The ‘Guinea’ is one of the world’s most famous coins. It was minted between 1663 and 1813 and was England’s first machine struck gold coin. Its value was eventually fixed at 21 shillings, which is £1.05 in today’s decimalised currency. It was the most important gold coin at the height of the East India Company’s trading power and formed part of the very foundation of its commerce.
“WHAT IS A GUINEA? TIS A SPLENDID THING”
This is taken from a collection on odes and lyrics by Stephen Kemble, written in 1809. The story of this ‘splendid’ coin began in 1663 at the start of the Restoration when Charles II instructed his treasury to create a new gold coinage to counter economic instability caused by civil war and satisfy the need for a stable and reliable gold coin to fund the increasing expansion of international trade.
It saw King Charles II seek to implement a new coinage based on a machine-struck method he had witness while in exile in France. Its value was to be one pound.
The name ‘Guinea’ was initially a colloquial term and referred to the use of gold provided by The Royal African Company who undertook most of its mining of gold and silver in the Guinea region of West Africa. This nickname became widely used by the people of Britain and by 1720, in the reign of King George I, was officially adopted as the name for this pound coin.
The machine-struck coins could be minted in large quantities and quickly satisfied the country’s demand for gold. The value of the Guinea during the first fifty years, was to fluctuate as it mirrored the value of gold, until 1717 when the Master of the Mint Sir Isaac Newton, fixed its value at 21 shillings, (or £1.05 in decimal currency), with the adoption of the gold standard in Britain.
Its reputation for purity and accuracy resulted in the Guinea becoming the most acceptable trading commodity in Britain’s growing Empire. The East India Company ships would take the Guinea on a journey around the world as they sought to trade in exotic luxuries such as spices, tea and fine silk.
On 22nd June 1816, the 21 shilling Guinea was finally superseded by the 20 shilling Sovereign, as Britain faced economic turmoil following the devastating Napoleonic Wars. However, the legacy of the Guinea remains to this day, with horseraces and trading and livestock auctions still using the term to award prestigious prizes, quote auctioneers fees and name races.
In 2012, The East India Company and Issuing Authority of St Helena released its very first modern Guinea gold coin, which sold out within weeks of its release. The coin design draws on an abundance of memorable elements associated with the historic coin. Keeping true to the age of adventure for which the Guinea stands, the coin features a bespoke and unique compass milling.
On 22nd June 2016, 200 years to the very day that the Guinea was officially replaced by the Sovereign with the introduction of the 1816 Great Re-coinage Act, The East India Company released a series of five gold Guineas in commemoration of the gold coin that built Empires, won wars and served Britain for over 150 years.
We issue Guineas each year with various designs to celebrate and commemorate royal anniversaries and major events
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