Kimmitt Genealogical Research

29 November 2015

Garrald Fitzgerald, Goldsmith of Galway

In April of 1979 on a twenty hour train journey from Rome to London I met a chatty but cordial gentleman from Rainham, Kent. Amongst many, many other things, he told me that he was a coin collector. He had a metal detector and spent his time scanning dried up riverbeds and other places for his favorite treasure––Roman coins. When he found out my surname was FitzGerald he was delighted to present me with a coin he had dredged up from the banks of the Thames Estuary one particularly dry year. Since it wasn't Roman he wasn't interested in it, so he gave it to me.

Thames Estuary and Wind Farms from Space NASA taken by Operational Land Imager,
public domain file, created 28 Apr 2013;
I’ve held onto this coin for thirty-six years: through all the time I lived in Rome, moving from pensione to pensione to apartment, then living in several apartments in the Boston area, my parents' house, grad student housing in England for a year, and two family homes in the 'burbs since 1989. That's a lot of moving, but I kept it stashed away with a few other treasures and keepsakes. I had always assumed it was a novelty token rather than a real coin.

Recently it has begun to gnaw at me. I Googled it a few times but never found anything like it. Finally yesterday I came across a fantastic website called Irish Coinage. I sent an email to the webmaster/author, John Stafford-Langan and he replied right away. I am so impressed by the extent of his knowledge and his willingness to share it with me. Here's what I learned.

The front (obverse) design is a set of arms  - he suspects of a goldsmith's guild - but has not been able to verify that. The name Garrald Fitzgerald surrounds the arms. The words that ring the coin are called the legend.

The reverse has a legend that reads "Goldsmith of Galway." Aha! I hadn't deciphered the "smith" part. John says, "It has a large 'I' with a small D above it - "double struck" so it looks like an 'L' (D was the old abbreviation for a penny (from the old French denier and originally the latin 'denarius'). Stars are often used on these tokens to fill the design around the denomination." So being double struck makes it hard to read both the word smith and the letter D. 

In summary, it is a penny token issued in the 1660s (!!) by Garrald Fitzgerald, a Galway goldsmith. There was a severe shortage of small change in the mid to late 17th century and many English and Irish merchants issued token coins to alleviate the problem. In 1673 they were replaced by official coin. There are over 800 different types from Ireland and more than 16,000 from England. It is probably made of brass, but I should get it checked, not by a regular jeweler, though, because they are apt to file a bit of it off to test it and that would reduce the value. It is scarce, as most of the Irish ones are, but not particularly valuable unless it turns out to be gold.

He says: "I'm assuming that the token is brass based on the colour and because these tokens were generally made of brass or copper. However a very small number of examples were made as presentation pieces in silver and fewer again in gold.  The silver and gold specimens are normally much better struck than the normal circulating brass and copper example so the doubling of the letters in the legend and the striking crack suggest that this is most likely a brass example. There are no known Irish examples surviving in gold, only a few from London (from where a great many tokens were issued) so a gold example is unlikely, but would be of significant interest." 

Normally the merchants who issued these tokens were prominent citizens - the city records often show them serving on the town council, or providing services to the town. I've traced my own FitzGerald line in Kerry only back to about 1790 or so. There is no way I could ever definitely tie them in with this fellow. But it's not out of the question to think that he could be related in some way. Pretty cool stuff lurking in my jewelry drawer all these years.

Tomasso Garzoni, Goldschmiede, or Ständebuch & Beruf & Handwerk & Goldschmied, Saxon State Library,
Dresden [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons.


Charlie said...

I love the words "denier" and its Latin counterpart "denarius." Every one of your 'blogs is a vocabulary builder and refresher! Thanks for a great story, P.!

Fitzidi said...

Great story! So glad you checked it out. Neat...

Beth said...

Polly, I love reading your stories. Each one is an education and a short trip back in time. This made me want to go back to Ireland!