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Wood's halfpence

Wood's halfpence, 1722. There was a shortage of coin in Ireland in 1722 and much of it was old and worn. Since there was no mint in Ireland, a patent was granted to a Wolverhampton ironmonger, William Wood, to supply just over £100,000 in halfpennies and farthings. Though Sir Isaac Newton, as master of the mint, testified that the coins were satisfactory, there was vociferous protest from Ireland and an almost total refusal to handle the money. Swift's anonymous Drapier's Letters in 1724–5 raised a flame: ‘if a madman should come to my shop with a handful of dirt raked out of the kennel, I would pity or laugh at him; and if Mr Wood comes to demand any gold or silver, in exchange for his trash, can he deserve or expect better treatment?’ Walpole revoked the patent in 1725 and Wood was privately compensated. The episode suggests how tense Anglo-Irish relations were and the resentment left by the Act of 1720 which reaffirmed that Ireland was ‘subordinate to the imperial crown of Great Britain’.

J. A. Cannon

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