Twice the Weight, Double the Thickness
As their name suggests, Piedforts are closely associated with France where they can be traced back to the twelfth century. In England the striking of such pieces began later and was less frequent but medieval examples are known, notably the thick silver pennies of Edward I. Minting was not a centralised activity in England in the Middle Ages, coins being struck in other locations as well as London. It therefore seems likely that Piedforts were distributed to engravers at these different mints in order to show them what to copy. Making the pieces deliberately thick and heavy ensured they were not mixed unintentionally with ordinary coins. However, the striking of Piedforts ceased in Britain in the sixteenth century – a sixpence of 1588 being the last known specimen – but the tradition survived in France for at least another 150 years.
The name ‘Piedfort’ (Pee-ay-fore) comes from the French word meaning ‘heavy measure’.
Royal Prestige Pieces
Thicker than normal coins were produced across Europe during the early modern period, particularly from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century, as part of the broader practice of striking prestige pieces.
At this time the exchange of valuable gifts between rulers and members of their entourage became an established courtly exercise. Within this context coins struck on thick blanks, together with other types of prestige pieces, were prepared on behalf of kings and noblemen primarily for the purposes of presentation and display. From Poland to the Spanish Netherlands, from Sweden to northern Italy, coins of this sort provided rulers with a convenient means of emphasising their wealth and power. There are, however, only a limited number of these unusually thick prestige pieces from England, most spectacularly the gold double-sovereigns of Henry VII which bore the same design as the sovereign.
The First UK Piedfort Available to the Public
After the decline of the European tradition of the prestige piece in the eighteenth century, the striking of modern Piedforts on a regular basis began at the Monnaie de Paris in the 1890s, partly in answer to demands from collectors. It was not until the introduction of the 20p in 1982, however, that the Royal Mint made a Piedfort version of a UK coin available to the public.
Since 1982 the Royal Mint has continued to strike extremely limited numbers of Piedforts in sterling silver to premier Proof standard to commemorate special anniversaries or to celebrate a brand new design. The rarity and craftsmanship involved in producing these superior double-thickness coins will ensure that they are appreciated and treasured for generations to come.