As their name suggests, Piedforts are closely associated with France where they can be traced back to the twelfth century. These special coins were given the name ‘Piedfort’ meaning ‘heavy measure.’
Striking these thicker coins began later in England and was less frequent, although Edward I did issue thick silver pennies. In the Middle Ages coins were often struck in different places, not just London. So it looks like the early Piedforts were created to be sent to engravers across the country to show them the designs they should follow when creating dies.
Making the pieces thick and heavy helped to ensure they weren’t mixed up with ordinary coins as legal tender.
While France carried on making Piedforts for this purpose for at least another 150 years, Britain stopped producing Piedforts in this way in the sixteenth century; the last example is a sixpence of 1588.
Royal prestige pieces
From the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century, rulers across Europe started the tradition of giving ‘prestige pieces’ to members of their court. Some kings and noblemen had extra thick coins struck, either to display or to give as gifts.
Rulers across Europe used these thicker coins as a way of showing their wealth and power. Very few prestige coins were produced in England, although the gold Double-Sovereigns of Henry VII were one spectacular example.
Piedfort becomes available to the public
The practice of giving prestige pieces eventually died out in the eighteenth century. Then in the 1890s the Monnaie de Paris in France started striking ‘modern’ Piedforts on a regular basis, partly to satisfy keen collectors.
It then wasn’t until the 1980s that The Royal Mint made a Piedfort version of a UK coin available to the public.
Since 1982, The Royal Mint has produced extremely limited numbers of Piedforts in sterling silver to Proof quality. They are normally struck to commemorate special anniversaries or to celebrate a brand new design. Their rarity value and the skill and craftsmanship required to produce them, means that these superior, double-thickness coins will be appreciated and collected for years to come.