The Smuggler’s Box

A few weeks ago The Owner was sorting boxes of old copper coins. This included a lot of worn out coins of George III, and he noticed that one of them seemed very light when he picked it up. It also didn’t sound right when he examined it (“examine” in tis context means “hit it with another coin then dropped it on the counter” – these are truly clapped out coins and their value is unlikely to be reduced by his treatment).

1797 Penny – George III and Britannia. It’s worn and the date has gone, but we know it’s 1797 because of the size – all the “cartwheel” coins were dated 1797.

It turned out to be a box made from a 1797 Penny. I’m not clear how they do this, but suspect it involves hollowing out two coins, rather than just splitting one. I had a look on YouTube but drifted off into how to make a knife using cheap Amazon tools. It looks fun but I think my days of dexterity may be behind me.

I just thought it was a box made from a penny, but when we checked up on eBay we found a couple of others, described as smuggler’s boxes. They clearly aren’t, for a number of reasons. One is that the penny is very worn and smuggling was probably out of date by the time this penny was worked. The other is that it’s not really a practical size for smuggling. What are you going to get in something that size? It might be a pill box (if you like your pills to taste of copper) or a patch box. I know very little about patches. Deep down I think it was probably made by an apprentice, or even an engineer with time of his hands and a lathe at his disposal. However, it’s an interesting novelty and I doubt that you could make one for Β£30.

Modern penny for size comparison

I’m not one to let reality get between me and a sale, so Georgian Smuggler’s Box, it became. Or possibly spy box, I said “It is tempting to think it may even have been used to transport secret messages by a spy in the Napoleonic Wars.” Note how I didn’t say it had been, or even that it was likely. And having put the idea out there, I waited . . .

It sold in auction for a reasonable sum – just over Β£30. The only other one on eBay at the moment is in much better condition, but at Β£180 it’s a lot more money. If I had the good one I’d feel I had to keep it in a cabinet. With the one we sold, you can shove it in your pocket and show people – a much better use of an object.

Can you see the join?

1797 Penny – a conundrum, and possible even a smuggler’s box.

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