Ancient Immigrants [Stamp & Coin Mart, June 2009, Page 102, 103]
The rousing legend of the Vikings continues to capture our imaginations today, with stories of night-time raids, dragon longships, and blood-thirsty warriors. For collectors, these stories become all the more real thanks to the many objects to pursue, as Brett Hammond of TimeLine Originals explains
Nothing brings history more vividly to life than holding an object that touched other hands centuries ago. A museum cabinet; an image on a screen; an illustration in a book may draw our eyes; but they can never match that sense of contact with the past that comes from the feel of metal, pottery, glass or other material fashioned and used by a vanished people. And how much more powerful that connection grows when we can own and conserve for ourselves the very object that gives us so much pleasure.
The word Viking has its own dramatic effect on almost everyone in Britain no matter how elementary their grasp of history. What sprang into your mind as you read the word a moment ago? A raiding party landing on our beaches in longships ... fierce warriors in horned helmets looting and pillaging across the countryside .. Eric Bloodaxe ... Swain Fork Beard ...? Some might assume that Hollywood has a lot to answer for ... until they turn to a copy of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and read the entry for AD 793:
In this year terrible portents appeared over Northumbria and frightened the inhabitants with flashes of lightening and fiery dragons seen in the sky ... And the harrying Vikings came to destroy Godís church in Lindisfarne by rapine and slaughter ... ď
Powerful description, which certainly encourages museum visitors to press their noses against the glass of any display of a newly discovered hoard of Viking gold or silver loot. But until a few decades ago that was about as close as most could come to Viking relics. The chances of a collector of limited means acquiring a Viking coin or artefact were remote simply because so few discoveries were made and almost all of the spectacular hoards that came to light went immediately into museums.
Then came the metal detecting hobby to bring forth single finds that revealed the Vikings not only as a looting warrior race, but also as traders, farmers and craftsmen of quite amazing skill and artistry. But the number of detected finds barely kept pace with interest in acquiring them; it was less a case of falling prices; rather more of increased opportunities to buy pieces museums already had enough of, or to buy single coins that did not qualify as Treasure. After several decades of detector finds, the position with regard to Viking coins and artefacts remains little changed. If you wish to add an example or two to your collection you will have to pay more than you might pay for a similar type of finds from, for example, the Roman era.
Let me conjecture that you are prepared to outlay the necessary few tens of pounds; perhaps few hundreds of pounds, to buy a decent example of Viking workmanship. My advice - and it would be the advice of any reputable dealer keen to cement relationships with buy-again clientele - is: look at as many Viking pieces that you can lay eyes upon in museums, books, internet pages and magazines. Then visit as many fairs and dealersí premises as you can reach and ask permission to handle some of the Viking antiquities on offer. In other words, get a feel for Viking workmanship.
You probably already have a preference for certain types of artefact - jewellery, military, domestic, whatever - as a result of collecting other periods and cultures. All are available within the Viking centuries, so the next decision will probably have to be which variety of Viking artwork most pleases your eye. You will soon become familiar with the names of the main styles - Borre, Jellinge, Ringerike, Urnes - and, with the help of your knowledgeable dealer, able to distinguish them from contemporary Saxon styles. Those amazing writhing, knotted, interlaced and entwined designs occur on almost every piece of metal that came into a Viking craftsmanís hands. It seems that the Viking mind was almost incapable of tolerating an undecorated surface!
At TimeLine Originals ( particularly strong in Viking antiquities) we divide our stocks into Jewellery, Penannular Brooches, Other Brooches, Strap Ends, Weapons, Domestic Axes, Gaming Pieces, Weights, Stirrup Mounts, Stirrup Terminals and a catch-all Antiquities section into which we slot any Viking piece that does not fit one of the aforementioned categories. In jewellery you might (currently) buy a museum quality £10,000 Viking silver neck torc made from twining and twisting knots that, to the Viking mind, probably represented the interweaving of human life with the rest of the Viking universe to which the torcís wearer was inextricably linked.
Or you might spend as little as £70 on a Borre style copper alloy knot brooch with its pin still intact and a design consisting of a typical Borre ring-chain. This style was the earliest used in Viking settlements in England, many examples turning up as detector finds in present-day East Anglia.
Gold and silver rings with typical coiled ends; brooches with animal head terminals and zoomorphic interlace; and elaborately decorated pendants are among other Viking jewellery you might consider buying, though you may decide that the Viking culture is best represented by a weapon, or part of a weapon, or some fragment from the accoutrements of a Viking horseman. Alas, many other collectors take the same view, snapping up very quickly any swords, sword pommels and chapes (often gilded or silvered), as well as decorated stirrup mounts and harness fittings that find their way into dealersí stocks. This necessarily means that you must check regularly and frequently to beat the competition.
Viking board game pieces, as well as weights, turn up close to most settlement sites, indicating not only that the Vikings enjoyed play, but also that they were keen traders. Many Viking coins, dropped as casual losses in market-places rather than hidden in hoards, come to light when detectorists search around market venues. The game most often played was Hnefatafl, a distant relative of chess with pieces usually made from lead. The Viking equivalent of a chess pawn will probably cost under £20; but you might pay ten times as much for the equivalent of a chess king because king pieces usually had a silver coin partly embedded in the lead.
Viking weights, usually lead, were used to weigh the silver bullion used in trading before the Vikings adopted coins. Like the kings in Hnefatafl, lead weight often had embedded items which effect the asking price of any weight. As for Viking coins, their prices are clearly set out in catalogues such as Coins Of England ... though it is not unknown for a detectorist to discover a hitherto unrecorded piece. We have featured several in our Viking Coins department at TimeLine Originals. Do check our website to keep up-to-date on all Viking discoveries.
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