Imitation guineas and their fractions (e.g. half and third guineas) can be found as gaming counters, commemorative medalets and give-away advertising pieces. They usually bear the head of Queen Anne or George III and are in base metal, but occasionally are gilt or silvered. The Queen Anne counters mostly omit, on the reverse, the crossed sceptres of the gold guinea and half guinea coinage and as such are imitations of the silver coinage. They are dated both within and without the dates of her reign; the commonest dates being 1711 and 1761. A few of the early George III imitations have the same reverse as the Queen Anne counters but the majority have the ornate crowned shield of the contemporary gold coinage. Most are dated between 1761 and 1788.
The first regal ‘spade’ guineas were introduced in 1787; the reverse containing a pointed shield which resembled the shape of the garden spade then in use. The spade imitations were issued between 1788 and 1802 and an increasing number of manufacturers became involved in their production, often adding their name or initials to the piece, usually below the bust.
1788 saw the introduction of a series of commemorative medalets, again based on the new gold coinage but often with scalloped edges. They include the commemoration of George III’s visits to Cheltenham and Worcester and of his recovery from one of his recurring bouts of illness. Note – these commemorative medalets are also listed in Dalton & Hamer. However, the seminal work on imitation guineas includes several pieces not in Dalton & Hamer(1).
Following the replacement of the guinea by the sovereign in 1817, the demand for gaming counters was increasingly met by imitations based on the sovereign. The most prolific series were the To Hanover sovereigns and the Prince of Wales Model half sovereigns(2) (see seperate entry on this series). However, the Counterfeit Medal Act of 1883 effectively put an end to the sale of counters and medalets resembling current coin and this led to the re-appearance of the spade guinea series of counters. These were then an obsolete design and so their manufacture was less likely to lead to prosecution. Unlike the earlier group, few of these new imitations were exact copies of the originals but had legends such as In Memory Of The Good Old Days, or were advertisements with either obvious or subtle inclusion in the legend of the maker or issuer’s name. They continued to be produced until the first decades of the twentieth century, with only a few varieties thereafter.
(1). Full information is available in a published checklist of Imitation Guineas and their Fractions – ‘A THOUSAND GUINEAS PLUS’ by W Bryce Neilson & Martin R Warburton – available from Galata Print Ltd.This 2013 publication lists over 1250 varieties with many photographs and a guide to rarity/value.
(2). Full information is available in a published checklist of Imitation Sovereigns and their Fractions – ‘TO HANOVER & PRINCE OF WALES COUNTERS’ by Martin R Warburton & W Bryce Neilson – available from Galata Print Ltd. This 2014 publication lists over 500 varieties with many photographs and a guide to rarity/value.
Martin R Warburton November 2019