O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Silver Groats of William IV


Introduction:

The GB & Ireland “William IV” groats (or fourpence) were minted exclusively for use in British Guiana. The coin’s obverse design was simply copied from the Maundy Money groat of William IV but William Wyon produced a completely new design for the reverse.

Prior to this introduction, British Sterling had problems being accepted as currency in what was predominantly an American dollar / Spanish doubloon zone of influence. The exception was British Guiana and Dutch Guiana – where the Dutch guilder held sway. Although the settlers were mostly British, the Dutch owned most of the land and the Royal Mint issued a set of coinage from 3 guilders downwards from 1832-36 – bearing an effigy of William IV – the British king.

  • Interestingly, these coins initially bore the legend “United Colony of Demerary & Essequibo” rather than British Guiana but, as British confidence grew and border disputes were settled, the coins eventually bore the legend “British Guiana.”
British Guiana coinage 1832-36 with values in guilders and King William IV on the obverse. (The Old Currency Exchange, Dublin)

British Guiana coinage 1832-36 with values in guilders and King William IV on the obverse.

In 1836, the British government – eager to expand their influence and control – introduced a silver groat, valued at ¼ guilder, and large amounts of these groats were produced as the British tried to de-monetise the Dutch currency and replace it with Sterling denominated coinage.

Silver Groat: William IV

  • Alloy: Sterling Silver (92.5% silver)
  • Weight: 1.9g
  • Diameter: 16mm
  • Edge: Reeded
  • Designers
    • Obverse: William Wyon (WW)
    • Reverse: William Wyon (WW)
1836 GB & Ireland - Silver Groat (William IV). The Old Currency Exchange, Dublin

1836 GB & Ireland – Silver Groat (William IV)

Obverse:

  • Bare head of King William IV, facing right, with the surrounding legend:
    • GULIELMUS IIII D:G: BRITANNIAR:REX F:D:
    • Full Latin text: GULIELMUS IIII DEI GRATIA BRITANNIARUM REX FIDEI DEFENSOR
    • Translation: William the Fourth, by the Grace of God, King of the Britains, Defender of the Faith.

Reverse:

  • Britannia seated facing right, wearing a helmet, holding a trident, hand resting on a shield, with the words.
    • To the left is ‘FOUR’, to the right ‘PENCE’
    • Date (in exergue) below.

Mintage & Market Values:

1836-1837 William IV Silver Groat - Mintage & Market Values (The Old Currency Exchange)

1836-1837 William IV Silver Groat – Mintage & Market Values

Note: b.v. = bullion value

1836 William IV Groat, close colon variety (with normal)

1836 William IV Groat, close colon variety (with normal)

The Colony of British Guiana:

The recorded history of Guyana (formerly known as British Guiana) can be dated back to 1499, when Alonso de Ojeda’s first expedition arrived from Spain at the Essequibo River.

  • The Spanish did not settle there.
  • The Dutch were the first Europeans to settle modern day Guyana.

The Netherlands had obtained independence from Spain in the late 16th C and by the early 17th C had emerged as a major commercial power, trading with the fledgling English and French colonies in the Lesser Antilles. They also inflicted a humiliating naval defeat on the home fleet of Charles II, after which, he had to sue for peace.

The history of Guyana has been shaped by the participation of many national and ethnic groups, as well as the colonial policies of the Spanish, French, Dutch and British.

  • The African slave rebellions in 1763 and 1823 were seminal moments in the nation’s history.
    • Africans were enslaved and transported to Guyana as slaves
    • Indians (from India) came voluntarily as indentured labourers
      • They worked for wages in order to provide for their families back home

Colonial life was changed radically by the demise of slavery. Although the international slave trade was abolished in the British Empire in 1807, slavery itself continued. In what is known as the Demerara rebellion of 1823, some 10–13,000 slaves in Demerara-Essequibo rose up against their oppressors. Although the rebellion was easily crushed, the momentum for abolition remained, and by 1838 total emancipation had been effected.

  • The end of slavery had several ramifications. Most significantly:
    • Many former slaves rapidly departed the plantations.
    • Some ex-slaves moved to towns and villages, feeling that field labor was degrading and inconsistent with freedom
    • Others ‘pooled their resources’ to purchase the abandoned estates of their former masters and created village communities.
      • Establishing small settlements provided the new Afro-Guyanese communities an opportunity to grow and sell food, an extension of a practice under which slaves had been allowed to keep the money that came from the sale of any surplus produce.
    • The emergence of an independent-minded Afro-Guyanese peasant class, however, threatened the planters’ political power, insofar as the planters no longer held a near-monopoly on the colony’s economic activity.

Emancipation also resulted in the introduction of new ethnic and cultural groups into British Guiana, since the departure of the Afro-Guyanese from the sugar plantations soon led to labour shortages.

  • After unsuccessful attempts throughout the 19th century to attract Portuguese workers from Madeira, the estate owners were again left with an inadequate supply of labour.
    • The Portuguese had not taken to plantation work and soon moved into other parts of the economy, especially retail business, where they became competitors with the new Afro-Guyanese middle class.
  • Some 14,000 Chinese came to the colony between 1853 and 1912.
    • Like their Portuguese predecessors, the Chinese abandoned the plantations for the retail trades and soon became assimilated into Guianese society.
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