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The Silver Coins of England

Edward Hawkins, 1841

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The nature of the money circulated in this island amongst its earliest inhabitants has been involved in much obscurity, and of the numerous writers, who have undertaken to discuss the subject, all have ended their labours by an acknowledgement that they could not satisfactorily arrive at any definite expression of opinion. If we were to believe the interpretation commonly put upon that passage from Caesar, which every author has quoted, we should confess, that, previously to his arrival, there was not anything which could fairly be called money, but that dealings of the people were conducted by means of barter, aided by brass or iron rings adjusted to a certain weight. This passage is the only one which bears directly upon the subject before us, and it unfortunately is perplexed with a variety of readings, much more numerous than any other passage throughout his whole work. His editors, not understanding the subject, and misled perhaps with the idea, that, as the inhabitants of this island were considered barbarians, they could not possess an established currency, have selected from all the readings the one probably the most incorrect. By do doing they have made Caesar declare, that which, there is now every reason to believe, was untrue, and contrary to that which, in all probability, he really intended to assert.

There is in the British Museum, a beautiful MS. Of Caesar of about the tenth century, which reads the passage thus,--“Utuntur aut aere aut nummo aureo aut annulis ferries ad certum pondus examinatis pro nummo.” “They use either brass money or gold money, or, instead of money, iron rings adjusted to a certain weight.”

This reading is confirmed by several other manuscripts; while some vary only very slightly, and it may perhaps be safely asserted that every manuscript expressly mentions the use of money, either gold or copper, as prevailing among the Britons. It is only about the middle of the 17th century that the editors of Caesar, Scaliger taking the lead, corrupted the passage and made that writer assert that only substitutes for money were used by the natives. Facts all tend to prove the general correctness of the MSS. And the error of the editors; for coins of gold, sometimes of silver and more rarely of copper, are found occasionally in various parts of the island, which, from their form, fabric and type, cannot have been constructed upon any model introduced subsequent to the establishment of the Romans in Britain. The money of that people is rather thin and quite flat, and such would undoubtedly have been the form of British money had it been first made after the arrival of the Romans. It is however, on the contrary, thick and dished, exactly after the manner of the Grecian coins, and the types are such as appear to have derived their origin from Macedon. That the coins commonly called British have a Greek origin is beyond all doubt; that they were struck in this island is also certain, because they are frequently discovered here, and not in any other country; and there is not any period of its history when such coins could have been introduced after the arrival of the Romans. The cause appears probably to have been, that, either from commercial visits of the Phoenicians, or through the communications which must have taken place between Britain and Gaul, Grecian coins became known in this island, and were coarsely imitated by native artists. These were executed with various degrees of want of skill, till the intercourse with the Romans improved the workmanship; and as this becomes apparent upon the coins, Roman letters are found introduced. Under Cunobeline British coins attained their greatest perfection, and then finally disappeared; for the Roman power became established in this country, and Roman coins became the only circulating medium.

In conclusion it may be safely asserted, that, previous to the invasion of Julius Caesar in the year 55 A.C., and before the Roman dominion was generally established throughout this island, the Britons had a metallic currency of struck coins, formed upon a Grecian model. Julius Caesar, himself, when correctly read and rightly interpreted, asserts the fact, and the actual discovery of coins in various parts of the island unequivocally confirm it.

The coins selected for engraving in plate I, and described below, are chiefly from the collection of the British Museum. The locality of the disinterment of each has been ascertained, and the whole together give a very good idea of the general character of British money.

(1) AV. A horse with various ornaments. Rev. convex, plain. 96 gr. This coin was found in Kent. There is little doubt, but that a Biga is intended to be represented, copied from copies, each worse than its predecessor, of the gold coins of Ohilip of Macedon. MB..
(2) AV. A horse, with various ornaments. Rev. Two crescents back to back, stars &c. Convex. 82 gr. Found at Oxnead, Norfolk. MB.
(3) AV. A horse, with various ornaments. Rev. A double floret ornament. 84 gr.
(4) AV. Bust; to the left, a laureate, profusion of hair, &c. Rev. A horse; probably also a charioteer, or a victory, multiplicity of small ornaments. 117 gr. A coin exactly similar was found near Oxted, in Surrey. Others occur, of similar type, weighing from 25 to 28 gr. This description of coin is much broader, flatter, and less concave than the generality of British coins. MB.
(5) AR. Part of a headdress like that of (4). Rev. A horse!!! 91 gr. This, with several similar, was found near Portsmouth. Coins of this type and workmanship occur of gold. MB.
(6) AV. A horse, with globules, a wheel &c. Rev. Convex. An ear of corn, or, perhaps, a palm branch. 85 gr. Found with four others at Mount Batten near Plymouth. MB.
(7) AV. Very similar to the preceding, but in the field, CAIII. Perhaps for Camelodunum. Found near Frome. CUFF.
(8) AV. A horse, with letters, amongst which may be discovered DVMNO. Rev. Ornaments, apparently in imitation of the wreath around the head of (4) and (5). An unintelligible inscription in two lines. MB. 84 gr.
(9) AV. Very similar to the preceding, except that the letters on the obverse, appear to read TIGII. 84 gr. Simon of Durham says that the British name of Nottingham was Tiguocobauc.—Palgrave, Engl. Common. P. cclxxxii.—May not this be the name upon the coin? (8) (9) were found, with others similar, in Yourkshire. MB.
(10) AV. Horse; ornament above and below, TASCIOVAN. Rev. Ornament placed crosswise. 85 gr. MB. This, with 10 others, one of which of the same weight reads TASCIAV, and had an ox skull over the horse, was found near High Wycombe, in a hollow flint, by a boy tending sheep.—See Archaeol. Vol. xxii. Another, very similar, but without any legend on the obverse, and the letters ANDO on the reverse, was found at Ecton, Northamptonshire.
(11) AV. A horseman wielding a battle-axe, or some other instrument: in the field, two wheels, &c., TASC. Rev. Ornaments placed crosswise. 85 gr. MB. This coin, being of fine workmanship, most perfect preservation, and well struck, having the type and letters quite clear, produced at Mr. Rich’s sale, 1828, the sum of £5 15s. A coin similar to this, with the letters T and V among the ornaments of the reverse, was found in the hollow flint at High Wycombe. Another, with VER. For Verulam upon the reverse, was found at Old Sarum, and is in the collection of Mr. Cuff.
(12) AR. An eagle with a wreath in his beak. Rev. Ornaments placed crosswise, with the letters C R A B in the angles. CUFF.
(13) AR. Profile, to the right. Rev. Horse with human head; charioteer but no chariot; a pig below. 106 gr. Found near Portsmouth with others of the same description.
(14) Profile to the right. Rev. A horse; a pig below. This is of very base metal, containing some silver; it exactly resembles the coins which are generally found in Jersey; it was found at Mount Batten, which is so near the sea-coast, that it would be unsafe, from the liability of foreign coins being mixed with native, to build any theory upon a few coins found in such a situation.
(15) Horse with annulets on shoulder and hip; ornaments in the field. Rev. Unmeaning ornaments. Base silver. Found at Mount Batten. CUFF.
(16) A dog; star below, above, three dots. Rev. A pig? Base silver. 15 gr. Found in Suffolk.
(17) Profile to the right. Rev. A horse? Base silver.

Upon an examination of Plate I. it would seem that the coins therein delineated, though somewhat resembling each other in general form and character, have still points of dissimiliarity indicating a diversity of period or of locality; and in support of such an idea it will be seen too, upon reference to the explanation, that they were actually discovered in different districts.

Perhaps, then, it is not unreasonable to suppose that these little hoards are specimens of the coins originally circulating in the districts in which they were found; but there are nota t present a sufficient number of facts recorded to justify the assertion that such was actually the case. But if every person, who can positively authenticate the place where such, or similar coins, were turned up, would record the circumstances, there is very little douht [doubt] but that in a short space of time, such a series of facts would be established that a tolerable numismatist would, upon a bare inspection of a coin, be able to pronounce, with truth and decision, the district in which it originally circulated.

The foregoing coins being either without inscriptions, or with such as have not yet been explained, there is no other mode of ascertaining the place of their birth, but by that of their usual disinterment. There are, however, some coins which much resemble them and which, bearing the name of persons or places, claim to themselves a local habitation and a name, and furnish something of a clue to the date of those which have been already noticed. They afford a standard with which the style of the type, the form and workmanship of the others may be compared, and their probable date conjectured.

The first to be noticed of this description is one of gold, (18) Rud. pl. iv., having a horseman on one side with the word SEGO, and on the other merely the word TASCIO. 82 9/10. HUNTER. This is probably a coin of Segonax, one of the kings of Kent at the time of Caesar's second invasion. The word upon the reverse, which is sometimes written TASCIA, and occasionally united with VA, VAN, VANI, VANIT, and sometimes with NOVA, has occasioned much controversy, but has never yet been explained. Whatever may have been its meaning, it occurs upon some of the uncertain coins we have already noticed, and upon many of the coins of Cunobeline, as well as upon this of Segonax. These three varieties of coin, therefore, are connected by this word, so that they may be satisfactorily presumed to have had the same birth-place. The coins of Cunobeline being indisputably British, we presume the others to be British, and it is only in Britain that any coins with this word have been disinterred. The coins of Segonax is also interesting, as a presumptive evidence, that the Britons were acquainted with the Roman characters of letters before the invasion of Caesar, else we should scarcely have found them in common use upon coins so nearly cotemporary with that event as these of Segonax, and Cunobeline; and indeed the intercourse, which must have existed between the shores of Gaul and Britain long before the time of Caesar, is quite sufficient to account for the early use of Roman characters.

There is in the British Museum another coin of Segonax, having on the obverse a horseman, without any legend. Rev. SEGO on a tablet, within a chain border. It is of silver. Rud. xxix. 5.

The next coins to be noticed are those of Cunobeline, whose name occurs in all forms, from the abbreviation CVN. to the full word CVNOBELINUS. His dominions comprised the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, and all the country westward as far as the Severn. His coins are numerous and present a variety of types, a sufficient number of which are here engraved to give a general idea of the whole.

(19) AV. Has on one side a horse and the name CVNOBILI, on the other CAMV with ornaments placed crosswise, Rud. Iv. 1. HUNTER. The type of this coins, on both sides, connects it closely with several of the uncertain coins, and thereby fixes them to about the time of Cunobeline, and to the locality of his dominions, of which CAMV lodunum (Colchester) was the capital.
(20) (21) AV. One, having CVNO under the horse, and the other without that name, are common forms of the coins of Cunobeline, having an ear of barley upon the reverse, a probable indication of the agricultural wealth of that part of the country, in those as well as in the present times. This type occurs upon coins of two different sizes. Both coins are in MB. These coins may of themselves be considered proofs of gold currency in Britain before the Roman invasion. It seems impossible that Cunobeline, whose later coins evince his admiration of Roman types, and his probable introduction of Roman artists, should have rejected the form and fabric of their money, and have adopted forms and types so exclusively Greek, as those of the pieces just described, if he had not been controlled in his decisions by the money already established as the currency of his country. The type and legend of a coin may be changed without much difficulty, but no so easily the metal, form and weight.

The above two coins are of gold; but at another period of his reign, Cunobeline, who is said to have been brought up by Augustus, struck coins both of silver and copper, the types of which are too numerous to figure or describe in this work; but enough are inserted to shew, that, though he did not adopt the Roman form or weight for his coinage, he had the taste and judgment to improve the types, by imitating some of those of Augustus, who had, in a similar manner, improved the Roman coins by the example of the coins of Greece. (22) (23) (24) all in MB. are examples of this class of the coins of Cunobeline. See also Rud. pl. iv., v., xxix.

(25) (26) both MB., are specimens of coins which, from their style, must have been nearly cotemporary with Cunobeline, and probably struck by his authority, though they do not bear his name. Upon one we find the word TASCIA, which connects them with the coins before described; and VER, which we also find upon it, is extended upon the other to VERLAMIO, which can only be Verulamium (St. Albans), a town in his dominions, and, at that time, as long afterwards, of considerable importance.

On (27,) MB., also a coin of CVNobeline, occurs the word SOLDO, which has not been itself explained, and does not elucidate the other words which have been discussed.

(28) AV. MB. Horse, with wheel and ornaments, in the usual British style. Rev. convex, BODVO. Generally considered Boadicea.

(29) (30) (31) are specimens of British coins of a mixed metal; they are extremely rude in workmanship, and all cast; and so little pains has been taken with them, that they are not even rounded or smoothed at the edges, nor are the roughest marks of the mould removed. Their form and fabric are so unlike that of any other known coin, that little can be safely asserted respecting them, or the exact period that they were in circulation. For others of this description, see Rud. iv.

It may be observed that, as the only legends upon these early coins, of which even a probably explanation has been given, are the name of towns, it is possible that TASCIA, with its various terminations, SOLDO, &c., may also be names of towns, though our very imperfect knowledge of such names may not enable us to identify them.

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