Coin Debasement
Published on January 20, 2013 by lahilden | Views: 1263

An unclipped Siliqua

Since I’m in the middle of writing the second book in my Courtesan Series, and the villain is involved in coin debasing, I thought to expand upon this crime.  Coin debasement was considered by law to be on a similar magnitude as counterfeiting and was occasionally punished by death, but more frequently punished by transport.  The act of debasing a coin essentially decreases the amount of precious metal in a coin, while the coin still continues to circulate at face value.

This act was legal and done by governments when coins were minted with lessor metals, but when done by a person, the metal was physically removed from the coin.  Meaning, the wear and tear on the coin did not occur from normal circulation.

Particially cipped Siliqua

The debaser profited by using the shavings of silver and gold, which could be melted into bullion.  There were several methods for debasing a coin.  Clipping a coin meant that a person would use a file or shears and collect the shavings from the coins they debased.  Sweating was another method, where the coins were placed in a bag and shaken, and then the dust would be collected.  Sweating tended to wear the coins in a more natural way when compared to clipping, thus making this type of debasement harder to detect.

Clipped Siliqua 

Until the mid-19th century, coins were often made of silver or gold, which were soft and prone to wear, meaning that the coins naturally got lighter over time, and thus less valuable.  Modern coins are made of hard, cheap metals like steel, copper or copper-nickel alloy, which reduces the wear and makes it unprofitable to debase them.  Coin clipping is the reason why coins have a rim marked with stripes or milling, which would be destroyed if the coins were clipped.  This helps to deter counterfeiting.

Great Britain, George III  1760-1820, Counterfeit Coins

My villain will be deported for his criminal acts, although he likely should be hanged, drawn, and quartered, but throughout history, many were not as lucky as my antagonist.  In October 15, 1690, Thomas and Anne Rogers were English counterfeiters found guilty for clipping 40 pieces of silver.  Thomas was hanged, drawn and quartered, while Anne was burned alive.  These gruesome forms of punishment were meted out because their acts were considered High Treason.  I’m sure this type of punishment served to ward off others from committing this same crime.


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