Gold unicorn of James III, king of Scotland

Scotland, AD 1484-88

The Scottish unicorn makes a debut

It was only in the last decade of the fourteenth century that native gold coinage became established in Scotland. The unicorn was one of the most attractive of the Scottish gold coins, and also the most original as it followed no obvious model. James III (reigned 1460-88) introduced the unicorn in about 1484-5 and it was issued until 1525. The coin's name arises from the design on the front: a unicorn wearing a crown around its neck and supporting a shield on which is shown the heraldic lion of Scotland. The back of the coin shows a wavy star or radiant sun superimposed on a cross with fleured ends.

The unicorn was originally worth 18 shillings Scots (different from the English shilling of the time), though by the 1520s this had been raised to 20 shillings. Because of its attractive design, it became the coin normally used by Scottish kings to make gifts to foreigners, as in 1503 when 100 unicorns were given to Lord Dacre, the English ambassador.

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Gold unicorn of James III, king of Scotland

Obverse (front) and reverse

  • Reverse



More information


J.E.L Murray, 'The early unicorns and heavy groats of James III and James IV', British Numismatic Journal-11, 40 (1971), pp. 62-96

J.D. Bateson, Coinage in Scotland (London, Spink, 1997)


Diameter: 24.000 mm
Weight: 3.780 g

Museum number

CM E2512



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