Friday, 17 September 2010


One of my interest is coins and I have decided to put on two coin exhibitions at the Hall this year.  The first will be an examination of Drapers and their interest in the Anglo-Saxon world and the second will look at token coins issued in the 1660s by various tradesmen across England using the Drapers' Company coat of arms, many of them were not even Drapers.

Not even the most enthusiastic Draper would claim certain certain antecedents for the Company before 1066 and the world of our Anglo-Saxon forebears although it is quite possible that the earliest origins of the Company are from that period.

William Lambarde
However, just under 350 years ago William Lambarde (1536 – 1601) a liveryman (for further details see the William Lambards page of this blog)published in 1568 a collection of Anglo-Saxon laws called Archaionomia (Greek for ‘original laws’). This was ground breaking work. It reflected a revival of interest in Anglo-Saxon England, as well as a recognition that, among the ancient documents that had been dispersed following the dissolution of the monasteries, was key evidence from our distant past.

Lambarde, having painstakingly taught himself Anglo-Saxon, demonstrated that the basis of much of England’s Common Law derived from pre-Norman sources. He also went on to discover a great deal more about Anglo Saxon England.

Lambarde is best remembered in the Company for having founded the Queen Elizabeth College almshouse in Greenwich in 1576. Portraits of his descendants are also displayed in the Hall entrance from Throgmorton Street.

Since Lambarde first stimulated interest our understanding of, Anglo-Saxon England has significantly increased. One of the principal ways that has been achieved has been through the discovery and interpretation of coin finds, both individually and in hoards. These discoveries have revealed the best organised coinage system in Europe at the time and have furthermore shed deep insight into the culture, politics and art of the earliest English societies.

A remarkable bearded portrait of Emperor Constans II and his son, Constantine - later Constantine IV,  on a gold solidus minted in Constantinople circa 660.  Unsurprisingly Constans has the soubriquet of  Kōnstantinos Pogonatos 'Constans the Bearded.'  Constans found the pressure of ruling from Constaninople as the Islamic expansion was at its apogee almost too difficult to bear and suffered a series of defeats.  In later life he moved his court in Syracuse where his life was ended being murderd by his chamberlain while he was bathing.
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This has made it of great interest not only to academics but also to collectors. One such a century ago was William C Boyd (1840-1906) who was Master in 1898. After his death his collection remained untouched to be sold in London 99 years after death in September 2005.
The first type of king Canute (1017-1035) minted circa 1020.  The type is known by academics and collectors as Quatrefoil from the pattern of lines enclosing the king's head and on the reverse.  On the left hand illustration the king's bust - it is not in any way representational, unlike the earlier coin of Byzantine emperor Constans above -  isv surrounded by his his name and title CNVTREXANGLO starting ar six o'clock. The engraver has got the letters V and A inverted, this is quite commonplace on Norwich coins.  The reverse reads EFICONNORÐÞ translates as moneyer Efic of, rendered on Anglo-Saxon as 'on', Norwich.  Shortened versions of town names were used with the letter D with a line through to representing 'th' and P representing W.  The reading is thus NORTHW for Northwich the Anglo-Saxon rendering of the town name.   This coin is from a large hoard that was found in Cambridge around 1995.  It  was deposited in 1035 when there was considerable instability as Canute's sons, Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut, struggled for succession.
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A silver penny of Alfred's son Edward the Elder (899-924) - his title is on the left hand ilustration and reads from the top as EADVVEARDREX.  This coin was part of a hoard of about one hundred coins discovered at Brantham, Suffolk in 2003. This simple design is known, possibly confusingly, as Two Line and was a standard pattern of coin design for nearly a hundred years between 885 and 975.  The two lines refer to the moneyer's name - in this case Gunter, on the top and bottom line of the right hand illustration which reads GVN inverted T and ER MO, the latter two letters a contraction of moneta, Latin for moneyer. The large, coarse lettering is an indication that this is a coin minted in East Anglia, possibly Ipswich, shortly after the reconquest of the area by the English.  This coin can thus be dated at shortly after 920, late in Edward's  reign.
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When the Danes conquered East Anglia in 869 they brutally murdered the last English king, Edmund.  He was beatified by the subjugated English and Bury St Edmunds soon became a place of pilgrimage and miracle working.  Once the Danish settlers had converted to Christianity they quickly seem to have regarded him as a powerful protecting saint.  The original responsibilty as to who caused his martyrdom in the first place was seemingly managed in this transition.  His status as protector of the East Anglians is reflected in a complex series of East Anglian coins known as St Edmund Memorial coinage minted between 890 and 920.  This is a very late example from the last days of Danish East Anglia .  The left hand illustration reads SCEADN, a contraction of Sanctus Edmund.  The capital A in the centre was the symbol of an independent East Anglia used on coins from around 800 by both English and Danes.  The right illustration has what is probably a moneyer's name but DATDOI is meaningless and remains a mystery.  This coin is one of a parcel of 44 that came onto the London market in the mid 1990s and is assumed to have been found in Essex or Suffolk.
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I am also a collector of this series and the Hall display cabinets currently include a selection from my collection demonstrating both the development of coinage in Europe from the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the mid-fifth century and hoards found in England and France containing coins dating from the mid ninth to the mid eleventh centuries.  A few coins from my collection, and the stories about them, are illustrated on this post.  Do have a look at the real thing if you are at the Hall.

In the late eighth century the southern kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England introduced a broad flan silver penny coinage based on those issued by Charlemagne and his successors in Francia.  The Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, with its capital a York, did not have the economic resources to do this and issued a base metal coinage known today -but probably not at the time- as stycas.  This is one was found in York in 1842 when the railway station was being expanded and is issued by king Eanred (his name is on the left hand illustration, the first E is the wrong way round) by a prolific moneyer called Monne around 850.
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A silver penny possibly minted at York by an unknown King Canute around 900 - CNVTREX is scattered somewhat haphazardly around an inverted patriachal cross on the left hand illustration.  This Cnut is not to be confused with the one who allegedly tried to rule the tides of a 120 years later.  This coin is from the great Cuerdale Hoard discovered in 1840 on the banks of the Ribble in Lancashire. This remains the largest single early medieval hoard discovered and is thought to be a Viking chief's treasure chest, surprisingly mislaid on a journey from York to Dublin (or vice versa).  The coin has never been in circulation, in common with many other Cuerdale hoard coins, and still has some of its thousand year old mint lustre.  A final mystery: the inscriptioin CVNNETTI on the right hand illustration has never been satisfactorily explained.
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  1. Absolutely fascinating! They shed so much light on some hazy aspects of our history.

  2. Herry

    Thanks. Actually what is sometimes known as the Dark ages is not as gloomy as one first imagines. There is a lot of evidence and the broader context of items such as coins indicates a complex and thriving socierty not one stuck at the level of primal savagery. However every so often one encounters a barrier beyond that is not immediately possible to breach. But often further study or new discoveries provide the key to move forward. All very seductive stuff.

  3. Adrian
    Are non-Drapers able to come and view this exhibition?

  4. Stephen

    Yes of course. Ex Britannia players have special status. I shall organise a visit as part of our next meeting if you want.