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A Penny Dating from the Reign of King George III

Updated on June 3, 2013

The oldest coin I have ever found while metal detecting was a penny dating from the reign of King George III.

It is quite an incredible feeling to lift something so old out of the ground, knowing it hasn't been touched by human hands for possible over 200 years.

The first thing I noticed about this dirty and blackened old coin was how heavy it was.

It was big and weighty, and I knew I had found something special.

Rinsing it under the tap revealed nothing except two dirty great scores across the head side of the coin, effectively rendering it valueless.

Holding it up to the light, and squinting at it from various angles, eventually revealed what I first though was someone on horseback, so faded was surface.

All detail on the coin had long since been eroded away, leaving just the outline of a shape.

The head side with the scores just and no more showed someone, probably a male, facing to the right, and not to the left like most other British coins.

George III penny, head with double scores
George III penny, head with double scores

Golden Rule - Do Not Clean Valuable Coins

After searching the internet for hours, I finally decided that my coin is indeed a penny from the era of King George the 3rd.

Its not a person on horseback on the face side, it's Britannia, only facing left instead of right.

The King is hard to determine, but follows most closely that of the above-named coin.

I broke the golden rule about not cleaning valuable coins because if a George III penny is worth just £25, then the same coin in such a worn condition that it has lost most of its facing, all its letters and date and with two dirty great scores through, is worth nothing.

I cleaned the coin in my rock tumbler, in a media of stainless steel mixed pellets, along with some other copper coins.

The end result is as shown, and the coin is not more identifiable than before.

A later edition British penny from the early 20th century weights 8g.

The King George III penny weighs 11g.

It has the same circumference, but is thicker.

the face side of the coin
the face side of the coin

So who is George III?

Whenever I tell people of my find, I see them looking blank.

George III was on the British throne before Queen Victoria, and she died in 1901.

He died in 1820, having ruled since 1760.

There were actually two kings after him, before Victoria, the longest ever reigning British monarch, became Queen.

George IV reigned for the 10 years from 1820-1830, and William IV for 7 years until Queen Victoria was crowned in 1837.

The timeline of the British monarchy makes interesting reading for the metal detectorist.

Britannia facing left on the old British coin
Britannia facing left on the old British coin
1806 King George III penny in good condition
1806 King George III penny in good condition | Source

I am inclined to think that my poor old worn coin is possibly a pattern penny as shown below.

Look underneath the sitting figure, and there is the hint of something curved there, which could be the curved waves as shown.

The faint outline of the head as shown on top photo is very rounded, much like the King's head on the top penny, so know who knows?

1905 King George III pattern penny
1905 King George III pattern penny | Source
King George III
King George III | Source

King George III was ugly!

Looking at the profile of King George III, saved for posterity in all British coins of the time, except for those hidden underground where the copper was allowed to deteriorate, you can't help but notice that he was pretty ugly.

He had a deeply slanted forehead and bulging eyes, but of course this may reflect the popular art of the day, where nearly everyone enshrined on canvas seemed to have those same facial flaws.

Perhaps in those days, such features were thought attractive?

Have a check at his mugshot as shown by Wikipedia. I think he looks a bit better there.

However, I digress.

There is a really sad story associated with King George III.

Poor King George the Third went mad.

I'm sure it had nothing to do with the 15 children he and his wife, Charlotte, had, though that would be enough to send most of us over the edge!

He was, by all accounts, an intelligent and educated king who adored his wife and children.

Then, one day in autumn of 1788, he returned soaking wet from a horse ride in the rain and collapsed with convulsions.

He later developed a fever and the doctors were summoned. In those days, medics were barbaric and primitive in their treatments.

Instead of getting better, poor George started talking non-stop, with nonsensical gibberish. Sometimes he only stopped talking when he fell asleep through exhaustion.

He also developed crippling stomach pains, nausea and vomiting, skin eruptions all over his body and the doctors were convinced he was completely insane.

They treated him with leeches on his head, mustard dressings on his legs and put him in strait jackets and in chains to prevent him from moving.

They had no idea what was wrong, and the 'treatment' handed out was horrendous.

George the Third's eldest son was made Prince Regent during the reign of his father, so that the country could have some sort of head of state while George was ill.

George recovered but was prone to sporadic fits of madness which gradually became continuous, and for the last 10 years of his reign he was blind and deaf and quite demented, during which time his son wore a temporary crown and took over his duties.

Video - The Madness of King George

I've watched this movie and highly recommend watching it. It tells the depressing tale of the fall from grace of King George as he slips into lunacy, and shows the horrific treatment meted out by his doctors.

Without giving away the ending, I can only say this film was made for entertainment with only a passing resemblance to historical fact.

Some great performances by some of Britain's most distinguished actors, The Madness of King George is well worth a watch.

What was wrong with King George III

Modern medicine has diagnosed poor him with porphyria, a blood disease that carried all his symptoms and more.

In the 1970s, two psychiatrists, Ida MacAlpine and her son Richard Hunter, were given permission to read and study the medical records of the king.

They noticed one of his symptoms was dark red urine, which is a classic symptom of porphyria, which would likely have been unknown in the 18th century.

To make matters worse, the doctors attending King George anointed his skin lesions with a concoction called antimony.

Several times a day they treated him with antimony, which contains arsenic.

Arsenic is a known trigger for porphyria, and so each time they anointed him, they were effectively starting off another bout of madness, pain and distress.

This was only learned about in 2003, when an envelope containing a strand of hair belonging to King George III was discovered in a vault in the London museum.

A DNA analysis of the hair found an abnormally high level of arsenic in the sample, showing that George III was poisoned by his physicians.

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So, there I am, over 200 years later, playing about with a metal detector in the gardens of an old Victorian house, when this coin depicting King George III was found hidden 8" under the surface of the soil.

This was a little bit of history in my hands.

Who cares if he was ugly? This man suffered a most terrible affliction, caused by and large by the misdiagnosis of his own physicians, and finally died a horrible death with the whole world thinking he was mad.

This is a story of a coin, a simple penny, and of a long-dead king whose head was (almost) imprinted on it forever.


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    • Metal Detectorist profile imageAUTHOR

      Metal Detectorist 

      6 years ago

      I am trying to obtain permission to metal detect in one of the local churchyards. The building is over 200 years old so might throw up some interesting finds. I'll return anything valuable to them as they are always looking for funds, apparently! I would love to find another old coin or perhaps Viking treasure or something. Can live in hope! lol

    • CMHypno profile image


      6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      I wonder who dropped your penny? It could have a really interesting back story. Hope you keep turning up really interesting things, and looking forward to reading more hubs about your discoveries


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