Chuck (charlesofcamden) wrote,

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Old Coppernose

I learned this from an old book of numismatic trivia. It seems that the title of this post was a nickname given to the fellow seen to the right. I realize it’s a rather crude likeness of King Henry VIII, but it’s an apt choice of portrait for the purpose of explaining this odd nickname.

During the reign of Hank 8, the English economy went into a steep decline. I’m not here to point fingers or to assign blame, but one of the results of this crisis was the debasing of English coinage. It might be hard for a contemporary reader to understand the significance of that, but basically, for many centuries, coins were supposed to be intrinsically worth the stated value of the coin. For example, a penny was supposed to contain a penny’s worth of copper, etc. This system worked fine in a society where precious metal prices were consistent from year to year, but for that and other reasons, hardly anybody mints coins that way anymore.

Back to 16th century England – like many rulers before and since, Hank 8 ameliorated some of the economic crunch by gradually reducing the silver content of his coins. When he first took to the throne, a silver groat such as the one seen here contained over 90% silver. By the time he was done, it contained less than 40% silver. The remainder of the metal content consisted primarily of copper which, then as now, was a lot cheaper than silver. When any coin begins to wear, the first parts to erode will be the highest points of the design. In this case, the highest point was His Majesty’s nose. And when it began to wear, it took on a darker, distinctly copperish hue. Hence, the undignified nickname given to him by a largely powerless citizenry that could do little to change their country’s economic fortunes, but could at least come up with little insults for the man whose policies had emptied the nation’s coffers.

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