Pictures of  Maundy Coin Sets         

Maundy Coin Sets

Each year in Britain sets of four small silver coins, with the denominations of one, two, three and four pence, are minted in very limited numbers for a specific religious ceremony, the Maundy ceremony. The coins are legal tender but are not now used as circulating currency. The reigning monarch gives these silver coins, known as Maundy money, to a number of selected poor people. The ceremony and the coins have a long and interesting history.

The day before Good Friday, according to the Christian calendar, is referred to by numerous names including Holy Thursday and Maundy Thursday. Christians remember this day as the one when Christ washed his disciples' feet before the Last Supper, and also at the end meal gave them a new commandment, to love one another (John 13. 34). The word Maundy is likely derived from the Latin word mandatum, meaning commandment.

Early in British history there are records of the monarch giving money and goods to the poor and needy on this day, and also of washing their feet in imitation of Christ's actions. The humble action of washing the feet of the poor occurred less frequently with outbreaks of the plague in the mid-seventeenth century. The monarchs even had individuals deputize for them when there was a perceived health hazard. James II was the last recorded monarch to incorporate the washing of feet as part of the Maundy Thursday celebration. However, the monarchís personal donation of money to the poor continued to be of significance on this day

Edward II was the first British monarch on record as a participant in a Maundy ceremony. The first recorded instance of the monarch giving money was when King John, in 1213, gave thirteen pence to each of thirteen poor men, probably in commemoration of the number of people at the Last Supper. When Edward III was fifty years old he provided food and clothing for fifty poor men. Most monarchs have made charitable donations to as many poor individuals as their age as part of the ceremony on Maundy Thursday. The monarchs also give the selected poor the equivalent number of pennies as their age; this is the Maundy money donation. Thus in 1900 Queen Victoria, aged 80, gave 81 pence to 81 men and 81 women. The extra penny represented the fact that she was in her 81st year. Now each set of Maundy money represents ten years of the monarchís age, the extra years being made up by individual pennies.

There are no records before the reign of George I to indicate that the donation of money took the form of sets of one, two, three and four penny silver coins. These coins were issued for general circulation and found only incidental use, often limited to the silver penny, as Maundy money. The earliest contemporary report referring to the use of the 1 penny to 4 penny sequence as Maundy money concerns the 1731 ceremony in the reign of George II, for which year all four denominations were issued. In this report it is stated that the Maundy gifts included " leathern bags with one penny, two penny, three penny and four penny pieces of silver". This does not necessarily imply that similar complete denominational sequences were used in all subsequent Maundy ceremonies. After 1731 complete denominational sequences were only issued in 16 of the years before 1799. The dates of the different denominations could have been mixed as part of the donations to the poor, but since the penny was issued more frequently than the other three denominations it is probable that the penny was the preferred denomination in the early Maundy ceremonies.

All four small silver coins with uniform dates have been used annually in the Maundy ceremony since 1784. At least as early as 1752 the one penny to four penny series were minted solely for Maundy use, and thus can be termed Maundy money. Coins of these denominations issued prior to this date can only loosely be termed Maundy money as they were part of the circulating currency. Maundy coins are often found in a worn condition which seems to indicate that they were in circulation for a period of time.

Maundy sets issued in excess of the needs of the Maundy ceremony were probably used for other royal charities, often collectively called Maundy. The sets could also have been used as gifts, as recorded in the reign of Queen Victoria. For a period of time sets of Maundy coins could be purchased by the general public at banks. However, after 1909 the sets have only been given to those selected as needy recipients in the Maundy ceremonies, as fees to officials in the ceremony plus those who assist in its preparation.

The characteristics of the Maundy coins have remained remarkably similar over the centuries. The early English pennies maintained a similar size, weight and general design for about 700 years. The innovation of minting technologies, specifically the introduction of the mill and screw presses, produced a more uniform and sophisticated product than the old hammered coinage. This change in minting occurred in the reign of Charles II and it is in this reign that the four denominations that are represented in Maundy sets were introduced. In the reign of George I copper pennies were substituted for silver pennies. It is very likely that all silver pennies from this date were used exclusively as Maundy money.

The reverse design of Maundy coins has experienced few changes over the years. Charles II used the initial letter of his name on the reverse of the coin to indicate its value; four interlocking Cís for a four penny coin, three Cís for a three penny coin etc.. James II continued this basic design but used the Latin initial of his name, ìIî for Iacobus, to indicate the value. These initials were also interpreted as Roman numerals.

Edward VII 1907 Maundy Three Pence Coin

Edward VII 1902 Maundy Four Pence Coin

King George II 1732 Maundy Coin Set

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Text Box:  Updated 27/8/2015

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Little Bit of  Maundy Coin History