How Did This 600-Year-Old English Coin End Up in Newfoundland?

Minted under Henry VI, it may be the oldest English coin discovered in Canada

The Henry VI quarter noble
The Henry VI quarter noble was minted in London between 1422 and 1427. Courtesy of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

Over the summer, an amateur historian in Newfoundland unearthed a 600-year-old gold coin. According to government officials, who announced the find in a statement earlier this month, it was minted in London between 1422 and 1427—and it may be the oldest English coin ever found in Canada.

After making the discovery, history buff Edward Hynes reported the coin to government officials, as is required by the province’s Historic Resources Act.

“I commend Mr. Hynes for recognizing the importance of protecting Newfoundland and Labrador’s heritage resources by reporting his discovery of this very rare artifact, and I encourage others to follow his example,” Steve Crocker, the province’s minister of tourism, culture, arts and recreation, says in the statement.

The coin was found in excellent condition. “It came out of the ground looking like it had been minted yesterday,” provincial archaeologist Jamie Brake tells CBC News’ Andrew Hawthorn.

After consulting Paul Berry, a former curator of the Bank of Canada’s Currency Museum, officials determined that the coin dates back to the reign of Henry VI. Known as a quarter noble, it would have been worth 1 shilling 8 pence, a significant amount of money in the 1400s.

Henry VI quarter noble
Both sides of the Henry VI quarter noble Courtesy of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

The discovery comes about a year after a silver coin was unearthed in Newfoundland at Cupids Cove Plantation Provincial Historic Site, a former English colony. Experts identified the silver coin as a half groat dating back to the reign of Henry VII, England’s first Tudor king who ruled from 1485 to 1509. “Some artifacts are important for what they tell us about a site, while others are important because they spark the imagination,” archaeologist William Gilbert, who discovered the site in 1995, said in a statement last year. “This coin is definitely one of the latter. One can’t help but wonder at the journey it made.”

The newly discovered gold coin was found somewhere along Newfoundland’s south coast, though officials are not disclosing the exact location to avoid attracting treasure hunters, Brake tells the Canadian Press.

The quarter noble was minted about 70 years before explorer John Cabot arrived in Newfoundland in 1497. However, that doesn’t mean the coin itself arrived before Cabot, Brake adds. The coin’s owner could have brought it over later.  

How the coin made its way to Newfoundland’s coast is likely to remain a mystery; in the meantime, analysis in ongoing, and a more formal archaeological dig may happen later on, Brake tells CBC News. After research is complete, the coin will likely go on display at The Rooms, a natural and cultural history museum in the province.

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