An Essay on the History of Minting

in the Society for Creative Anachronism, by

His Lordship Ian Cnulle, Fellow of the IKMG

People in the SCA have undoubtedly wanted to make "our own money," preferably in period style and by period methods, since the beginning and, from time to time, uncountable isolated individuals have tried (the earliest dated SCA coin in my own collection is AS VIII). However, at least in terms of authenticity, success was rare as there has been no literature telling how to do it.

Based on largely untested assumptions, academic numismatic literature usually describes the technology as very simple and leaves it at that. In fact, it is a simple technology, but when an attempt is made, it is readily apparent that many practical details are not self-evident and must be reconstructed by trial and error. (There is little detailed period documentation because the chronic threat of counterfeiting made the technical details akin to state secrets or the arcane of craft guilds).

One of the earliest successes, perhaps as much as twenty years ago, was when Richard of Redeggio (somewhere in the East) minted a fairly authentic looking Anglo-Saxon style penny (in pewter, I believe) presumably using period style methods. This coin inspired two influential individuals. The first was Bill Jensen, known for many years as William Arbuthnot, the "Moneyer of Pennsic." He minted sterling silver reproductions of original medieval coins that were so accurate he stamped them with the word "COPY" to comply with the federal Hobby Protection Act of 1973. He sold his silver penny repros for $5 apiece as souvenirs and collectibles; some merchants at Pennsic accepted them for $5 and Bill repurchased them from the merchants at a discount. Before he dropped out, he trained a number of apprentices, one of whom was Thomas Olsen.

Olsen has been very prolific, minting perhaps a dozen different coins, and ten thousand pieces of one of his coins. Several years ago, he had a how-to-do-it article published in Tournaments Illuminated; however, I do not recommend this article as a source. He told me that excessive editing distorted the historical part of the article to the point that it is inaccurate and misleading. The technical part of the article describes Bill Jensen's method of striking (involving a string tied around the upper die) which is not a period method. Olsen recognized the desirability of a moneyers' guild, and his article mentions an informal "organization" facetiously called "the Counterfeiters' Guild," but Bill indicates it amounted to little more than an agreement among moneyers (presumably trained by Jensen) in the eastern kingdoms concerning the exchange value of gaming tokens.

The other person inspired to action by Richard of Redeggio's coin was Master Emmerich of Vakkerfjell OL (who was elevated to Laurel mainly for his moneying activities). With his close friend, Karl the Meek & Mild (aka "Beerslayer"), he began making pewter medals and tokens cast in plaster molds in the early 80's. When they started hand-hammering coins with steel dies and training other people how to do it, they founded the Moneyers' Guild of (the Principality of) Cynagua. This soon expanded to involve the whole Kingdom and was Chartered as the Moneyers' Guild of the West ("MGW"). Over more than a dozen years, the MGW has minted several tens of thousands of hammered coins of several dozen different types in their idiosyncratic and rather primitive, though often handsome, sort of Anglo-Saxon style. At any one time, their membership list includes up to three dozen individuals, although many are apprentices whose participation is ephemeral. The MGW is now being run by "third generation" people, i.e., people trained by people who were trained by Emmerich and Beerslayer.

Of the usual many local attempts at period style moneying in An Tir, one of the most prolific, and probably the longest running, was the production of beer tokens by the shire (and later, Barony) of Terra Pomaria (Salem, Keizer and Silverton, OR, where I live). These coins were primitive and not really period style, while the methods of production ranged from not quite period (hammered with dies punched into old leaf springs) to not at all period (hydraulic press with dremel engraved dies). However, everybody (including myself) loved them, and the opportunity to try something more period is what persuaded me to join the SCA in Fall, 1989. I taught myself how to do die sinking and hammer striking by trial and error - with some important advice from David Holland of the Bigbury Mint in Devonshire, England. (David is a professional engraver who has been minting for British historical re-enactment groups for many years.)

In 1991, I learned of the existence of the MGW and made contact at An Tir/West War, where Emmerich immediately inducted me into the MGW as a Journeyman on the basis of my first set of steel coining dies. Emmerich then commissioned me to establish a branch of the Moneyers' Guild in An Tir, which I duly did. The Moneyers' Guild of An Tir (or "MGoAT" - the Guild badge is a rampant billy goat) was chartered by the Crown in September AS XXIX, after a year-and-a-half incipiency period. The MGoAT is more formally organized than the MGW, having written Bylaws and an SCA bank account. Membership has always been small, partly because of more stringent requirements for Journeyman (particularly requiring proficiency in die-cutting), and because I don't include the ephemeral apprentices.

In order to promote cooperation between the guilds and expand organized moneying by period methods to the rest of the society, Emmerich proclaimed the Interkingdom Moneyers' Guild in AS XXVIII (the MGW and the MgoAT are affiliates). In order to make way for the next generation of leadership in the MGW, Emmerich became the Minister of the IKMG. However, the IKMG was little more than a dream until Thirtieth Year Celebration, when Emmerich recruited new moneyers from half a dozen Kingdoms and also began selling his newly published The Moneyers Handbook, which is an introductory how-to manual based on many years of practical experience in large scale (by SCA standards) production by many people. It is written in an accessible, conversation style. On the basis of this manual, a person with no prior experience should be able to produce a reasonably authentic looking Anglo-Saxon style penny in pewter. The book is available from Emmerich for $10 (including postage) at:

Mark Coffman
2115A South Old Stage Road
Mt. Shasta, CA 960671

The IKMG and its affiliates exist to promote production and use of period style coins by period style methods. We mint coins on site at events as a demo for the populace and as training for members. Members teach classes at guild faires and in conjunction with SCA educational institutions (e.g., the University of St. Hildegard and An Tir's University of Ithra). We can provide some assistance to any SCA moneyers in the form of some tools and materials, more or less at cost.

Most of the "coins" produced by the guilds as guild projects are commemorative medals (usually produced as fund raisers), Royal presentation coins, and single function tokens (e.g., site fee tokens, mainly for Crown events). Coins produced by SCA moneyers (regardless of whether they're guild members) also include "vanity coins," (i.e., personal presentation coins) symbolic money (e.g., fighter pay, bride price) and single function tokens such as gaming tokens, feast tokens, beer tokens, ransom tourney tokens, etc.

Far more ambitious and consequently less common, are attempt to circulate "general function tokens," i.e., something like "real money" that can be used for any transactions on site. William Arbuthnot's repros sold and used at Pennsic were an informal example. The brass "tygers" of the Kingdom of the East were a kingdom level attempt.

The "barak buck" copper follies of the University of St. Hildegard ("USH") are probably the most ambitious attempt to date in terms of the scale of mintage and the geographical breadth of circulation. The primary purpose of the baraks is to promote awareness of USH. However, at the same event (Festival of St. Hildegard II) where the baraks were first introduced, I also started issuing higher denomination trade coins as my own personal, private trade coins. Because I am presently the sole issuer of these higher denominations, and because I generally don't travel outside An Tir, my coins (at least theoretically) only circulate at about half a dozen major (usually Crown) events in An Tir each year where I set up as "money changer." The USH follies are intended to circulate Society-wide (at least within the U.S.).

In denominations ranging from $4 to $50, my personal trade coins are minted in small qualities in pure silver and gold using the most authentic methods used anywhere in the Knowne World. It is not practical for me to mint the necessary quantities of the much needed $1 denominations, and became of restrictions in the guild's Bylaws, I cannot call upon the resources of the guild for assistance with a private enterprise of this nature. USH's mint is not restricted by Guild rules, and can make the concessions to modern technology necessary for the requisite mass production while still producing a reasonably authentic looking coin that perfectly compliments my own trade coin system. My own higher denomination coins are restricted by practicality to circulation in An Tir.

Dear Reader, if you know about any SCA minting activity not mentioned in this essay, please rest assured the reason was not because of any judgment that it is not worthy of mention, but rather because I simply haven't heard about it - yet. Please inform me.

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