Yorkshire Numismatist, volume 4

by James Booth

The majority of the papers collected together in this volume were initially delivered at colloquia held in Leeds and York in 2011 under the auspices of the YNS. Their publication marks the culmination of a period of dynamic activity for the Society, co-ordinated by our current President Tony Abramson, who has been over the last two decades a tireless promoter of the cause of numismatics, both in the local context of Yorkshire and on the national level.

The 'Moneta Britannia' colloquium on Roman coinage took place in York in July, under the direction of Lee Toone. Five of the papers are presented here. Richard Bourne's piece on Carausius fleshes out the sparse and censored documentary narrative, giving evidence from the coins of an early setback in Constantius's attempt to retake Britannia. Paul Di Marzio's substantial essay on the London Mint (297-325) presents the fruits of a decade of passionate collecting, and will become essential reading on the subject. In a stop press addition to Di Marzio's essay Hubert Cloke records a new variety of an early London follis. Adrian Marsden offers a wide-ranging conspectus of recent research into the production of the irregular coinages of the third and fourth centuries, our understanding of which is currently being much advanced by the efforts of responsible metal detectorists. Finally Tony Abramson himself builds on the recent researches of Anna Gannon, Gareth Williams and others in a wide-ranging account of the Roman prototypes of the early Anglo-Saxon coinage.

The second section, on Medieval Coinage, consists of nine essays based on presentations given at the 'Yorkshire Festival of Numismatics', which Tony Abramson organised as part of the International Medieval Congress in the University of Leeds in July 2011.

Five essays treat the early Middle Ages from quite different conceptual and historical perspectives. Tony Abramson's free-ranging essay makes large claims for the monetary 'success' and also the aesthetic achievement of the sceatta coinage. Hendrik Mäkeler's ideas-piece on 'globalised monetary systems' cites Baltic area Viking Age hoards, with their 'pecked' coins from widely scattered sources, in support of a Hayekian argument in favour of a supra-national economic theory as against the 'Westphalian model' which defines currencies in terms of the nations which authorise them. There is topical relevance here to the modern economic situation with the shaking of national defences around currencies and the rush to gold. Tom Williams returns us to less heady numismatic territory with a meticulous historical account of the Alfredian borough of Wallingford, in the course of which he lists a substantial corpus of 520 surviving coins from the reign of Æthelstan to that of Henry III.

Gareth Williams's title suggests that the last Anglo-Saxon king of England might have been a queen. In the event, however he offers not revelations concerning Harold's sexual orientation, but a closely-argued exploration of the implications of the anomalous minting of his sole coin-type at Wilton. Williams conjectures from the large number of Wilton dies, and the irregular appearance of many of the coins, that Harold's sister Edith, the Confessor's widow, must have maintained her independence here during the months following the battle of Hastings, offering the opportunity of legitimacy to any government which might be proposed in the name of Edgar Atheling, Harold's sons or the Conqueror. This is a highly plausible deduction though absolute proof will perhaps be forever lacking.

Henry Fairburn addresses one of the large intractable debates concerning medieval coinage: the point at which we can begin to talk plausibly about a money economy. He scrupulously documents some medieval weights and measures, using evidence from the Domesday Book and other sources, with a focus on the value of salt. Though a loaf of bread must have been worth far less than a farthing in the late eleventh century, he nevertheless offers evidence that even at this time some day-to-day requirements would have been regularly bought and sold through the medium of coinage.

Six essays of widely different focus treat later medieval topics. Martin Allen's impressively documented 'Coinage and the late Medieval Economy' applies numismatics to thirteenth and fourteenth century history. Through careful deployment of the discontinuous records Allen estimates that that gold coinage supplied most of the total value of the currency by 1377, though much of it may have been immobilised by hoarding, while silver was the principal medium of domestic commerce. Allen suggests that fluctuations in the sizes of England’s gold and silver currencies were a significant cause of economic change after the Black Death.

Essays by Richard Kelleher and David Harpin focus on personal fashion and superstition in coin jewellery. Kelleher illustrates the shift from badge types before and after the Norman Conquest to dress hooks in Edward I’s reign, reviews the use of annular brooches, pendants and rings made from coins, and suggests that 'some notional ritual process' may lie behind the practice of bending coins. On a similar theme, Harpin discusses coin brooches in the period between the reigns of John and Edward III, during which time the annular or ring brooch gave way, with the advent of buttons, to the more decorative (and often larger) disc brooch. Gilding, Harpin suggests, may have been a sign of religious significance rather than simply a fashion statement, and some brooches were clearly intended to offer amuletic protection.

Laura Mitchell's paper gives an intimate view of the religious jumble in the mind of the late fifteenth-century scribe of a list of recipes in the Bodleian Library. Among spells to ensure invisibility and to make a woman lift up her skirts, the scribe includes a charm to ensure that one always has money in one’s purse. The reader is advised to make the purse from a mole's skin in the month of May, write some Latin mumbo jumbo on it in the blood of a bat, and then place it in the choir of a church for seven days and nights. How many readers put this recipe to the proof is an intriguing historical conjecture forever beyond reach of research.

This section of the volume ends with Barrie Cook's richly evocative discussion of the surviving accounts of royal visits, particularly to York, from the time of the Conqueror to that of Henry VIII. Increasingly, alongside the time-honoured gifts of oxen, sheep or grain, large quantities of coins – small, very showy but easily portable – featured in these choreographed public displays. Cook's account of the thousand gold angels offered to Richard III in York in September 1483, together with the equivalent of 300 angels for his Queen, conjures up an image to set the modern collector salivating.

The third section, 'Hoards', opens with Joyce Hill's evocative piece applying ideals of honour and dishonour found in Beowulf and the surviving fragments of Old English heroic poetry, to the unique features of the Staffordshire Hoard. In a primitive aristocratic world where elite weapons brought 'honour' to their possessors, and swords were given names ('Nægling', 'Hrunting'), and passed on as heirlooms, Hill sees in the way the objects in this hoard of war-booty have been disassembled a deliberate humiliation, or in modern terms 'dissing', of the defeated warriors. Her quotations from Old English give this essay great immediacy. Wiglaf in Beowulf evokes the shame of the outcast denied the 'receiving of treasure and the giving of swords': 'Deað bið sella / eorla gehwylcum þonne edwitlif!' – 'For everyone of noble rank death is better than a life of disgrace!' As in the case of Gareth Williams's essay on Edith, Hill's deduction seems highly plausible, though final certainty can perhaps never be achieved.

Adrian Marsden returns us to numismatics proper in a most useful summary of the Aldborough Sceatta hoard, so similar to the Aston Rowant find. Gareth Williams examines the contents of the Silverdale Hoard, and adds an apparent 'Harthacnut' to the list of Viking kings of York, evidenced by a single coin. Finally, Stephen Briggs takes advantage of recent advances in digitisation and information retrieval to make an initial list of neglected accounts in newspapers of hoard discoveries made in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. His is very much a work in progress, with more to follow.

A miscellaneous section of 'Other Matters' includes three essays of local relevance: Abramson's edited version of the late Elizabeth Pirie's account of the Lorin Kay Collection of Northumbrian stycas;David Pickup's moving essay on medals commemorating the bombardment by a German battleship in 1914, which killed 18 people in Scarborough and 7 in Whitby; and Robert Barraclough's update to his ongoing catalogue of all the checks known to have been issued by Yorkshire Co-operative Societies. The section ends with Stephen Briggs's obituary of the highly-regarded Yorkshire museum curator and numismatist, Graham Teasdill, who died in 2010.

The volume concludes with abstracts of the seven talks given to the Society during 2011, ranging from Gareth Williams on the Vale of York Hoard to Lee Toone on the London mint during the Tetrarchy and Geoff Percival, whose talk on paranumismatics featured perhaps the most unlikely numismatic item to appear in this volume: a copper piece of 1908 engraved: 'Mrs Darling of Scale Lane Hull is a LIAR'. The News of the World may no longer be with us. But all human life is here in YN4!


Foreword, Michael Metcalf

Introduction, James Booth

Part 1: Romano-British Coinage

Opuscula Carausiana - Richard Bourne
The Roman mint of London: A collector’s perspective - Paul DiMarzio
A transitional Issue from the Roman mint at London - Hubert J. Cloke
Recent research on irregular coinage in late Roman Britain - Adrian Marsden
The Roman influence on early Anglo-Saxon Coinage - Tony Abramson

Part 2: Medieval Coinage

Sceats: how do we assess their success? - Tony Abramson
Globalised monetary systems of the Viking age - Hendrik Mäkeler
The mint of Wallingford: an introduction to the corpus – Thomas J. T. Williams
Was the last Anglo-Saxon king of England a queen? A possible posthumous coinage of Harold II – Gareth Williams
The value and metrology of salt in the late eleventh century - Henry Fairbairn
The Currency and the economy in late medieval England - Martin Allen
The re-use of coins in medieval England and Wales (c.1050-1550): an introductory survey - Richard Kelleher
Late medieval coin brooches - David Harpin
Monetary magic in late medieval England - Laura Mitchell
The commyng of the King: coins and the York royal entry – Barrie Cook

Part 3: Hoards

Honour and dishonour: reflections on the Staffordshire hoard in the light of Old English heroic poetry – Joyce Hill
The Aldborough (Norfolk) hoard of sceattas – Adrian Marsden
A new coin type (and a new king?) from Viking Northumbria – Gareth Williams
Numismatics from Newsprint 1733-1884: some lost Yorkshire Hoards exposed - Stephen Briggs

Part 4: Other Matters

The Lorin Kay collection of Northumbrian Stycas – Elizabeth Pirie (Tony Abramson)
Remember Scarborough – David Pickup
Yorkshire Co-Operative Checks – Robert Barraclough
Obituary: Graham Teasdill, 1935-2010 – Stephen Briggs

Part 5 – YNS Transactions, 2011, Abstracts of Talks to the Society

Yorkshire paranumismatics – Geoff Percival
The London mint AD 319 to 325 – Lee Toone
The origins of the Troy standard – Robert Tye
Ottoman coins – Peter Watson
Decimalisation of Europe in the 19th century – Richard Fife
The Vale of York hoard – Gareth Williams
Keeping them in the family – Denis Martin

Editorial Committee

Tony Abramson, Robert Barraclough, James Booth, Richard Fynes,

Alan Humphries, David Lee and Lee Toone.

351p, p/b © YNS, 2012. Production: The Charlesworth Press


Treasure Hunting, February 2013, Peter Clayton




'...especial congratulations on reviving YN - I bought a set of 1-3 last year and was really impressed by the breadth and quality of it.'

RA, 2nd Nov 2012.

It looks as though you have another top level collection here. You have, single-handedly, made Yorkshire for the time being the centre of British numismatic studies.

JB, 15th Nov 2012.

Its title suggests rather limited scope but it is anything but, with papers from numerous leading numismatists on an extremely wide range of topics.

SNC, vol. CXX, no.2, p. 115, ref 4278, October 2012


YN4 is available from Spink.

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