An example of a hammered silver penny dated 14th century. It was found through metal detecting in the fields of Hampshire, England.
The reverse of the penny. It sold for $31.11 in 2011 on eBay UK.
By Gerald Tebben
Five kings from two houses ruled England during the 14th century. Their coinage during that century showed a constancy of design and quality—heavy coins of good silver showing a semi-realistic portrait of the king on the obverse and a long cross extending from edge to edge to prevent clipping on the reverse.
The world, however, turned upside down around those Plantagenet and Lancaster rulers, as waves of famine and plague decimated the cities and countryside alike.
In “The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England – A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century,” author Ian Mortimer details life before and after the Black Death. Of particular interest to coin collectors, Mortimer has mined historical documents to show what items cost, how much people were paid and what their net worth was.
Throughout the century, food was relatively expensive and labor was cheap. That relationship periodically upended with famine or plague, but was so for most of the time.
It took an ounce of silver to coin 20 pennies then. Today, that ounce of silver is worth about $32. In the 14th century, those 20 pennies had value way beyond $32 today.
In “The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England – A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century,” author Ian Mortimer list among other things, what items cost, how much people were paid, and what their net worth was in 14th-century England.
Here are some prices from that long-ago time:
• ale: a gallon of second-best, 1 penny
• wine: a gallon of average, 3 pence
• nails: 100, 3 pence
• eggs: 16, 2 to 3 pence
• penalty for stealing 16 eggs: hanging
• carpenter: 2¾ pence a day, plus ale
• castile soap: 4 pence a cake
• cow: before the plague, 96 pence
• cow: after the Black Death, 12 pence
• hen: 4 to 5 pence
• pepper: 20 to 22 pence a pound
• falconer’s pay: 2 pence a day
• falcon feed: 1½ pence a day
• peasant’s sword (required of all for keeping the peace): 6 pence
• candles: 1½ pence per pound in the country, 2½ pence in the city
• rent for an acre of farmland: 1 to 2 pence a year
• best leg of pork in London: 3 pence
• mason: 5 pence a day in 1301; 6 pence in 1391
• female harvest worker: 2½ pence a week, paid annually, in arrears
• toll to enter London: 1 penny
• lodging: half penny to 1 penny a night for a shared rope bed at an inn
• four larks: 1 penny
• old linen sheet: 1 penny
• pewter vessel: 4 pence
• refined sugar: 18 pence a pound
• silver spoon: 12 pence
• frying pan: 1 penny
• penalty for playing tennis in the Worcester guild hall: 40 pence
Pockets were just coming into their own in the 14th century, Mortimer writes. Most people kept their money in pouches tied to their belts. All had to beware of thieves who sliced those pouches free—called, naturally, cutpurses; the medieval equivalent of a pickpocket.
Gerald Tebben, a longtime numismatist, is editor of the Central States Numismatic Society’s Centinel and a contributing writer to Coin World.
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