Richard III’s back in the ground, let’s look at some Anglo-Saxon coins

Ugh. I hate leaving so long between posts – and then reviving part-drafted pieces which no longer have the same degree of relevance as when commenced (but more about that presently). Not exactly an earth-shattering admission, but I’ve had my hands full with the day job, conferences, turning a year older, celebrating others turn a year older, and something else… now what was it… oh, that’s right, applying to start a PhD (to be discussed soon in a separate post)! Now we’re in April and things are looking less hectic for the time being, so I’m determined to make the time to catch up on my backlog of posts. I’ll begin by dusting off one that was quite far along the drafting process when I last paid it some attention a good few weeks ago.

The selected highlights of the Lenborough Hoard on display in the British Museum

The selected highlights of the Lenborough Hoard on display in the British Museum

Though not attended by anywhere near the same levels of hysteria surrounding the medieval stories du jour about Richard III or Magna Carta, Anglo-Saxon coins are (or were) enjoying a greater share of the limelight than they are usually accustomed to. The reason for this is the discovery towards the end of last year of a huge hoard of Late Anglo-Saxon silver coins wrapped in a lead sheet in rural Buckinghamshire. You may remember it making the headlines at the time and, despite a modicum of misdirected online bleating about the circumstances of its recovery, it represents a triumphant demonstration of what can be achieved through the Portable Antiquities Scheme (take note, Government purse-string tighteners).

Everyone agrees that the true significance of the hoard will only become clear once it’s been the subject of sustained research prefatory to full publication, but a few things are more or less certain. First, that the contents of the hoard consist of around 5,200 coins, which makes it MASSIVE by anyone’s stretch of the imagination. Exact numbers vary from 5,190 to 5,251 coins (with further ambiguity arising from whether references to fractions of coins mean half a penny or half a halfpenny – any advice?) but, whatever the final figure, it cannot fail provide a unique fillip to the study of minting places, moneyers’ names and so forth. Second, everyone seems to have settled on the name the Lenborough Hoard to refer to it, and this is what I searched for to pull up these accounts of its discovery and preliminary analysis. Third, it’s surely got Murray of Medieval Bayton fame working overtime given its immense relevance to his PhD research…

The Stamford-minted Agnus Dei penny of 1009, with explanatory blurb (Anglo-Saxon coins aren't big!)

The Stamford-minted Agnus Dei penny of 1009, with explanatory blurb (Anglo-Saxon coins aren’t big!)

The good news is that, after recording, a portion of the hoard was quickly put on display at the British Museum. I have it in my head that there are 300 or so coins on show, which by my reckoning would make up not even 6.5% of the total components of the hoard, reinforcing the sense of just what a vast assemblage the Lenborough Hoard is. Of those which made the cut, an Agnus Dei issue of Aethelred II minted in the year 1009 at Stamford in Lincolnshire receives special attention by virtue of being rare-as-hens-teeth (although the collection of North African gold coins and other artefacts displayed underneath it in the same case vie for your attention). I must hold my hands up and confess that I’m guessing when I say the coins are still on show; if they are, then I’m not sure for how long this will be the case – perhaps until the next major discovery reported through PAS?! Whatever their current status, I recommend you pay a visit to the setting for the display, the excellent Citi Money Gallery (a.k.a. Room 68).

Copyright Surrey County Council and/or Portable Antiquities Scheme

Copyright Surrey County Council and/or Portable Antiquities Scheme

Back in February, Surrey muscled in on the vogue for Anglo-Saxon numismatics act in a much more modest – but in some quarters scarcely less significant – way. For the Surrey History Centre’s long-running Marvels of the Month strand, the county’s Finds Liaison Officer David Williams wrote about the above coin brooch, discovered by a metal detectorist close to Headley church on the mid-Surrey Downs. It began life as a silver penny minted in the reign of the infamously “Unready” king, Æthelred II (978-1016), before its obverse was gilded and perforated for reuse as a brooch. The design of the obverse has no known parallel, and that of the reverse is likewise very rare; this may tie in with why I cannot find a moneyer named Æthelmaer (you may be able to discern the letters ÐELM on the above image representing the middle portion of the otherwise truncated moneyer’s name) minting at Shaftesbury (hence SCEFT) on the PASE database. This combination of factors underlie why the object is said to be “the subject of much discussion at the moment between coin specialists”; I hope at least one of the aforesaid specialists will kick on and publish a detailed analysis of it in the near future.

The amount of time it’s taken me to complete writing this post has convinced me to stick with this topic for now and complete my long-planned revisions to my provisional list of coins of the period circa 450-1100 found in Surrey. There are a large amounts of coins to be added to the list (including the Headley coin brooch) and a few corrections to be made as well. I’m a couple of British Numismatic Journal articles away from having these licked, so look out for the end result in the coming weeks!


About Robert J S Briggs

Back to being a part-time early medievalist; Surrey born, London based, been known to travel
This entry was posted in Anglo-Saxon, Archaeology, Coins, Dating, News, Numismatics, Portable Antiquities Scheme, Surrey, Viking and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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