The NEWFIE COIN-a step back in time

Today I am unashamedly pandering to my Canadian friends to whom I owe so much, but also hope that all my subscribers find the blog post interesting. Creep!

Portugal, John V (1706-50), gold 4,000 reis (moidore), 1708. Courtesy of the Fitzwillam Museum

Long ago I read that a 300 year-old Portuguese gold coin dated 1708 (similar to that above) had been found at an archaeological site on the island of Newfoundland. The Colony of Avalon dig site at Ferryland has been excavated on and off for more than a century and produced several ancient and fascinating objects. You can read about the history of the dig by clicking on the link above.

I first wrote about this subject in 2012. With the help of the excellent Way Back Machine I’ve managed to retrieve and update the original. 


The brief newspaper report was sketchy, not very informative and rather naive. It stated:

The coin is bent into an ‘S’ shape. People who have studied that era said men at the time bent coins and presented them as love tokens to women they were courting. 

In the early 17th century the British had established a colony in the area … and herein (perhaps) lies the clue to the presence of a Portuguese coin in Newfoundland. We have to travel a few thousand miles across the Pond to Yorkshire to provide an answer and ask if the coin was a Crag Vale counterfeit?

The Portuguese Moidore – courtesy of the UKDFD

Because of a universal shortage of currency in the 18th century, all manner of unusual coins were in circulation in Britain. Portuguese moidores, pieces of eight and other foreign currencies were accepted as legal tender. An ideal situation for the coiners to exploit. This gold coin, current in England in the early 18th century was then worth about 27 shillings.

Coins in those days were made of gold and silver, not of base metal as they are today. What was stamped upon the face of the coin was of little importance, and that made life easy for the likes of David Hartley.

He had a brilliant scheme … until he was brought to justice and hanged. He took golden guineas, clipped the edges, filed on new ones and returned the coins to their owners for circulation.

The clippings were carefully collected and melted down to make bogus moidores and thus a simple way to make easy money (quite literally). They were cast in stone moulds to form blank discs. After heating (to soften the metal a little), the discs were put into a die and struck a blow with a heavy hammer. They were relatively poor copies – and willfully underweight – but good enough to pass in the poor light of inns where many transactions were carried out.

I dream and wonder if the coin found in Newfoundland was one that had been previously handled by one of the Yorkshire coiners …


*Newfie (also Newf or sometimes Newfy) is a colloquial term used in Canada for someone who is from Newfoundland. Some Newfoundlanders still consider ‘Newfie’ a slur from the past used by American and Canadian military personnel present on the island. Its use in jokes usually depicted Newfies as foolish. My adoption of the word is in the best possible taste!

In March 2006, an Edmonton police officer was disciplined for using the word Newphie (sic) to describe the apprehension of an individual under the Mental Health Act.

The moidore was a Portuguese gold coin, current in England in the early 18th century . . .


The Mansion House at the Avalon dig site was found in 2007

©  This blog was adapted from a  Medley article written by me and originally published in the UK by The Searcher magazine. Other sources include the Yorkshire Coiners, the UKDFD, the County of Avalon Dig Site, Wikipedia, and the Way Back Machine .

3 thoughts on “The NEWFIE COIN-a step back in time”

  1. Newfoundland is probably the oldest part of Canada to have Europeans visit, John.. Heck.. even the Vikings made a stopover here.. but then left.. ;Maybe our Canuck winters were to tough for even those doughty fellows.. LOL

    An interesting story indeed.. And itM demonstrates the reason many of us enjoy the hobby so much.. the history, the research, and yes.. even the postulating of what might have been.

    As usual, a wonderful blog post my friend

    Best to you


  2. John,

    Another well thought out and well researched post. Well done my friend and keep up the good work.

    Regards from Canada
    Bill from Lachine

  3. What an absolute brilliant way to skim a few bucks off the top!

    Sadly he had his head skimmed off a little while later, but I’m sure it was fun whilst it lasted. Hahahaha…..

    Great story John, thanks for posting it up.

    Oh and keep pandering to us Canucks, we love the attention. LOL….

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