This was my first day back in the Barony St. John after my hand operation so I obviously had to do the full tour of both buildings – the church and the halls – in case of any damage, vandalism, leaks, etc.
As I expected, the turn in the weather had caused some of the plaster work to collapse in the church building where there is no heating. Previously, this had occurred in the upper gallery area, the front door area and the side of the alter.
You see, when the church building closed, the person in charge forgot to drain the radiators and the ones in the gallery froze during a particularly bad winter. This caused the radiator pipes to burst and the subsequent downpour caused the plaster to collapse from the gallery to the ground floor.
In early 2015, once I had taken over the Barony St. John’s Church and Halls, I decided to clean up the mess of fallen plaster and you may remember I posted a blog about some Victorian papers including a wonderful sermon pamphlet titled “Life & Work” with the sub-heading “Ardrossan New Parish Church” which I found in the fallen rubble.
The documents must have fallen under the floorboards of the gallery and remained hidden until the plaster collapsed.
Amazingly, the pamphlet was dated 1893 and some of the other papers looked even older. What a great find!
Today though, I found that more plaster had collapsed from around about the same area – the ceiling below the gallery where the leak had occurred.
The floorboards were covered in debris…..
But in amongst the plaster, wood, dirt and grime I glimpsed treasure. 😀
Sifting through the debris, I found five coins in total – three Victorian pennies and two smaller coins. One of which had a figurehead I had never seen before.
The dates were hard to make out so I washed the three pennies with oven cleaner and they came up a treat – but a phone call to my dad, who collects coins, revealed that you’re not supposed to clean old coins….Oops.
Now, I don’t know a lot about old coins (hence the washing them in oven cleaner) so I did a little internet research and discovered that there is a tradition going back to the time of Charles II (1630- 1685) that the figurehead on a UK coin will alternate face between one monarch and the next.
But this, to me, seemed incorrect because here I now had two coins which must be from a similar era but they both faced the same way!
I knew that one is a young Queen Victoria – but who was this Roman guy?
Well, Queen Victoria reigned from 1837–1901 and her head faced to the left on coins.
Prior to that, King William IV reigned from 1830–1837 and he faced to the right.
Prior to that, King George IV reigned from 1820–1830 and he faced to the left.
And it turns out that monarchs traditionally appeared on coins wearing a laurel head wreath, as can be seen from this early Queen Elizabeth II (our current monarch) coin.
So the bloke on the church coin was not a Roman after all, but King George IV.
The next thing to find out was what exactly were these coins? The big ones I recognised as old pennies but the two smaller ones, well I had no idea what they were.
An internet search showed that all bronze George IV coins from that time looked exactly the same back and front – and I had never even heard of most of them –
This is the Third Farthing and is 16mm in diameter.
This is the Half Farthing and is 18mm in diameter.
This is the Farthing and is 22mm in diameter.
This is the Half Penny and is 28mm in diameter.
This is the Penny and is 34mm in diameter.
As they all look exactly the same, I took to measuring the church coins. The two small ones were 22mm in diameter – which makes them both Farthings.
There were apparently 4 farthings in a penny, 12 pennies in a shilling and 20 shillings, or 240 pennies, in a pound. A third farthing was therefore one twelfth of a penny.
It all sounds very confusing to me. Thank goodness for decimalisation. 🙂
Out of curiosity, I measured the Victorian pennies and noted that they were actually 31mm and not 34mm.
Back to the internet again and I found out that between 1839 and 1860 the penny was made of 18.8 grams of copper and was 34mm in diameter but from 1860 onwards, pennies were made of bronze (95% copper, 4% tin and 1% zinc).
The bronze penny weighed 9.4g and was 31mm in diameter. 😀
But again, this is a bit strange, as the two pennies with the young head of Queen Victoria came up really bright and copper coloured when I cleaned them but the penny with the older Queen Victoria head didn’t clean up so well.
Now knowing that there was a point where pennies switched from copper to bronze, I’d have bet money that the switch took place between the making of these young and old Victoria figurehead coins – hence the cleaning problems and the difference in feel (the other two feel smoother, possibly lighter). But the two young Victorias are dated 1888 and 1891 and the older Victoria is dated 1898 or 1899 – so well past the 1860 date of changing to bronze. Perplexing.
Anyway, I’m delighted with my “pennies from heaven”.
I’m not sure if they are worth anything and I will probably try to put them on display once we figure out what the final use of the renovated church will be. But if anyone has any idea of value, please get in touch. It would be good to know if I am holding a small fortune (as unlikely as that may be). LOL