This unparalleled collection of over twelve hundred of England’s earliest coins, dating between the early seventh and mid-ninth centuries, is destined for auction at Spink & Son in 2021. The series of sales will commence in January.
Most of the coins are metal detector finds from England, unearthed over the last 30-40 years. These coins are tiny - about 1 centimetre in diameter and weighing 1 gram – but the designs - and their variations - are stunning. The earliest coins are gold tremisses from the Continent, used for trade in early Anglo-Saxon England. These date to the sixth century.
From the start of the seventh century, probably under the influence of the papal emissaries sent from Rome in support of Augustine’s mission, English gold shillings were issued – initially by King Eadbald of Kent, then by his brother-in-law, King Edwin of Northumbria. By the 660s, tiny silver pennies had replaced the gold shillings. They were issued in substantial numbers by all the regions bordering the North Sea, but very few survive.
Many of the remarkably diverse and intriguing images are little understood, and the coinage is largely neglected by historians, medievalists, archaeologists and art historians. They have far more eye-appeal than the later medieval penny with its fixed, crude portrait obverse and cross reverse.
The collection has been in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge for the last ten years and includes three-quarters of all known designs, of which there are more than 700. Many of the coins in the collection are unique or of the highest rarity and of historical importance.
This pre-eminent accumulation contains numerous unique specimens, many others of the highest rarity, coins of historical significance, as well as many choice and aesthetic specimens. It includes outstanding yet neglected examples of early Anglo-Saxon art. Many of these are most unlikely to be available again to investors and collectors for a generation.
The collection is also an impressively wide representation of sceats – twice as wide as any other collection. The leading catalogue of the coinage, Sceatta List, covers 722 varieties, 75% of which are represented in this collection.
A similar proportion of illustrations in Sceatta List and Sceattas: An Illustrated Guide are from this collection. It also provides the entirety of the sceats and stycas, and much of the gold and pale gold, illustrated in the early Anglo-Saxon and Northumbrian sections of Spink’s Coins of England.
Coins from the collection have featured in innumerable articles. To give just two examples, a number of these coins appeared in Anna Gannon’s pioneering The Iconography of Early Anglo-Saxon Coinage and a denier of Melle was illustrated in the ground-breaking Alpine ice-core evidence for the transformation of the European monetary system, AD 640–670 by C.P. Loveluck et al.
It became only the seventh privately held collection to feature in the Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles. All the subsequent acquisitions are listed here.