Rare English coin unearthed at N.L. historic site featured on 2010 stamp

Archaeologists at the Cupids Cove Plantation Provincial Historic Site have discovered a rare English silver coin during this season’s excavations.

Paul Berry, the former chief curator of the Bank of Canada Museum, believes the coin is a Henry VII “half groat” – a two-penny piece – minted in Canterbury, England, sometime between 1493 and 1499.

It’s likely the oldest English coin to be found in Canada and possibly all of North America, according to the historic site’s supervisor and head archaeologist, William Gilbert, who discovered the former English colony in 1995. He continues to lead the excavation endeavours at the site, where six early 17th-century structures and about 150,000 artifacts have been unearthed for research.

Researchers discovered an English Henry VII two-penny piece, known as a ‘half groat’ and minted in Canterbury sometime between 1493 and 1499, at Newfoundland & Labrador’s Cupids Cove Plantation Provincial Historic Site.

“Some artifacts are important for what they tell us about a site while others are important because they spark the imagination,” said Gilbert. “This coin is definitely one of the latter. One can’t help but wonder at the journey it made and how many hands it must have passed through from the time it was minted in Canterbury until it was lost in Cupids sometime early in the 17th century. This is a major find, and I am proud of my team for all their hard work. We look forward to the next great discovery.”

In 2001, researchers unearthed an Elizabethan coin dated 1560-61 at the same site. At the time, the coin was considered the oldest English coin to be found in Canada.

The newly discovered half groat is about 60 years older than the Elizabethan coin and would have been in circulation for at least 111 years before it was lost at Cupids.

“The historical significance of the Cupids Cove Plantation Provincial Historic Site has long been known, and its value to the local tourism industry is proven,” said Steve Crocker, the province’s tourism, culture arts and recreation minister. “It is incredible to imagine that this coin was minted in England and was lost in Cupids over a hundred years later. It links the story of the early European exploration in the province and the start of English settlement.”

Research on the coin is ongoing, and researchers expect it will be displayed at the provincial historic site by the opening of next year’s tourist season in May.

The 2010 Cupids stamp’s official first-day cover is serviced with a cancellation from Cupids, N.L.


In August 1610, English colonists arrived in Cupids (then Cupers Cove) on the north side of Conception Bay on Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula after being sent out by the London and Bristol Company.

Led by prominent Bristol merchant John Guy, they marked the start of British overseas expansion by establishing the first English settlement in what would become Canada and one of the earliest European settlements in North America.

In August 2010, Canada Post marked the 400th anniversary of the historic English settlement on a commemorative stamp featuring a portion of a 17th-century map of the Avalon Peninsula compiled by John Mason (1586-1635).

The map was the first English map of Newfoundland produced from first-hand observation and the first to show Cupids’ location.

The stamp also features some of the artifacts, including coins, glass and rare amber trading beads, unearthed in excavations of the settlement site.

“By focusing on artifacts, the design highlights both the commercial reason behind the settlement, and the significance of the objects just now coming out of the ground,” said designer Steven Slipp, of Semaphor Design. “In his journal, John Guy mentions bringing some amber beads with him on his voyage into Trinity Bay. There’s no way of knowing, but it’s possible that he handled this bead.”

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