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1. The Patrick Finn Sceatta Index and Analysis – A Collector’s Perspective

From: Studies in Early Medieval Coinage, volume 1

 

Whilst this volume is not an appropriate vehicle for commercial considerations, it is difficult to discuss the assembly of large accumulations of material without touching on such matters. There is sufficient to be gained from an analysis of Patrick Finn’s sale lists in terms of varieties and relative frequency of occurrence to justify a departure from purely academic concerns. Collectors are often the driving force of interest in particular fields and give viability to objective research. Moreover, collectors typically are very discerning and extremely observant of minute detail, which may convey enormous significance to numismatist, monetary and art historians.

 

Market prices for sceattas are notoriously variable. The nearest comparison, in terms of diversity and scarcity of material becoming available, might be the Celtic coin market in the early 1990s, but Celtic prices seemed less volatile. It was, therefore, courageous of Patrick to launch so enthusiastically into this unpredictable market, especially when trading on his own account. His safety net was the exceptional quality and scarcity of material offered and some strong and prolonged buying from certain quarters.

 

It is not unknown to find prices for similar sceattas from different sources varying by a factor of two or three[1]. There is relatively little premium for a unique sceat (of which there are many, given the paucity of die duplication) and, counter-intuitively, prices may increase when a second and third find give credence to a new type.

 

The prime objective of tabulating all 18 of Patrick’s lists plus the Memorial List was simply to provide a type index. A secondary objective of the exercise was to analyse price and scarcity data using this significant corpus of material. An electronic version of the data is available as an EXCEL spreadsheet[2].

 

The headline outcome of the present analysis is that between List 1 in spring 1994 and the Memorial List of 2001, a total of 527 sceats were offered at an aggregate selling price of £189,910[3]. This corpus provides a more valid source of information than most large accumulations – it is contemporary, within the “detection” era, market facing and statistically significant in volume. Moreover, at the time, Patrick seemed to mop up most sceats becoming available and he did that direct from source, i.e. the detecting fraternity. However, some caveats must be applied: sceats arise only where they are sought, not all finders part with their treasures, and it would be a fair assumption that Patrick bought selectively i.e. with a keen commercial eye. (He may well have bought everything that was offered to him for goodwill but one can well imagine Patrick not buying every Series D, E or low-grade, imitative specimen that came his way!) Therefore, from a numismatic perspective, this is not a statistically random accumulation. He acquired and resold sceats not included in the lists, for example the de Wit collection (now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) includes 121 coins bought from Patrick, of which only 97 are included in the sale lists, leaving 24 purchased by private treaty. This is probably an exceptional privilege for a principal buyer.

 

The analysis reveals that 74% of Patrick listed sceats were in VF or better condition[4]. Over 49% of offerings were VR or scarcer, but note that Patrick applied a scarcity rating for condition – “scarce/rare in this condition” – even for common types. It is easy to lose perspective of the generic extreme scarcity of this entire coinage, especially the diverse secondary types, but even the “trackless wastes” show remarkable variation, though subsequent finds will have diluted scarcity. However, these statistics argue for selective purchasing. Incongruously, only 24 sceats are provenanced and one may speculate on this reluctance to disclose – and bemoan the loss of distribution data.

 

The spreadsheet shows the number of coins offered of each type[5]. With the caveat of it being a non-random selection, this assemblage remains indicative of both relative and absolute scarcity[6] though many types are not represented or underrepresented so the results need to be viewed in the context of analyses of other major accumulations.

 

Exactly what this analysis means is open to interpretation; what is indisputable is that Patrick sold quality at commensurate prices.

 

 

[1] I recall one variation of one magnitude i.e. a factor of 10!

[2] From the editor via the publishers - particularly for anyone wishing to check and augment the analysis, e.g. by the addition of weights, adding more sub-variety detail to, say, Series E or substituting prices realised in Baldwin’s stock clearance auction 38, 4th October 2004, lots 15-112.

[3] The Baldwin auction of residual stock included 98 sceats implying that Patrick sold over 81% of what was listed.

[4] To counter any inclination towards optimistic grading I have rounded down e.g. F-VF is included in F.

[5] Those few offered twice are shaded.

[6] The maximum, average and minimum prices within each type can be computed from the data. These values do not necessarily relate to what might be paid for coins in say EF, VF and F condition but are merely indicative. Before discounts, and any adjustment to prices realised in Baldwin’s residual stock auction, the averaged prices are:

  1. for condition: EF £475, VF £388, F £228, others (of collectible condition)  £190, and
  2. for scarcity:   ER £631, VR £409, R £249, S £223 and normal £186.

 

Extract of early Anglo-Saxon coins from Patrick Finn's lists
C4a Abramson - The Patrick Finn Sceatta [...]
Microsoft Excel sheet [240.5 KB]

 

 

2. Catalogue of the early Anglo-Saxon cabinet of Professor Wim de Wit

acquired by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Extracted from Studies in Early Medieval Coinage, Volume 2

Originally produced by Messrs Künker of Osnabrück.

Re-arranged by Tony Abramson.

The De Wit Collection of early Anglo-Saxon coinage at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
1c Tony Abramson - De Wit text.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [1.0 MB]
Wim de Wit sceatta catalogue.xls
Microsoft Excel sheet [147.5 KB]

 

 

3. BNJ Coin Register Sceat Index 1987 to 2009 arranged by conventional series by Tony Abramson.

Extracted from Studies in Early Medieval Coinage, Volume 2

 

The objective in presenting this index of around 1,380 sceats, included in the BNJ Coin Registers between 1987 and 2009, is to enhance access to this material as a research tool. The data is available from me by email in a spreadsheet format so that the student may sort the records according to different criteria (e.g. find spot).

 

There are some caveats on the use of the information. The images in the Coin Register are drawn from numerous sources and differ in resolution and quality. This difficulty is exacerbated by the high variability of this coinage, making precise verification of identification, from images rather than the original specimen, somewhat precarious, especially when there are minute classification differences between some of the sub-varieties. Some errors in classification have been corrected but the process may not have been exhaustive. In recent Registers the spacing between the rows of sceat images has increased but double sized images would be a great help.

 

These difficulties have also contributed, despite the best endeavours of the editorial staff, to a very small number of duplicated entries and it is hoped that this index may help eliminate this. As a find moves erratically from detectorist to dealer, is passed from hand-to-hand within the trade and eventually on to a collector, there are several opportunities to register the coin and the find spot is vulnerable to loss of identity as the specimen moves down the food chain.

 

I would be pleased to hear of any misclassification and duplications in this listing.

 

The Index is set out under the headings:

Pre-primary: including the moneyers Pada and Vanimundus,

Primary & Secondary - alphabetically by Series & Type: including Continental issues; within each Series coins are set out in Type order and then according to Coin Register year and number with uncertain items relegated to the end of each Type listing.

Northumbrian: set out chronologically by monarch.

Eclectic types:  in the order established by Metcalf throughout T&S for the lesser and eclectic types i.e. these distinctive types not assigned to a Serial identifier, including numerous saltire- and annulet-standard specimen.

East Anglia:  the small module coins of Beonna of similar style to some late sceattas, and

Merovingian: silver deniers found in England with attributes similar to English sceattas.

 

Tremisses, thrymsas and stycas are not included. Abdy & Williams’ Hoards and Single Finds, Coinage and History in the North Sea World, c, 500-1250 (Brill, 2006) covers gold comprehensively, though the absence of illustrations is a disappointing. The relatively small number of stycas included in the Coin Register is not of the same order of significance as the sceattas.

 

Notes:

1. The Coin Register 2003 is included in BNJ vol. 74, 2004.

2. The entries from the 2009 Coin Register have been kindly permitted by the editors though their register numbers have not yet been finalised at the time of this publication. With the exception of seven entries from the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) placed at the end of the 2009 entries, the sequence of the numbers should be correct, but the 2009 numbers used here are shaded to indicate that they will change. As regards the interface with the Portable Antiquities Scheme it appears that there have been some discontinuities in the inclusion of PAS finds in the BNJ Coin Register. John Naylor estimates this to be “in the region of 150-200 coins for 2006-8”.

BNJ Coin Register Sceatta Index to 2009.[...]
Microsoft Excel sheet [205.0 KB]
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