James II Touch Piece

One of the most off-putting defects a coin can have is a piercing. Holes have been punched or drilled into coins for a number of reasons but one thing is certain: collectors don’t like them.

The ‘coin’ shown here has been in the possession of Peter Vernon for several years and it has quite a large hole in it. However, this is one of the few coin-like things that needed a hole, for those who gained possession of an example would wear it around their neck. It is a touch piece, so called because it was supposed to cure the King’s or Queen’s Evil; the latter was a form of tuberculosis known as scrofula. Kings and Queens were thought to have been chosen by God to rule over their people. Being so close to the Almighty, they were also thought to have all sorts of special powers – one of which was the ability to cure diseases through their touch. At a special ceremony a group of poor people would be touched by the reigning king or queen and presented with a coin.

Giving out a gold angel

Towards the end of the medieval period it became customary to give out a gold angel. During the reigns of James I and Charles I many of those who were presented with an angel would pierce it for wearing. After the Restoration, when Charles II was on the throne, specially made pierced touch pieces bearing a design similar to the old angels were handed out to the poor. James II continued the practice but William III stopped it. Touch pieces were made for Anne but she was the last monarch to engage in the touching ceremony. George I put an end to it, as he said it was based upon superstition.

Valuation

As could be expected, touch pieces of Charles II, James II and Anne are rare and in really good condition they can sell for many hundreds of pounds. Peter’s example, made during the reign of James II, has some noticeable wear but if offered for sale at auction I’d expect the pre-sale estimate to be no lower than £300-400.

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