Sunday, 18 January 2015

Pile of Shiny Pennies in a Case? Displaying the Lenborough Hoard

If Buckinghamshire Museums bought the Lenborough Hoard, what can they do with it? Everybody agrees that the hoard was recovered by less-than-archaeologically-proper means, buy which its scholarly value is much reduced. The museum can do little more with the hoard than heap it in a case with the remains of the lead 'envelope' a label by the side saying what it is (not too many words) and shine a spotlight on it. People will stop gaze in, see the pile of shiny silver, say "Oooooo", then "Aethel..-who"? and walk on. Yet paying for the insurance alone will put everyone a bit out of pocket, year after year. How many more museums will need to get their several spotlight-on-all-the-shiny-coins displays before they become old hat to the visitor? When you've seen one, you've seen them all, surely. That million pounds could go to better heritage causes than putting cash into the pocket of a farmer who hosts a commercial rally on the earthworks of a DMV and a metal detectorist who did not know when to stop digging and put his FLO in a stupid situation "due to the circumstances".

The BM however currently has the whole lot on a table top, and are documenting it (they add them now to the PAS database, don't-ya-know?). I presume that as befits a public record each coin is photographed, properly-lit and described and that information archived, if not made fully available for numismatic study by the public.

Since this hoard was not recovered by proper archaeological excavation, the Museum could consider adopting another approach instead of fund raising to buy the whole lot and badgering some of the HLF and other sources. Instead of displaying 5252 costly original coins in a heap, they can achieve the same visual and educational effect by obtaining a large number of replica coins (commercially available, or silicon mould could be made by the BM lab from three Lenborough coins) for display. This is what the Jersey Museum, another small museum faced with the same problem, has done with the Le Cataillon hoard. This would come at considerably less cost than raising funds to buy the whole hoard. The replicas can be used to create a spotlight-on-all-the-shiny-coins display for the "Ooo-effect". The museum can purchase a few of the coins, any that actually are of the Buckingham mint, a few of London and Oxford mints issued by uncommon or previously unknown moneyers and anything else of numismatic or local interest. These then can be individually displayed alongside the reconstruction of the hoard with blown-up photos and labels explaining why these selected coins are so important. The rest of the coins should be disclaimed and should go back to the landowner, who can get his million pounds by whatever means he feels fit. He can put them, individually or in job lots, on eBay. He can accept the offer of a bulk-buying numismatic firm. Collectors will be happy, the price of Cnut and Aethelred II coins will drop slightly for a while (indeed, it may be cheaper for the museum to buy them from a temporarily saturated market than at the TVC price). It is a "win-win", as they say, situation for all round.

Except of course, the hoikers will have to work a bit harder for their Treasure ransom, and most probably will not get full market value as they would if the TVC had worked hard to provide a sum the nation would have to pay through the nose to keep the public's heritage off the market.  I say put it on, let's see how that goes.


Brian Curtiss said...

What is an acceptable role for people who find these hoards to play? Is it that they should not be doing it at all and that's it? Is this a realistic goal? Or is it just the responsible handling of find sites? Is there value to significant finds if they are properly handled, or should all excavation be left to archaeologists? How can this be done?

Paul Barford said...

Their role is laid out for the UK in the Treasure Act Code of Practice. This defines best practice, anything less than best practice should not be rewarded.

Is it realistic to expect best practice from more than 10-15% of detectorists? If it is NOT, then I say we need to look again at the UK policies which are built on the assumption that we can get it from the majority of them.

If you find a dead body in the woods, don't go about collecting the forensic evidence yourself in a Sainsbury's bag to dump on a policeman's desk. Leave it for the trained specialists who know what t look for and how to record it so it can be used as evidence.

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