O’Brien Rare Coin Review: The Ormonde Gold ‘Pistole’ of 1646


Introduction

Amongst the rarest coin issues of the turbulent times that covered the Wars of the Three Kingdoms are the gold pistole and double-pistole of 1646. These are the only gold coins struck and circulated in Ireland. They were produced by Dublin goldsmiths Peter van Eindhoven and Gilbert Tonques, on behalf of the Duke of Ormonde, as authorized by a warrant dated 29 July 1646.

  • Peter Vaneyndhoven and Gilbert Tongues were ‘foundation’ members of the Dublin Goldsmiths’ Company (less than a decade earlier) when it was founded by a Royal Charter, dated 22nd December 1637.
    • They had earlier been similarly commissioned by the Lord Justices in January 1642/3 to convert silver plate to the pledges once collectively known as Lord Inchiquin’s money (three different types) but now known as Inchiquin, Annulet and Dublin Money.
    • They were to take twelve pence for every twenty shillings’ worth struck in payment for their labours (a 5% commission)
  • Unlike all of the emergency coinages issued in silver, these two coins do not adhere to any of the English gold coin types of the period.
    • Unusually, they are named after Spanish and French coins which were mis-named ‘pistoles’ at the time and circulated freely in Ireland
    • According to Simon’s Essay on Irish Coins these pistoles were given ‘semi-official’ status via a proclamation in 1660
      • Dr. Aquilla Smith was the first modern authority to call the 1646 pieces ‘pistoles’

Why are they known as Pistoles?

The most common question I have heard over the years is “why did the authorities in Dublin produce a foreign-named coin?” Another question is “if the weights do not precisely correspond to these foreign pistoles, why were they issued at these weights?”  Michael Dolley, one of the most accomplished of modern Irish numismatic experts went into great detail in his paper for the British Numismatic Society in 1966.

Dolley was of the opinion that 3 of these Anglo-Irish pistoles were equal to 2 English or Scottish ‘unites – the standard gold unit at that time. Furthermore, he opined that the small discrepancy in the actual gold content – not easily distinguishable by merchants or traders – ensured that the Dublin goldsmiths did not lose out when the coins were assayed later.

This would put the Anglo-Irish ‘pistoles’ at well below the weight of the Spanish real d’oro and the French Louis d’Or – but why?

The Dublin garrison comprised a mixture of English-born citizens and Irish-born descendants of Anglo-Norman stock. There would have also been an element of Irish natives who were doing well in ‘the trades’ and who feared a Confederacy takeover spelled financial ruin for them. However, there was a genuine fear amongst the authorities in Dublin that some of the (for now) Royalist troops in Dublin might declare for Parliament, or defect to the Irish Confederates if they were not paid.

Dublin was holding out but militarily, the Royalists and the Scottish Covenanters were experiencing a series of reversals in Ireland during the year of 1646.

  • June 5th – Battle of Benburb: Owen Roe O’Neill’s Ulster army defeats British forces under General Robert Monro
  • July 10th – General Preston (Confederate) captures Roscommon Castle
  • July 12th – Bunratty Castle surrenders to Confederate forces
  • July 30th – The ‘Ormonde Peace’ proclaimed in Dublin

By September 1646, the combined Confederate armies of Leinster and Ulster would besiege Dublin itself.

  • The wife of King Charles I (Queen Henrietta Maria) sent 10,000 French Louis d’Ors to Dublin in the summer of 1646 to pay troops
    • The French Louis d’Or was recognized throughout Europe and traders trusted its weight, quality and convertability
    • In order to make this gold ‘go further’ it is thought that the Dublin goldsmith’s melted and debased it (slightly) for the Ormonde pistoles

Their strategy was a clever one. Ormonde and his associates were very careful not to call these ‘pistoles’ coins – they preferred the term ‘pledges’ or ‘peeces’ (sic) when they spoke about the new gold. Although the two new coins stated that they contained 4 dwt. 7 gr. (equivalent to 103 grains) and 8 dwt. 14 gr. (equivalent to 206 grains), respectively, they actually contained 77-85 grains and 154-170 grains of pure gold, respectively.  Strictly speaking, they had issued ‘debased’ coins and were cheating the traders but, from a pragmatic viewpoint, gold was trading at a premium (as always, in times of war), so the goldsmiths had a significant challenge to overcome.

  1. these ‘pistoles’ would have to circulate beside the Spanish real d’oro and its multiples
    1. a mental calculation based on an automatic assumption that the coin was of 22-carat fineness would suggest absolute parity in pure gold content with the Spanish counterpart, the bullion value of which would have been common knowledge among Irish tradesmen.
  2. if these  Ormonde ‘pistoles’ were struck in standard gold (or fine gold) they would have left the country almost immediately, whereas coins reputed base by the experts, the goldsmiths and their friends, would presumably be immune from ‘speculatory export’ or ‘arbitrage market’ and so continue to circulate locally and easily.
  3. the next challenge was how to avoid losses when these gold pieces came back to them for redemption
    1. the issuers, practising goldsmiths, were well aware that the time would come when these ‘pledges’ would be tendered for redemption at their bullion value
    2. the standard coin of the realm was the English ‘unite’ and Scottish ‘merk’, and this contained (in theory) at least, 128 and 32/41 grains of pure gold
    3. it would appear to be no coincidence that the following conversion table could be used:
  • 128 and 32/41 grains x 2 = 257 23/41th grains
    • a.k.a. 2 gold ‘unites’
  • 85 and 5/16 grains X 3 = 255 15/16th grains
    • a.k.a. 3 Ormonde gold ‘pistoles’

In other words, the actual gold content of three of the best/heaviest Ormonde ‘pistoles’ was roughly equivalent to two English or Scottish unites, so that a goldsmith could be certain that he would not be hurting himself if he obliged a customer by letting him have three of the ‘pistoles’ for two unites.

To a customer (under the false impression that an Ormonde ‘pistole’ was equal in value to a Spanish real d’oro or French Louis d’Or such a kindness might seem a very real favour, since three of the foreign gold coins would seldom be exchanged for two unites – the discrepancy in the actual gold content here amounting to some 26 grains.

The Ormonde Pistole

Duke of Ormonde’s gold coinage of 1646-7, Pistole, Dublin, undated, stamped 4dwt 7grs both sides

Duke of Ormonde’s gold coinage of 1646-7, Pistole, Dublin, undated, stamped 4dwt 7grs both sides

  • Ormonde Pistole
    • 4 dwt. 7 gr. (equivalent to 103 grains, 6.67 g. or 0.24.oz.)
    • 19 carat gold / 22 mm / containing an average of 81 and 13/24 grains of pure gold
      • they can weigh as much as 85 and 5/16th grains or as little as 77 and 41/48th grains

The Ormonde Pistole might have looked ‘as rough’ as the Spanish pistoles (which were still manually produced with hammer and dies) but the French Louis d’Or was a new ‘milled’ coin produced by machine at the Paris Mint. Small wonder so many of the latter ended up in the Dublin goldsmiths’ melting pots.

Pistole is the French name given to a Spanish gold coin in use in 1537; it was a double escudo, the gold unit. The name was also given to the Louis d'Or of Louis XIII of France, and to other European gold coins of about the value of the Spanish coin.

Pistole is the French name given to a Spanish gold coin in use in 1537; it was a double escudo, the gold unit. The name was also given to the Louis d’Or of Louis XIII of France, and to other European gold coins of about the value of the Spanish coin.

  • Spanish real d’oro 
    • 21 carat gold / 24 mm / 104 grains (6.73 g. or 0.24 oz.)
    • 94 and 5/8 grains of pure gold
The mechanization of the minting of coins from precious metals in France made possible the creation, in 1640, of the Louis d'or, named after King Louis XIII (reigned, 1610–43), who first introduced the coins. This series of gold pieces was part of a reform that changed the minting method from hammered coinage to a more precisely milled and weighed coinage.

The mechanization of the minting of coins from precious metals in France made possible the creation, in 1640, of the Louis d’or, named after King Louis XIII (reigned, 1610–43), who first introduced the coins. This series of gold pieces was part of a reform that changed the minting method from hammered coinage to a more precisely milled and weighed coinage.

  • French Louis d’Or
    • 22 carat gold / 25mm / 208 grains (6.75 g. or 0.24 oz.)
    • The Louis d’or is any number of French coins first introduced by Louis XIII in 1640. The name derives from the depiction of the portrait of King Louis on one side of the coin. The French royal coat of arms is on the reverse.These coins included three types: the louis, the double louis, and the quadruple louis.
      • Counter-intuitably, it has been customary since the 17th century (incorrectly) to call the quadruple Louis “the double Louis”, call the double Louis “the Louis”, and call the Louis “the demi-louis”
      • The equivalent to the Spanish real d’oro (pistole / 2 escudo) and the Ormond pistole was the demi-Louis

How many were in circulation?

From the Ormonde papers housed in the National Library in Dublin we know

  • the total weekly budget of the garrison in April 1646 was £263, 9 shillings and 2d
    • the 2,594 soldiers, paid at 12d. each per week, absorbed £129 and 14 shillings
    • the pay of officers, N.C.O.s, and other expenses amounted to the remaining £133, 15 shillings and 2d

The sum in French pistoles, having a nominal value of 13s. 4d., could have been equivalent to something in excess of 5,000 gold coins quarterly. If, indeed, the issue of August 1646 was to last for a period of six months, then at least 10,000 Ormonde pistoles would be needed, a sum which certainly seems to have been sent over by Henrietta Maria probably at the behest of the king during the summer of 1646.

  • some of these coins would have been ‘double pistoles’ but the proportions of each is not known

In another account from the Ormonde MSS.,3, there is a full account of the monies paid out to a Mr Lane. Because of its importance in relation to the present inquiry it is here transcribed in full.

Monies paid to Mr Lane

Monies paid to Mr Lane – presumably a mixture of Ormonde ‘pistoles’, ‘double pistoles’, English and Scottish gold coins, plus miscellaneous foreign gold coins

In Seaby and Brady’s paper (BNJ, 1973), they suggest the following :-

If, a single Ormonde ‘pistole’ is reckoned at one merk (13s. 4d) then from the account above it would appear that at least 2,433 pieces, 4 possibly more, were paid out to Mr. George Lane alone, as agent for military expenses. But this is most unlikely to be the whole issue nor does it necessarily include any strikings of Ormonde ‘double pistoles’.

  • Five dies are capable of striking over 20,000 coins on average, although this figure might be considered an optimum one and something between 10,000 and 20,000 is more likely.
  • If, say, 15,000 pistoles and 3,000 double pistoles were produced by the two goldsmiths in a space of three to four weeks then a sum of about £14,500 could have been the output.

Everything points to the issue in February following being much smaller; and the probability is that not more than £20,000 in all was struck, or approximately 25,000 pieces from seven or at the most eight dies.

  • The survival rate on this basis would be for the ‘double pistoles’, 1:1,500 and for the ‘pistoles’, 1:2,000.
  • Since survival rate of issues, where they can be tested, seem mostly to lie between 1:1,000 and 1:6,000, the figures suggested fall well within the bounds of probability.

The goldsmiths, at 6d. each per pounds-worth struck, would appear to have done very well.

  • but out of a possible £250 profit for each man, they had to provide
    • all the equipment needed, make dies, hire assistants,
    • and take full responsibility for the standard of fineness of the gold coins produced.

Why are they now so rare?

Being of 19 carat gold, they were substantially below the gold content of the coins they imitated, therefore the Dublin goldsmiths and their friends would have been very reluctant to export them for melting. It seems likely that they were exchanged for gold unites at a rate of 3 for 2 (for the better examples) or 5 for 3 (for the lighter examples) by the Dublin goldsmiths themselves.

  • The seemingly generous ‘exchange rate’ would have ensured that most of these ‘pistoles’ came back to the Dublin goldsmiths
  • This would have guaranteed them a reasonable profit on the ‘buy back’
  • It is likely they melted this gold for jewellery and other decorative objects made from gold but sold for a considerable premium
  • Since only the extremely wealthy could afford to hoard such objects, very few have been found

The National Museum of Ireland has 7 genuine ‘pistole’ specimens in its cabinets.

  • 6 of these came from Derryville, Portarlington, Co. Laois – found on or about the 22nd of March 1946
    • two Louis d’Or were also found here – one of Louis XIII (1640) and one of Louis XIV (1643)
      • this suggests that the gold Louis d’Or sent over from France by Queen Henrietta were not all melted
      • could it be extrapolated that there were 6 Ormonde ‘pistoles’ for every 2 Louis d’Or coins in circulation ?
    • The other gold at Derryville is made up of English (75 pieces), Scottish (1), Spanish (14), and Savoy (1)
  • The remaining Ormonde ‘pistole’ came to the Museum via the Royal Irish Academy collection of coins
    • There is no record of how it was acquired by the Royal Irish Academy

Die varieties of the Ormonde Pistole

Five die varieties were identified by William O’Sullivan in 1963 from the 7 specimens in the cabinets of the National Museum of Ireland. They are listed as follows in his paper to the BNS :-

Die types - Ormonde pistole (after O'Sullivan, BNJ 1963)

Die types – Ormonde pistole (after O’Sullivan, BNJ 1963)

There are seven specimens of the pistole in the striking of which five dies were used.

  • Four of these seven coins are struck with the same pair of dies.
  • In two others one of the dies used is that on one side of the four mentioned combined with a new die.
  • The remaining coin is struck from two dies not used in the other six.
    • If consecutive numbers 1 to 5 are given to the five dies, the sequences and combinations can be expressed thus:
      • Dies numbered 1 & 2 used in striking 4 coins, weighing 4 dwt. 4½ gr., 4 dwt. 2 gr., 4 dwt. 7 gr., 4 dwt. 5 gr.
      • 1 & 3 used in striking 2 coins, weighing 4 dwt. 1½ gr., 4 dwt. 6 gr.
      • 4 & 5 used in striking 1 coin, weighing 4 dwt. 7 gr.

Die # 1

Across, 4: dwtt. 7: gr: within a plain inner and a beaded outer circle. The pellets in colon after 4 are further apart and thicker than those in the other colons. Letter D is shaped like a figure 9 with the terminal of the loop protruding horizontally to right almost touching W and has an arched horizontal terminal to left below as a base. Letters tt are crossed by a long horizontal bar protruding well out on left and slightly on right. The terminal of the loop of the letter G does not protrude to right.

Die # 2

Across, 4: dwtt. 7: gr: within a plain inner and a beaded outer circle. The top pellet of colon after 4 is slightly to left of lower. Letter D is shaped like a figure 9 with the terminal of the loop protruding horizontally to right, but finishing farther from the W than in No. 1 and has the horizontal terminal at the base flatter than in No. 1 and turned down on the left. The horizontal bar on the letters tt protrudes less on left than in No. 1 and is thicker and more curved upwards on left. The terminal of the loop of letter G protrudes to the right. There is a flaw in the die showing a line from the foot of 4 to the colon after 7.

Die # 3

Across, 4: dwtt. 7: gr within a plain inner and a beaded outer circle. Letter W is shaped like an M with an upturned loop at the end. The horizontal bar crosses the first letter t and terminates touching but not crossing, the second t. There is no colon after W. There is a serif pointing downwards on left of the horizontal bar of 7 which has a pointed foot. There is no colon after r.

Die # 4

Across, 4(: dwtt.) 7(:) gr: within a plain inner and a beaded outer circle. Letter W is shaped like a retrograde N and a triangular D ligated. The two dots of the colon after W touch the inner circle and slant downwards to right. The colon after r is under the final limb of W.

The parts within parentheses are not visible because of rubbing and are presumed.

Die # 5

Across, 4(:) dwtt. 7(: g)r: within a plain inner and a beaded outer circle. Letter W is shaped like a retrograde N and a D with round back ligated. The colon after r is to the right of the final limb of W.

The parts within parentheses are not visible because of rubbing and are presumed.

Value

Only three of these coins are available to the public – the rest are held in museum collections and will (most likely) never appear for sale. Two out of the three available coins recently sold at auction – one in London and the other in New York.

Duke of Ormonde’s gold coinage of 1646-7, Pistole, Dublin, undated, stamped 4dwt 7grs both sides

Duke of Ormonde’s gold coinage of 1646-7, Pistole, Dublin, undated, stamped 4dwt 7grs both sides (DNW, London 15 Sptember 2015)

Final price = UK£80,730 (€110,779 or US$125,265)

ex-Theo Bullmore collection

Duke of Ormonde’s gold coinage of 1646-7, Pistole, Dublin, undated, stamped 4dwt 7grs both sides

Duke of Ormonde’s gold coinage of 1646-7, Pistole, Dublin, undated, stamped 4dwt 7grs both sides – this example is thought to have originally come from the Carruthers collection (formed in the 19th C)  

 

Further Reading:

The Only Gold Coins Issued in Ireland 1646 (William O’Sullivan, BNJ 1963)

A Note on the Weight and Fineness of the 1646 Ormonde ‘Pistole’ (R. H. M. Dolley, BNJ 1966)

The Extant Ormonde Pistoles and Double Pistoles of 1646 (W.A. Seaby and G. Brady, BNJ 1973)

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