proposed but the successful one, from William Paterson, envisaged a loan of £1,200,000 to the Government, in return for which the subscribers would be incorporated as the “Governor and Company of the Bank of England”.
      • Although the new bank would have risked its entire capital by lending it to the Government, the subscription proved popular and the money was raised in a few weeks.
      • The Royal Charter was sealed on 27 July 1694, and the Bank started its role as the Government’s banker and debt-manager, which it continues today

In February 1702, William’s horse stumbled on a molehill at Hampton Court and he was thrown, breaking his collarbone. His health, which had never been strong, deteriorated rapidly. He died on 8 March 1703.

  • William had no heir and his death brought an end to the House of Orange

The supporters of James II, who had died in exile the year before, did not mourn him and toasted the mole who made his horse trip as ‘the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat’.

Throughout the reign of William & Mary, England was experiencing a worsening monetary problem that developed into a crisis – caused by a combination of clipping, forgery and an arbitrage market between silver and gold coins on the foreign exchange bourses. By 1696, William’s solution was to introduce a new milled (silver) coinage to replace the old hammered (silver) coinage for the three kingdoms – effectively replacing the old clipped’ coinage by weight. This was known as the great re-coinage of 1696 – an initiative that had mixed results, i.e. it successfully replaced the old hammered coinage but the problem with arbitrage still persisted.

In Ireland, William needed to replace the brass ‘gunmoney’ of James II with regal coppers of good weight. He devalued the ‘gunmoney’ to a small fraction of its former ‘notional value’ and in one stroke, punished the supporters of the defeated James II and the unsuspecting traders and public alike. A single regal halfpenny was struck in 1796 – albeit one with three main variations – for Ireland.

The three variations are as follows :-

William III – Type 1 Halfpenny, Variety A

1696 William III Type 1, Halfpenny, Variety A - Reverse: MAG BR FRA ET HIB REX

1696 William III Type 1, Halfpenny, Variety A – Reverse: MAG BR FRA ET HIB REX

  • Obverse: GVLIELMVS III DEI GRA
    • translates/expands as William III by the grace of God
  • Reverse: MAG BR FRA ET HIB REX
    • translates/expands as King of Great Britain, France and Ireland
Date William III – Type 1A Poor Good Fine VF EF Unc
1696 MAG . BR . FRA €1 €4 €25 €125 €300
1696 GVVLIELMVS (obverse) €1 €8 €45 €150 €400
1696 Proof in silver €750 €1,200
There are also 3 known examples of a silver-gilt proof halfpenny. It is not known whether the gilding was applied at the mint or if it was done later

There are also 3 known examples of a silver-gilt proof halfpenny. It is not known whether the gilding was applied at the mint or if it was done later

  • Since there is doubt as to when / who did the gilding, I have not listed this coin as a variety
  • There are only three known examples (Market value = €3,000)

William III – Type 1 Halfpenny, Variety B

<no photo yet>

  • Obverse: GVLIELMVS III DEI GRA
    • translates/expands as William III by the grace of God
  • Reverse: MAG BRI FRA ET HIB REX
    • translates/expands as King of Great Britain, France and Ireland
Date William III – Type 1B Poor Good Fine VF EF Unc
1696 MAG . BRI . FRA €1 €5 €25 €150 €350
1696 Proof in silver €750 €1,250

William III – Type 2 Halfpenny

The second type of King William III halfpenny has a poorly executed bust (when compared to Type 1) and the obverse legend ends with ‘GRATIA’

<no photo yet>

  • Obverse: GVLIELMVS III DEI GRATIA
    • translates/expands as William III by the grace of God
  • Reverse: MAG BR FRA ET HIB REX
    • translates/expands as King of Great Britain, France and Ireland
      • The reverse is from a well made die.
      • The reverse die always reads ‘BR.’
        • i.e. there is no ‘BRI’ variety for this type
Date William III – Type 2 Poor Good Fine VF EF Unc
1696 GRATIA €1 €10 €75 €300 €900
1696 Proof in silver ?
  • Coins in GVF, with a clear bust and reasonably strong legends, are difficult to find and better specimens are scarce.
  • Coins in better than Very Fine (VF) are rare.

No additional copper Irish coinage was minted for the next twenty five years and, predictably, unofficial trade tokens began to appear. Some people think that this was a conspiracy against Ireland but a similar situation arose in England re tokens, so it would appear that those in the Royal Mint and the Chancery learned little from the previous fifty years.

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