The Jacks put to their Trumps: A Tale of a King James’s Irish Shilling – Gary Oddie

This short note presents details of a recent chance find of a pamphlet dated 1714. The 27 verses describe, in the first person, the life of a gunmoney shilling in the decades after its issue. This work was once attributed to Jonathan swift, though not conclusively. The work has similarities to better-known works by Joseph Addison (Adventures Of A Shilling, 1710) and John Taylor (A Shilling, or, the travailes of a twelve pence, 1621).

5 thoughts on “The Jacks put to their Trumps: A Tale of a King James’s Irish Shilling – Gary Oddie

  1. Thank you Gary for this interesting and well presented article. You have requested notice of other publications personifying coins through a first person narrative. “The Half-Crown and his Philosophy” by the Rev. Robert Hall published in Britain in 1859 may be of interest. The book was written for young people as an aid to instilling the values of contentment, humility, charity, faithfulness, and perseverance. The author endeavoured to do so by imagined dialogues between a wise half-crown and a shilling, with the explanation: “Well now, my little readers, you are the shillings, and your parents and teachers are the half-crowns”.

    The following poem is an early inclusion in the book in which the shilling gives poetic expression to feelings which the author acknowledges are in “doggerel rhyme”. I have copied the verses from an American edition of Hall’s book published in 1873.


    It is so, it is so, the truth I’ll confess,
    I’m only a shilling, whate’er I profess;
    And though all my days I’ve been working so fast,
    I feel I shall be but a shilling at last.

    Those little boys there – they’ll soon become men,
    They’ll pass through their childhood and boyhood, and then
    They’ll render some service – at least, if they don’t,
    Why then, I’m quite certain it is that they won’t.

    But as for us shillings, we’re shillings al-ways,
    Twelve pence is our value through all our long days;
    And though we go on with our ups and our downs,
    We don’t become sov’reigns, and not even crowns.

    Men get us and keep us for what we are worth,
    And some even bury us deep in the earth;
    But as for a rise in our rank or our station,
    That’s never been heard of in my circulation.

    They tell us we’re useful, and so it may be,
    But then its no use to ourselves do you see?
    We’re spent and we’re used, we’re chopped and we’re changed,
    Till from our own friends we become quite estranged:

    And when for a moment we form a connection,
    And think we are safe – then comes the dejection!
    We are torn from our friends, and sent on our way,
    Some stuff for to buy, or some bills for to pay.

    They talk about int’rest – but who gets it all?
    Why they who claim sov’reigns and shillings and all,
    I’m not my own master, its plain unto me,
    So therefore I’ll grumble wherever I be.

    I spoke to a sov’reign in passing one day,
    He called me ‘poor pale face’ and then turned away:
    He is nought but a sov’reign – and shillings, I guess,
    If not quite so good are not very much less.

    • Good morning David,
      Glad you liked the blog article, it was fun to stumble into something so obscure. Thanks for the pointer to Hall’s book, which it took me a few minutes to find a copy as abebooks failed me! It looks to be an equally scarce book. It would appear that the copy of “The Jacks put to their trumps” that prompted the note has just disappeared from abebooks, so is presumably sold.
      All the best

  2. Dear Gary

    Its a great find. Well spotted.

    My favourite story about a coin – written in the first person – comes in Orhan Pamuk’s book “My Name is Red” (Chapter 19). This chapter is a humourous account of the life of a Venetian gold coin. Pamuk has won the Nobel Prize for literature so this is very high quality story-telling.

    The gist of the chapter is the adventures of the gold coin. It tells of all the places the coin has been in Istanbul – including the arse of a thief!. Its been kissed by a fair maiden and been in the purse of artists. The story is about the human relationship with money. The final twist in the story – at the end – comes when the coin reveals that it is actually a counterfeit.

    While this is a modern story I suspect it will be “up your street”.

    kind regards


    • Hi Graham,
      As you say, right up my street, I would never have found that!
      And the bonus of being a counterfeit too!
      Many thanks and All the best

  3. Andrew Wager has kindly brought my attention to a chapbook published about 1820, though likely based on an earlier work from the late 18th century. The Title is “The Adventures of a Halfpenny, commonly called a Birmingham Halfpenny, or Counterfeit, as Related by Itself”. It was published and sold by J.G. Rusher of Bridge Street, Banbury. J.G. Rusher was the eldest son of William Rusher, publisher of the first Banbury Directory in 1875, and issuer of the 18th century token (Oxfordshire D&H 1). Andrew published an article on the topic “Tokens, Counterfeits and the Rusher Family of Banbury” in the Token Corresponding Society Bulletin vol.6 no. 1, pp.16-20, January 1998. Available on the TCS website here:

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