When a coin is spend worn

Half Penny William IIITwo decades ago I came up with a phrase I use a lot today: “Spend Worn.” It was born from finding Roman Sestertii that, although they had retained very little detail, curiously still had a lustrous smooth glossy green (or other) colour patination. It’s a term that does not apply to corroded, deliberately filed, defaced or mutilated coins, just coins where the details have been gently and gradually eroded. Since then I have used the term on numerous occasions and, while I don’t claim to have invented it, I first had it published in a Treasure Hunting magazine in 1999. So, if no one used it prior to that well maybe I can take the credit….

Since then I have applied it, not just to Roman Sestertii, but to hammereds too and particularly the silver and copper issues from William III onwards. Back in the late 1960s I can remember spending Victorian pennies that always seemed to have a dark, almost black, patina. Some of these were badly worn with just a faint outline of the Queen Victoria bust and a few reverse details. These would definitely have been candidates for being termed spend worn. Trickier, but nonetheless potentially spend worn, are William III sixpences and shillings made into Love Tokens. I say trickier because they could have been smoothed off deliberately during, or soon after, William’s reign to be specifically to be made into tokens of affection. Or were they simply in circulation a long time and thus became spend worn and then made into tokens? Other potential spend worns are the 14th to 17th century hammered silver coins, some of which were in circulation for at least a hundred years, even more for the earlier issues. These days it is coins of William III, and the later Georges, that I most often come across and use this phrase to describe their condition. Of these most are Half Pennies.

Of course the term spend worn could be applied equally to either a coin that’s been in circulation for a lengthy period or a coin that was perhaps excessively spent and handled for a relatively shorter period. Curiously, I have found several small hoards of William III up to early George III half pennies. The Williams have all been heavily spend worn, as have some of the George 11 ones. However, the George III’s have all been in lovely condition. This could indicate a deposit date of around 1770, or that the George III coins were not used so much and mixed with the earlier more worn issues at a much later date. Outside of the hoard context where wear levels are those that would be logically expected in order of age, I have located later issues up to Queen Victoria (which could have been lost from circulation as late as 1971) that also exhibit excessive wear.Queen Anne Shilling

As a result of these finds I began wondering what processes, apart from the obvious handling, caused this to happen to a coin. I came up with the idea that low denomination coins were probably almost always kept on the person and jingled around rubbing against each other in cloth pockets or the inside of a purse. Of course soil type can also play its part in determining if a coin is spend worn or not as badly corroded. The fact that some spend worn coins have lovely patinas and others little patination at all might also simply be due to the amount of finger born grease they came into contact with, being handled so much. The grease could have been rubbed in and impregnated the surface of the coin and assisted in preserving its patination. I think the point I’m trying to make here is that yes I love to find good condition coins (don’t we all) but sometimes the ones that are spend worn have an almost enhanced mystery about them, as they have been used excessively for the purpose that they were designed for. I do ponder on just how many hundreds or thousands of hands these finds passed through to get to the condition of spend worn.

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About Julian Evan-Hart
Julian is from Hertfordshire, England and has always been interested in fossils and antiquities. Julian has written a number of books on metal detecting, and is an avid user of Minelab products.

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