Thursday 16 February 2012

Phil not as Exciting as they Say

The BBC carries a breathless story about another "ancient treasure" found by those awfully nice chaps with metal detectors. This is a coin of William the Bastard (known to his friends as P[th]illiam) wielding the Bastard's Sword in order to show those islanders who's boss and why. It was the sixth type struck by the bloke since he arrived in Britain in 1066. Most of us reckon though that most coins of William I are pretty distinctive in style, but the metal detectoress, Maureen Jones - a member of Taynton Metal Detecting Club - who found this admits she did not recognise it. Despite what the ACCG coineys assert to always be the case, this silver coin had not travelled very far from the mint before it was lost, it had been minted in Gloucester by a moneyer called Silacwine (I know a bloke called Silaction, I wonder if they are related?). The BBC journalist and coin dealer Dave Welsh across the sea are getting very excited and saying that it somehow vindicates Britain's policies on metal detecting because... "it is unique". To be more precise its the only coin of this phase of William's minting which is so far known to have been struck in Gloucester which allowed the FLO his trite news-media story: "the find "filled in the hole" in the dates the Gloucester mint was known to have been operating" and pandering to the crass question "wot it's werth then", says "the penny coin would have been "quite valuable" at the time that it is thought to been lost by its owner more than 900 years ago". The "hole" by the way is a three-year one 1077-1080.

The trouble is, with sixty mints, with several times that number of moneyers in operation 1066-1087, and a relatively small number of coins of William the Conquerer which survived later reminting, it is relatively easy in the issues of William I and his immediate successors to point to very many coins which are one-of-a-kind. As jeered the hammered Coin Collectors Yahoo forum, in this type of collecting coins of which four examples survive are considered 'relatively common'. Mr Adams, the FLO quoted in the BBC interview would, surely, have known that, overseas professional numismatist Dave Welsh perhaps not, but should have checked before shouting his mouth off parroting what some journalist scribbled.

This is a typical example of the PAS making a media mountain out of a molehill, desperately trying to keep the PAS in the news, with yet another "exciting find well worth thirteen million quid thrown at the Scheme so far".

What really would make news would be if Ms Jones from Taynton could tell us what her searches had revealed about what was happening in that field in the late eleventh century which provides the context for that coin turning up precisely where it did, and how that fitted into the cultural landscape of the region around. If a metal detectorist was able to do that in a manner that would allow the results to be documented properly, that would be newsworthy. Just another coin however is not, not really. One can get coin fatigue looking at the PAS database, too many coins, not enough proper archaeology.

Vignette: William (Phil) the Bastard looking a bit miffed that Ms Jones did not recognize him.

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