The Hibernia Harp Coinage of Ireland

Henry VIII during the 1500s was the first to use the harp as a symbol for Ireland

07/07/2023     Coins, Medals & Banknotes

Henry VIII during the 1500s was the first to use the harp as a symbol for Ireland, for coins minted in this country. Hibernia, the Latin name for Ireland, was also brought into use. The various English monarchs throughout the 17th and 18th centuries continued this tradition.

During the late 1700s there was a continuing shortage of small change not only in Britain and Ireland but also in the American colonies. As well as the official regal coinage, privately minted trade tokens also circulated. Indeed, many of the Irish “Hibernia” coins and trade tokens issued for Ireland ended up in the American colonies. These are very popular with American coin collectors and there are several lots in the O’Reilly’s 12th July auction bearing the effigy of George III and the Hibernia harp, dated before and after the 1776 Revolution. These are mainly halfpennies and these examples are in superb condition.

The coin shortage continued into the early 1800s and this was exasperated by the mental condition of King George III, who was unable to give the official approval to issue new coins. The Bank of Ireland was called in to issue official silver “tokens”, so called to get around the lack of royal approval for “coins”. From 1804 to 1813 a range of six shillings, 30 pence, 10 pence and 5 pence coins were issued for the first and only time by a commercial bank in Ireland. There are a number of these lots in this July auction, presenting an opportunity for collectors to obtain an important part of Irish commercial and numismatic history.      

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