Live Spot Prices:
Gold $1,942.55 -$4.40
Silver $23.82 $0.07
Platinum $1,032.00 $2.20
Palladium $1,690.51 $21.80
More metals
Platinum $1,032.00 $2.20
Palladium $1,690.51 $21.80
Free shipping on orders over $199

(800) 729-3202

Mon-Fri, 9am-8pm ET

English Black Death-Era Gold Coins: the Leopard and the Noble

Popular blog tags:

By Paul Vanguard, for

A hobbyist with a metal detector discovered two of England's rarest gold coins in Norfolk county, East Anglia. One coin is the incredibly rare leopard (also known as a half florin) from 1344, its first year of minting; the other is a gold noble minted in 1351.

These medieval coins both depict Edward III (reigned 1327-1377), the ruler who tried to get gold coins to catch on in England. He invented a new monetary system with cool names for coins: the double leopard, the leopard, the helm, the noble. 

Edward failed. That's one reason the leopard coin is so extraordinarily rare...

Why gold didn't catch on in medieval England 

After the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, daily trade relied on silver coins: farthings (1/4 penny), half-pennies, pennies, and groats (4 pennies) were the most common. Aside: farthings and half-pennies were usually made by physically chopping a penny into pieces. That's so medieval!

At the time, a skilled craftsperson like a mason or master carpenter earned about 4 pennies per day. His annual rent cost about 240 pennies, and on his way home he could get smashed on 5 pints of ale for just 1 penny.

The Middle Ages also enjoyed zero inflation, so prices were a lot more stable than we're accustomed to. 

If you're getting the idea medieval England was a small-change kind of place, you'd be absolutely right. 

The rarest-of-the-rare gold leopard

Only three gold leopards exist in public museum collections. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Because no one wanted to use them, not too many of these coins were minted.
  2. Most that were minted just didn't survive.

Why? Well, the leopard was worth a lot: 36 pennies. Further, the mint that coined them skimped on the gold content, so even though the leopard's face value was 36 pennies, its gold content wasn't. So tradesmen didn't want to accept leopards -- they'd much rather have the same value of pennies. (Isn't it quaint and charming to think of a time when money's actual value and face value were connected?)

Leopards weighed 0.12 oz and were minted in 23k (96% pure) gold. 

So Edward III's gold leopard coin (also known as a half-florin) was a miserable failure. He didn't give up, though...

Bigger is better: the gold noble

Starting in July 1344, Edward III gave up on the leopard and ordered his mints to produce a new gold coin. This one is called a noble. 

A gold noble weighs in at 0.3 oz, over twice the weight of the leopard. Its value was pegged as 6 2/3 shillings, or 80 pennies. That's a lot! Our master carpenter could pay his whole year's rent with just 3 nobles, or buy a pint for himself and his 399 best friends with just one noble. 

Maybe you're thinking, but isn't portable wealth a good thing? 

Consider: this is the Middle Ages. The vast majority of wealth in England was not in coins. Wealth was real estate, food, farm animals and craftsmen's tools. Gold and silver were in churches and castles, mostly used for decoration. There just wasn't a lot of circulating coinage. A farmer's taxes would be charged in pennies, but were more likely to be paid in sheep or bushels of barley. 

Furthermore, if you somehow did manage to acquire a handful of leopards and nobles, what would you do with it? There were no banks. There were no safe places to squirrel away your money. Your best bet would be to exchange that gold for hard assets more challenging to steal, like farmland. 

So, none of Edward III's gold coins caught fire in England. They were just too big to be popular. (One gold noble and one gold leopard, the specific coins found, had about the same buying power as $16,700 today.)

Just imagine the kind of mental arithmetic you'd need if you were shopping for real estate and the asking price was "3 leopards, 1 helm & thruppence..."


Paul Vanguard is a lifelong precious metals enthusiast and a proud member of the BullionMax team.

You Might Also Find Interesting

Seems Like the Whole World Wants to Replace the Dollar
Several countries are united behind the idea of a shared currency, but one that isn't the US dollar. What might this mean for the price of the dollar, and will this replacement currency be backed by gold or oil?
Bullion vs Numismatic Coins: Which Is Right for You?
Let's take a look at the difference between bullion coins and numismatic ones. While collectors may be adamant about one or the other, it's up to individual investors to decide what works for their portfolio.
The Rarest 'America the Beautiful' Coins
The 'America the Beautiful' series of silver coins from the US Mint is one of the few American coins to give the Silver Eagle a run for its money. These popular collectible coins feature a diverse set up designs celebrating everything from National Parks to historic American figures. Here is a look at the rarest of the AtB coins today.