The History of Manx Coins – Mike Southall MBE

report by John Slater

On a day of fierce gales it was pleasing to see a good audience for what proved to be an outstanding speaker. Mike Southall had such a warm manner, bubbling enthusiasm for his subject underpinned by a depth of knowledge that he captured his audience immediately. The coins shown on screen were also on display for us to see in the interval and long into the evening. Mike is working on the next edition of his definitive work on Manx coins but there’s still a chance of picking up a copy of the current work.

Mike began by referring to China who used cowrie shells as currency, 3 000 years ago. Until then, all trading was done by barter or swopping. One could exchange a daughter for some cows or whatever you felt was good value! This ad hoc arrangement was needlessly bulky and depended on actually seeing the goods first and what about change? Cowrie shells were a kind of crypto currency or bit coin. There were samples of these as well as minted coins.

From memory, I believe that the first minted coins originated in Lydia, now Western Turkey in 600 BC. The concept gradually spread worldwide. The Manx didn’t rush into this as, apparently, the first Manx coins were minted with the permission of the Governor, James Stanley in 1709!

A few Roman coins have been found on the island, in Castletown and Peel. These were probably here as a result of trading as the Romans were never resident Large hoards of Saxon and Viking coins have been found. Clearly, the ground was seen as a place of safe- keeping. Rather like squirrels, their sites must have been forgotten or lost. Doubtless, many people still feel that, despite modern banking, money is safer under the bed!

Mike took us through a succession of Manx rulers, showing us examples of their coinage. These are unearthed by detectorists from time to time and have added much to our knowledge of these times.

We were interested in the role that the old mint played in producing coinage, producing, for example, Widows Mites in 1689. We still associate this term with extreme poverty.

The production of high volumes of coins by hand, even by the royal and other official mints became increasingly difficult. James Watt came to the rescue by adapting one of his innovative steam engines to power the coin presses. This was yet another example of British innovation in Victorian times by launching the Industrial Revolution, world- wide. We now enjoy both the benefits and disbenefits as we are left with the consequent pollution. We’re doing the same for future generations with atomic waste, of course.

Of particular interest to us were Peel coins that were issued at Knockaloe internment camp as tokens for the thousands of inmates.

!961 saw the issuing of Manx coins followed by Manx notes in 1971. In 1976, decimal coins were issued. The first £1 coin in the world was issued in the Isle of Man. So often we lead the way!

Our next Meeting is on Wednesday, 17th October at 7.30pm in the Centenary Centre. Dave Martin is speaking on the exciting discoveries on the island using ground radar, as seen on ‘Time Team!