Wednesday 21 May 2014

Hoiked find belongs in Museum: Who will pay for this Treasure Hunting?

from Gainesville coins blog (Dix Noonan Webb)
It's got all the stereotypical elements of these stories without a PAS press-release, it seems this time. The 'Ooo-Treasure' aspect of this story is it could be worth £20,000. The 'experts are delighted' aspect is it's a unique coin which 'sheds light' on something we vaguely know about from written sources. Its trite narrativisation (and blood and gore aspect) invokes the tale of a 'royal murder'. The 'human interest', finder was about to 'take shelter from a hailstorm, but dug one more signal' and BINGO he's all the richer for it.  But we all lose out. We have little information about the nature of the site it was hoiked out of the ground from, and if we want this unique find in the national collections to be freely available for more close study in the future, the taxpayer will have to pay to get back what is already his by rights.

The coin was found and dug up in a Sussex field by metal detectorist Darrin Simpson of the Eastbourne and District Metal Detecting Club
Simpson, a 48-year-old pest control specialist from Eastbourne, Sussex, had spent about an hour at an unidentified site in Sussex when he was caught in a hailstorm. Simpson, who has been a metal detectorist for 12 years, was hurrying to shelter when he picked up a signal on his detector. Though the signal sounded like others that had merely turned out to be World War II-era .303 munitions, and despite the weather, Simpson dug down 6 to 8 inches and found the penny.
This was in early March, by the middle of next month (five seeks later), it was already at an auction house in London (at Dix Noonan Webb, the international coins and medals specialists, to be sold on June 11), and now the hype begins. It is predicted to reach between £15,000 and £20,000 at auction. Christopher Webb, head of coins at Dix Noonan Webb is reported as saying: "This new discovery is an important and unexpected addition to the numismatic history of 8th Century England."

From the land of the 'East Angles' to
the 'South Saxons', then back again
and down to London, and
then, where next?
The writing on it suggests the coin was struck by an East Anglian king, Aethelberht II (ruled approx 779-794) who was formally under the overlordship of Offa King of Mercia. It is only the fourth-ever found from the reign, the other three are all in museums and this is "the only one to have the king's name and the title Rex on the same side"  ("as a sign of independence") and - the sales spiel goes - . "it is believed the coin may have led to Aethelberht's beheading by Offa" (the king later becoming a saint). I really doubt this story, as afar as I know the contemporary neighbouring kings of Essex use the title 'rex' on their charters throughout Offa's reign, becoming 'dux' only after his successors in the second decade of the ninth century. Coineys always want us to believe that the material they work with can be used as an independent source, this is yet one more example that even when it comes to 'kings and battles' histoire événementielle, their interpretations are worth little by themselves.

The Cambridge News proudly reports  that: 

The full importance of the discovery of the 1,200-year-old silver penny was only realised when it was identified by the Early Medieval Corpus of Coin Finds at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. 
So Mr Simpson did not take it to his local FLO of the PAS but instead got on a train and took it to far-off Cambridge. Why? Why is this object not in the PAS database, Mr Simpson with the other finds from the same site? 

Jeff Starck, 'Anglo-Saxon silver coin found by metal detectorist highlights Dix Noonan Webb June 11 auction', Coin World 15th April 2014.

Steven Cochran, 'Treasure Hunter Finds Unique 1,200 Year-Old Silver Anglo Saxon coin', Gainesville Coins blog 17th April 2014.

'Unique Anglo-Saxon coin identified by Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge could reach £20,000 at London auction ', Cambridge News, 20 May 2014.

BBC, ''Unique' Anglo-Saxon coin could give royal murder clue ',

BBC News 'Anglo-Saxon coin fetches four times expected auction price', 11 June 2014.
The coin, which was expected to fetch between £15,000 and £20,000, was found by a man using a metal detector in a field in Sussex in March. An anonymous internet bidder bought the penny at an auction in London. Will Bennett, from auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb [...] said "This is a fantastic result, and shows the market for coins such as this is very strong indeed."
It was not recorded whether the top bidder was a museum.

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