Hometown Treasures [Stamp & Coin Mart, July 2009, Page 102, 103]
Collecting tokens and coins with your town's name on it is a rewarding and fascinating approach to numismatics as coin expert Brett Hammond of TimeLine Originals, explains
The break up and disposal of large old collections provides many opportunities for today’s dealers to obtain choice stock. Thanks in part to the care earlier collectors took in noting the provenances or find-spots of coins and antiquities when they added them to their cabinets, there are many items in TimeLine Originals’ (and other dealers’) stocks today that come with sufficient information about their recent histories to allow modern collectors to select pieces that have strong local connections. Similarly, thousands of discoveries by metal detectorists are voluntarily recorded every year on the database of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). If TimeLine Originals subsequently buys any of those items the where found information is as important as any research facts we might add to each description. That’s because client interest in locally discovered artefacts continues to grow enormously as coin and antiquities collecting thrives despite these temporarily difficult economic times.
Fortunately it’s not too late for coin collectors to pick up choice examples of local tokens bearing names or initials from two or three centuries ago at very reasonable prices. Even a much earlier coin bearing the name of your town lies within reach if you live in the right place.
The Anglo-Saxons, for example, left us a number of legal documents relating to monetary affairs and the ways in which coins were minted and circulated around the country in those distant times. Here’s an example from the reign of Aethelstan (AD 924-939), grandson of Alfred the Great. The words are from the Statute of Greatley (AD 928) and they confirm Aethelstan’s determination to enforce laws that strengthened the reputation of his coinage: Let there be one form of money in all of my Dominion ... and no man shall mint money except within a town .... And if a moneyer is found guilty of issuing base or light coins, the hand which committed the crime shall be cut off and fastened up at his mint. If the accused wishes to clear himself, then he shall face the ordeal of the hot iron. The statute went on to decree how many mints each town would have: In Canterbury there shall be seven minters... and three in Rochester ... and eight in London ... and six in Winchester ... and two in Lewes, Southampton, Wareham, Exeter and Shaftesbury ... and one in every other town fortified as a burh. (At that time there were probably about thirty such burhs, built primarily as defences against invading Danes.)
With so many moneyers at work striking silver pennies, Anglo-Saxon monarchs had to take other precautions in addition to threats of lopped-off hands, in order to maintain tight control of the currency. Aethelstan did this by decreeing that moneyers must collect their ready-engraved dies and supplies of silver bullion from a central location. Additionally, coin designs were periodically altered and all old coins called in for melting down and re-striking. By the reign of king Eadgar (AD 959-975) the system had evolved to engraving dies that carried the monarch’s portrait and name on the obverse, with the reverse of the coin given over to the moneyer’s name and the name of his mint town. With that information plain for all to see, the temptation for moneyers to cheat was lessened, while the townsfolk of each named mint town felt growing confidence in the fineness of the silver in their local coins, and the accuracy of their weight.
But financial matters had gone steeply downhill by the time of Aethelred II (The Unready) who ruled AD 978-1016, and who paid vast numbers of silver pennies as Danegelt. Production of millions of extra coins meant more moneyers, more dies, more opportunities for cheating. To make matters worse, counterfeit coins of impure silver began to find their way into circulation. One of Aethelred the Unready’s ordinances, made at Wantage in AD 1002, reveals some of the problems he faced: Let every minter who is accused of striking false money undertake the threefold ordeal (In other words, the weight of the red hot iron a man had to hold was increased from one pound to three) ... And the following shall undergo the full ordeal (In other words, the red hot bar ordeal, followed by the ordeal of being lowered slowly, bound hand and foot, into deep water) ... false coiners; merchants who take good money to false coiners and exchange it for impure and lighter coins; those who make dies in secret; those minters who put another minter’s name on any coin.
In a modern mind set, we might wonder why those early monarchs did not simply concentrate all minting in one or two places and personally scrutinize the work. However the difficulties of distributing the new coins throughout the length and breadth of England would have seemed insurmountable a thousand years ago, so multiple mints across the land remained in operation, though often reduced in number, only to be re-opened during large-scale re-striking operations.
A few words from another ancient document before we look at mint towns in more detail. The Chronicle of Winchester for AD 1125 records that: In this year the King ( Henry I, who reigned from AD 1100-1125) ordered that all the mint men of England should be mutilated and lose their right hands and their testicles. And this was perfectly just because they had undone all the land with great quantities of base coin. A total of ninety-four suffered the savage punishment. And from that time a gradual concentration of minting in London, Winchester and a handful of towns became the long-term aim of all monarchs, though it took about five hundred years to achieve that ambition.
The lists accompanying this article show many of the places where coins - especially hammered silver pennies and other silver denominations - were minted in the past. As you can see, the engravers took bold liberties with spellings and abbreviations. Nevertheless, close scrutiny of the reverses of a few dozen hammered silver coins at your next coin fair, or when you browse the online stocks at TimeLine Originals, might enable you to identify a coin that began its life beneath the hammer of a mint worker in your town long ago.
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