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The Gold Coins of England

Robert Lloyd Kenyon, 1884

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As gold coins are now the sole standard measure of value in the kingdom, so their prototypes of the same metal are believed to have been the earliest coins struck in Britain. About 150 years before Christ the ancient Britons are thought to have made their first coins, taking for their model the coins then current in Gaul, which were themselves copied from those of Philip of Macedon, which have the laureate head of Apollo, or as some thing, of Mars, on the one side, and a two-horsed chariot on the other. This head, therefore, and this chariot, more or less unsuccessfully imitated, form the types of our earliest known coins. The metal used was gold. Silver and copper coins of similar types were soon afterwards introduced, and the original designs were gradually more and more departed from as time went on, and as successive artists took for their models the imitations made by their predecessors, instead of earlier copies, or the original Macedonian prototype. After the landing of Julius Caesar the influence of Roman art becomes very apparent on these British coins, and about the reign of Claudius they were altogether discontinued, and gave way to the regular Roman coins, which were thenceforward for more than 300 years the sole currency of the island. The last Emperor who is believed to have struck coins here is Magnus Maximus, who assumed the purple in this country in A.D. 383, and was defeated and put to death by Theodosius at Aquileia in A.D. 388.

The gold coins of Philip of Macedon weigh about 133 grains. The British gold coins vary in weight from about 120 to 84 grains, becoming, like most other series of coins, gradually lighter as time went on. The Aureus of the early Roman Empire was in like manner from time to time diminished in weight, and Diocletian in A.D. 296 abolished all other gold coins and fixed the weight of his Aureus at 72 grains. Constantine introduced a new coinage, which lasted as long as the empire of Rome, consisting of a double Solidus, a Solidus weighing the same as the former Aureus, 72 grains, and a Triens which weighed 24 grains. A Solidus of Magnus Maximus, in the British Museum, is engraved in the frontispiece to this volume, fig. 1. The letters AVG in the exergue are interpreted to mean Augusta, by which name Ammianus Marcellinus, a contemporary historian, informs us that the ancient city of Lundinium was then called. See Num. Chron. N.S. vii 61, 329. The letters OB which follow it stand for 72, and indicate that 72 of these solidi were coined out of a pound of gold.

We do not, however, propose to enter upon a description of the British and Roman coins in this volume. They form two series, very distinct from each other, and very distinct also from the coins afterwards struck in England. The British are fully described by Mr. Evans in his "Ancient British Coins," and a short account of them, including the gold and copper as well as the silver, is given at the beginning of Hawkins' "Silver Coins of England," 2nd edition. Such of the Roman coins as were known in 1844 are included in Akerman's "Coins of the Romans relating to Britain."

At the beginning of the 5th century, about twenty years after the death of Maximus, the Emperor Honorius "committed to the Britons the care of their own safety," and the Romans finally retired from the island. From this time till the 8th century the history of the coinage is involved in great obscurity. During the 5th century Roman coins would no doubt continue to form the bulk of the currency, and coins would be imported in some number from the continent by the bands of Saxon invaders, who were continually arriving here during the latter part of the 4th, and the whole of the 5th century; and at the end of the 6th century the landing of Augustine established a new link between Britain and the other countries of Europe. The fact, therefore, that early barbaric coins have from time to time been found in England, goes but a short way to establish a presumption that they were struck here, especially as they have nearly always been found in the southern counties, between which and the continent the intercourse would be the greatest. Nevertheless, we believe that it is certain that between the 5th century, when the Saxons got possession of the island, and the 8th century when the coinage of pennies was introduced, some coins were struck here both of gold and silver. It is probable, a priori, that some of the numerous princes or ecclesiastical foundations would try to imitate on their own account the Roman or other foreign money circulating in their neighbourhood, and the inscriptions on some of the coins which have been found here show that they actually did so. The silver coins of this period, which were called sceatt from the Saxon word sceat, “a portion,” are described in Hawkins’ “Silver Coins of England,” 2nd ed., pp. 23 to 30, but none of those to which dates can with any confidence be assigned were struck before the middle of the 7th century. The laws of Ethelbert, King of Kent, at the beginning of that century, mention Solidi and Sceatt but although coins must have been then circulating under those names, this does not prove that they were struck in England. Such gold coins as seem to have the best claim to have been struck in this country, we will now proceed to describe.

Click to view Frontispiece

2. Obv. bust in profile to right, in armour, a cross and perhaps a letter in front of the face, A behind the head. Rev, three small heads with other ornaments, but without inscription. Frontispiece, fig. 2. There are four specimens of this coin in the British Museum, which also contains a silver sceatta of the same type, engraved in Hawkins’ “Silver Coins” (554). They are evidently imitations of the coins of Magnus Maximus, fig. 1. This type was a common one upon Roman coins, and was by no means confined to the London mint; but a remarkable penny of Ceolwlf II, A.D. 874, Hawkins’ “Silver Coins” (580), on which the same type is reproduced, affords a curious proof that it was long well known in England, and may justify us in claiming these coins as being not improbably struck in this country, though it does not appear where they were found, nor can an exact date be at present with any confidence assigned to them. The A behind the head connects them with several of the coins afterwards described. The gold pieces are of the weight of a French triens, about 20 grains, a denomination of coin commonly used in France under the Merovingian dynasty. In the time of Archbishop . at the end of the 10th century, a triens was equivalent to 10 pennies.

3. Obv. very rude head to left, legend, probably, ABBONI MANET, but the first and last letters are imperfect. Rev. an uninterpreted device, possibly imitated from the Christian symbol, or labarum, common on Roman Christian coins. No legend. Frontispiece, fig. 3. Unique. The hoard of coins of which this and several of those afterwards described form part, was found at Crondale, in Hampshire, in 1828, by C. E. Lefroy, Esq., of Itchell Manor, Winchfield, to whose son and successor, C. J. Maxwell-Lefroy, Esq., it now belongs. It has been twice described in The Numismatic Chronicle, vol. vi, p. 171, and New Series, vol. x, p. 164, with engravings of nearly every variety of coin contained in it; and the whole has been most kindly placed in the hands of the author for examination. It is to this hoard that we owe the greater part of our knowledge of the earliest Anglo coins.

The Crondale hoard consists of exactly 100 pieces, together with two small gold chains, each having a hook at one end, and at the other a triangular ornament set with rubies, having a cross in the centre, and evidently intended to symbolize the Trinity. The workmanship is pronounced by Mr. Akerman to be doubtless anterior to the 8th century. Three of the coins are blanks, which seems to prove that the whole belonged to a moneyer. Nine are imitations of coins of Licinius, and one of Leo, Emperors of the East, 308 to 324, and 451 to 474, respectively. Five bear the names of French cities, Mettis, Marsallo, Pari Thirty nine are of the seven types described in these pages. The remaining forty-three are of twenty-two different types, and all are in weight and general appearance similar to Merovingian trientes. The average weight is 19 grains, and very few individual coins differ much from this.

With respect to Abbo, whose name appears on this coin, the Vicomte de Ponton d’Amécourt, who has paid great attention to the Merovingian series, has shown in the “Annuaire de la Sociétó Fraiiçaise de Numismatique” for 1873, that Abbo was a moneyer at Châlon-sur-Sa5ne, pro bably under Gontran, King of Burgundy, A.D. 561 to 593; that to Abbo, a moneyer at Limoges, probably the same person, was intrusted the education of St. Eligius, about A.D. 604; and that this coin found at Orondale bears a considerable resemblance, especially in the form of the letters of the legend, to those struck by Abbo at Châlons and Limoges. Assuming as an indisputable fact that the greater part of the coins found at Orondale were struck in England, he concludes that Abbo was one of the Franks who accompanied St. Augustine to England in 596 or 597, that he established a mint in this country, and that after staying here some years, he returned to France and settled at Limoges in or before A.D. 604. If this be so,—and the ascertained facts certainly seem to make it probable,.—then this coin, rude as it is, becomes of extreme interest, as being struck under the immediate influence of St. Augustine himself, and forming the connecting link between the coinage of this country and that of France.4. Obv. bust to left, two or three letters in front, EA. behind. Rev, a device like an anchor, between letters, perhaps V and C, within a beaded circle. The letters outside this do not seem to form a legend. The letter A is at the top and bottom of the coin, and others seem to be repeated merely to fill up the space. Frontispiece, fig. 4. Found at Orondale. Unique.

This coin, quite worthy of in point of design, is included in the English series on account of the letter A, which is peculiarly and carefully formed, and seems to be intended as a distinguishing mark on the coin. The shape of the letter is not uncommon in the legends of other coins, and occurs on some of those struck by Abbo at ChMons. The same letter, however, formed in the same manner, and used in the same prominent way, occurs on fig. 6 of the frontispiece, and on some of the early English silver coins with Runic legends described in Hawkins’ “Silver Coins of England,” 2nd ed., pp. 25-27; as well as on other coins not yet attributed (see Ruding’s Plates of Sceatt I. 1, ii. 22). It is true that it is also used as a symbol, perhaps of the town of Aristalium or Herstal, on coins of Pépin-le-bref; but the coins with Runic legends on which it appears are almost certainly English, and the type and place of finding of this coin make it probable that it ought not to be separated from them. The letter A probably denotes the town or kingdom where the coin was struck, just as on the Merovingian series the town is often denoted by the first one or two letters of its name, and as this same letter was used in the 9th century as the symbol of East Anglia on the pennies of that kingdom. This coin is probably of nearly the same date with that of Abbo, in company with which it was found.

5. Obv. bust in profile to right, in armour, an object like a trident in front of the face, three ornaments pendent from the back of the head. No legend. Rev, a cross moline within a beaded circle, round which is a legend wholly or partly in Runic characters, which has not yet been interpreted. Frontispiece, fig. 5. This figure is taken from an electrotype in the British Museum of a coin found near Canterbury, and published in Num. Chron., N. S., v. 166. Mr. Akerman considered it to be an Anglo-Saxon prelatical coin, probably of Canterbury, and this attribution is confirmed by the fact that no less than twenty-one coins of this type, though differing from each other in some details, were included in the Crondale hoard described on page 5; and still more by their resemblance to our figure 7, which has the inscription Dorovernis Civitas. The bust is evidently copied from a Roman coin. The trident is similar to that on the reverse of Abbo’s coin, figure 3, but has an addition to the central prong, which is probably not accidental.

6. Similar to the last, but having a legend, much clipped, behind the head, a letter apparently in front of the trident, and A at the foot of it. Frontispiece, fig. 6. Of the twenty-one coins of this type found at Crondale, only two had any trace of this legend, and from one of them our engraving is taken. On the other specimen, of which there is a woodcut in The Numismatic Chronicle, N. S., vol. x, p. 172, much less of the legend is visible, but the A is very distinct, and a lower row of five or six beads is shown on the collar. The A, which is of the same shape with that on figure 4, connects these coins with it, and with the silver coins with Runic legends mentioned on p. 6.

7. Obv. bust in profile to right, fihleted, in armour. Around it is the legend EVSEBII MONITA. Rev. Cross moline, legend + DOROVERNIS CIVITAS. Frontispiece, fig. 7. The engraving is from an electrotype, in the British Museum, of a coin in the French national collection. This coin was the first triens ever attributed to the Ang1o Saxons, and was so attributed by M. de Longpérier in The Numismatic Journal, vol. ii, p. 232. The bust is copied from Roman coins of the 6th century, and the reverse is similar to that of the coins just described, figures 5 and 6.Of Eusebius, who was probably, from his name, an eccle siastic, we know nothing; but Dorovernis is the name given to Canterbury by Bede, and in the charters of the 7th and 8th centuries, and we know of no other town which can be signified by that name. The weight of this coin is given in The Numismatic Chronicle, vol. ii, p. 204, as 25 grains, which is heavier than other English or French trientes of the 6th and 7th centuries.

8. Obv. bust to right, filleted, a cross in front of face, a smaller one below it. Legend AVDVARLD REGE. Rev. cross resting on a small globe, within a beaded circle. Legend MEALLDENVS. Frontispiece, fig. 8. From the Crondale hoard. Unique. These legends were read by Mr. Haigh, “Audvarid Reges,” and “Meassgenus.” The author, however, believes the above readings to be more correct, and if so the coin may be safely attributed to Mealdunes berg, or Malmesbury. The name on the obverse of the coin has no resemblance to that of any known king of the West Saxons, in which kingdom Malmesbury was situated; but it may perhaps be meant for Eadbald, King of Kent, A.D. 616 to 640, whose father Ethelbert held a supremacy over the West Saxons for a considerable time. Eadbald lost this supremacy, but he may have retained it sufficiently long to allow of coins being struck at Malmesbury in his name. The first extant charter to the monastery of Malmes bury is dated 675, but it existed in a humbler manner for a considerable time previously. Eadbald at the beginning of his reign rejected Christianity, to which he soon after wards returned. But even if this coin were struck while the king was Pagan, the Bishop or Abbot striking it is not unlikely to have placed on it the crosses which were the emblems of his own religion. The Vicomte de Ponton d’Amécourt possesses a coin of this type, which is said to read pretty distinctly on the reverse AMBALLONDENYS; but it seems not improbable that it is intended for the same legend as on our coin.—Num. Chron. N. S., xii. 72.9. Obv. head, full-faced, tonsured, a small cross rising from each shoulder, no legend. Rev, cross resting on a small globe, the same as on the last coin, within a plain circle, legend LONDVNIV. Frontispiece, fig. 9. Seven specimens of this were found at Crondale, and are the only ones known. The legend is quite distinct, and there can be no doubt that the coins were struck at London, and that the portrait is that of an ecclesiastic, perhaps Mellitus, first Bishop of London, 604 to 617. The cross above each shoulder is probably meant for the termination of the stole. Mellitus was expelled in 617, when the East Saxon king dom (which included London) returned to Paganism, and the next Bishop of London was Cedd, who was consecrated about 656, and died 664. These coins are closely connected with that last described by the type of the reverses, and are more likely to have been struck in the time of Mellitus than in that of Cedd.

10. Obv. head to right, surrounded by a rude ornament. No legend. Rev, cross crosslet within a beaded circle. The legend is double struck, but is apparently the same as that of the coin next described. Frontispiece, fig. 10. Found at Crondale. Mr. Evans has a similar but not identical coin found near Dover and engraved in Smith’s Collectanea Antiqua, Vol. I., Pl. xxii. 9; and a gold-plated coin of nearly he same type was found in Ayrshire. Arch. and Hist. Coll, of Ayr and Wigton, 1882, p. 46.

11. Obv. as the last, though not from the same die. Rev, plain cross within a beaded circle, legend + LUOON MONA. Frontispiece, fig. 11. Six of these coins were found t (Jrondale, but they are from several different dies. The one engraved has perhaps the clearest legend. The others seem to read LUOONUS MVAL. The first letter on all of them is like a Z, and may be intended for N. The placing a moneyer’s name on the coins; and omitting that of the king, is very common on Merovingian coins, and very inconvenient to the modern numismatist.

12. Obv. head to left. Otherwise as the last. The legend appears to be composed of the same letters as the last, but arranged almost at haphazard. The coin is perhaps copied from the last by a moneyer who did not understand the legend. Frontispiece, fig. 12. Found at Crondale. Unique.

These coins, figures 10, 11 and 12, cannot be attributed to any individual, but the fact of their having been all found in Britain raises a presumption that they were struck here; and moreover they resemble the London coins too much in workmanship and general appearance to be i moved far from them either in locality or in date.

We have now come to the end of the trientes at present attributable to England. The coins enumerated above are of unquestioned authenticity, and were all found in England, excepting perhaps Nos. 2 and 7, whose place of finding is not known. This of itself raises some presumption that they are English coins. Moreover, an English gold coinage of this sort in the 7th century is, a priori, highly probable, as we know that a similar one prevailed at that time in France, with which country after the landing of Augustine there was considerable intercourse, so that we should naturally expect to find coins struck in England of the same general appearance, type, and weight, as those current in France, an expectation to which the coins before us exactly answer. The names Dorovernis, Londuni and Mealldenus, can only mean Canterbury, London and Malmesbury; and the other coins described are too closely associated both by type and by place of finding with those bearing these names to be assigned to a different country. We have, therefore, no hesitation in claiming them as English, and it is probable that some of the other coins found at Crondale may also belong to this country, but it would be premature to claim them until some further progress has been made in deciphering their legends.

With respect to date, the evidence is not conclusive, as none of the coins in the Crondale hoard can be assigned with certainty to a known individual. Figure 2 may possibly be of the 6th century, though if the cross on it be intended, as it probably is, for the Christian symbol, it can hardly be earlier than the 7th. As to the coin by Abbo, fig. 3, a considerable probability has been shown that it is of the time of St. Augustine. We see no reason to think that the others are very much later, and in our opinion all the evidence at present obtainable points to the whole of these trientes belonging to the first half of the 7th century. Gold would be likely to be used as the first material for a native currency, on account of its dignity, and silver coins to have been struck afterwards, a was the case with the ancient British coinage; and the earliest date to which any silver sceatta has with any confidence been attributed is the reign of Peada, King of Mercia, A.D. 656. How long a gold coinage continued to exist in England later discoveries may show, but probably the metal was not sufficiently plentiful to keep it up very long. The pieces we are about to describe are very much later in date than the trientes, and were probably rather medals or pattern pieces than current coins.

13. In the collection of the late Due do Blacas was an Arabic Dinar, equivalent in weight and value to a mancus (30 pence), which bore the name of Offa, King of Mercia, A.D. 757 to 796. The following is a description of this curious coin. Obv. round the coin an Arabic legend, meaning, “In the name of God was coined this dinar in the year 157” (A.D. 774). Across the field, “Mahommed is the Apostle of God,” in three lines, between which, but upside down, are the words OFFA REX. Rev, round the coin, “Mahommed is the Apostle of God, who sent him with the doctrine and true faith to prevail over every other religion.” Across the field, “There is no other God but the one God; He has no equal.” Frontispiece, fig. 13. The figure is placed last in our plate by mistake. M. de Longpérier and Mr. Akerman were probably right in thinking that this is a copy of an Arabic coin, made in England by a work man ignorant of the Arabic language, and is a specimen of the coins sent by Offa to the Pope in fulfilment of his promise to send him 365 gold mancuses every year. It was procured in Rome, Num. Chr. 0. S., iv. 32. There is reason to believe that gold coins both of the Greek Empire and of Arabic princes had some circulation in England during Saxon times, as they are occasionally found in this country; and if this coin was really struck for the purpose of paying Offa’s tribute to the Pope, it would be pretty conclusive evidence that there was no native gold currency in which that tribute could be paid. The coin is unique, and it is very unlikely that any great number of such pieces were ever struck. When the tribute was paid at all, it was probably paid in foreign gold, and a few pieces of this sort may have been struck to make up a deficiency in such gold procurable in some one year.

14. A gold piece in the British Museum, of the size and weight of a mancus, has on the obverse a full-faced bust of an ecclesiastic, with the legend VIGMVND AREP. Rev, a small cross within a wreath; MVNVS DIVINVM. Weight, 68 grs. Frontispiece, fig. 14. Vigmund was Archbishop of York, A.D. 831 to 854. The place of finding this piece is not known, and its authenticity has been questioned. ‘It has a hole drilled on each side of the neck, as if for suspension; and it is curious that a coin in the British Museum of Louis le Debonnaire, of the same denomination and with the same type and inscription on the reverse, found in Scotland, has exactly similar holes. Vigmund’s piece, which is unique, must be considered rather as a medal than a coin, and was perhaps intended to be suspended as an ornament or amulet round the neck.

15. Obv. AETHELRAED REX ANGL. King’s bust to left, helmeted and with a radiated crown, oval shield on left shoulder, within beaded circle. Rev. LEOFWINE MI0 LAEWE long cross voided, with pellet in the centre, each limb terminating in three crescents and dividing the legend, over a lozenge-shaped compartment with concave sides and three pellets at each corner. Weight, 51½ grs. Frontispiece fig. 15. This coin was found at Hellingly, in Sussex, about the year 1808, and was immediately bought by Mr. Martin, in the possession of whose daughter, Mrs. Holroyd, it now is. The type is exactly the same as that of some silver pennies of the same king, Hawkins (203), and the place where it was found is only thirteen miles from Lewes, its place of mintage. See Num. Chron. N. S., xix. 62. We are indebted to the courtesy of the Rev. J. Carter, Mrs. Holroyd’s son-in- law, for the cast from which our engraving is taken. The coin has either been worn, or is struck from worn dies.

16. Obv. EDWERD REX. King’s bust to left, filleted; sceptre in front. Rev. LVFINC ON WAERINC Cross, limbs gradually expanding, issuing from a central circle, with four crescents in the angles, and a pellet in the third quarter. Wt. 54¼ grs. Frontispiece, fig. 16, which is copied from Rud, H. 44, and has accidentally been transposed in our plate with fig. 13. The type is the same as that of the silver pennies, Hawkins (219), and there is, perhaps, no sufficient reason to doubt its authenticity, though its place of finding is not known. It was in the collection of Mr. T. H. Spurrier, of Edgbaston, near Birmingham, in which town it was bought. See Num. Journ. ii. 54. Waerinc signifies Warwick, the place of mintage. The four last-named coins are the only known Saxon pieces, other than the trientes, struck in gold, and we have thought it desirable to bring them together and engrave them in our frontispiece. The Arabic Dinar, however, was clearly not a current coin, and tends strongly to disprove the existence of any native gold currency in Offa’s time. Vigmund’s piece is probably a medal; and those of AEthelred and Edward the Confessor appear to have been struck from dies intended for silver pennies, either as pattern pieces or by a mere freak of the moneyer. We do not believe that there was any regular Saxon gold coinage later than the trientes.

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