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John Conduitt's Top 10 of 2023


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Here’s my top 10 for the year, with a little poetic licence. Looking at other lists it’s perhaps not full of popular coins – there’s no Greek, although there’s a little Roman to keep people’s attention. It turned out to be a year of upgrades, with half of my list being improvements.

I collect hoard coins, but certain emperors aren’t well represented in hoards, which means I have a few ugly placeholders. So, I was very pleased to add this upgrade of Valerian II. It’s from the Dorchester (Dorset) Hoard of over 22,000 coins deposited in 257. They were found in several containers while rebuilding the Marks and Spencer store in South Street in 1936. The building is being knocked down again to be replaced by a hotel, so hopefully they’ll find more treasure.

Valerian II Antoninianus, 255
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Colonia Agrippinensis. Silver, 22mm, 2.60g. Radiate and draped bust to right; VALERIANVS CAES. Infant Jupiter seated on Amalthaean goat walking to right; IOVI CRESCENTI (RIC V.1, 3).

I added quite a few Celtics this year. This is a silver unit from the Catuvellauni tribe (around the north and east of London), inscribed AGR. Chris Rudd suggests this might be the name Agricu (‘war dog’), and it does feature a female dog on the reverse. Agricu must’ve been an associate of Cunobelin (of Shakespeare fame), ruling shortly before the Roman Conquest, since the coin has the same design as a Cunobelin unit (ABC 2891; VA 2069-01). The reverse design might’ve been copied from a paste gem similar to one found in Cornwall. Van Arsdell describes the coins inscribed ‘AGR or AGE’ as enigmatic, and then seems to forget to say anything else about them. Mysterious indeed. It’s extremely rare, as many Celtic coins are, with only 8 on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database (none of which are this coin). AGR also struck a gold quarter stater (of which there are two varieties) and I happen to have one of those as well, but this is a little more interesting.

Agricu Unit, 35-43

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Camulodunon (Colchester), Catuvellauni tribe. Silver, 13mm, 1.18g. AGR in wreath, pellet border around. Female dog standing right on a snake; AGR in exergue (ABC 3005; S 354).

Maximinus Thrax is another emperor who doesn’t show up in hoards enough for there to be a lot of great examples. Luckily, he had already appeared in a hoard 126 years ago and I could get a much-improved coin on what I had. This coin belonged to William C Boyd (1840-1906), an entomologist and treasurer of the Royal Numismatic Society. It came from the Cambridge Hoard 1897, which was sold to Boyd in 1897 by Alfred Henry Sadd, an antiques dealer from Cambridge. Boyd’s collection remained intact until it was auctioned by Baldwins in 2005. The hoard contained 155 denarii and 52 antoninianii dating from Clodius Albinus to Philip II (248). This was the sole coin of Maximinus and was featured in the Celator, Vol. 22, No. 6, June 2008, issue 252.

Maximinus I Thrax Denarius, 235-236

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Rome. Silver, 19mm, 2.82g. Bust of Maximinus I, laureate, draped, cuirassed, right; IMP MAXIMINVS PIVS AVG. Victory, winged, draped, advancing right, holding wreath in extended right hand and palm in left hand; VICTORIA AVG (RIC IV, 16).

There’s only one Saxon coin on my list this year. The Wodan head is a popular motif on Continental Saxon coins, since he was the King of the Anglo-Saxon gods. But this one’s style, lower silver content and findspot in central north Norfolk suggest it’s a British variant. It’s apt that I post this today, Wōdnesdæg or 'Day of Wodan’.

Saxon Series X Type 31 Wodan Monster Sceatta, 740-800

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British style. Silver, 12mm, 1.17g. 'Wodan' head facing, pellet above, short cross pommée to left and right; all in pelleted circle. Fantastic creature left, head right, with tail towards head (S 797).

Another upgrade, and another Celtic coin from the Catuvellauni tribe. It has been shown to be inscribed DIAS, possibly for Diassumaros (‘great in sacred ritual’, possibly a king or a chief Druid). He may have been a brother or son of Tasciovanus (father of the aforementioned Cunobelin), who also had a coin featuring a seated figure with candelabrum behind (ABC 2706). Anyone who collects Roman bronzes may think the condition rather average, but Celtic bronzes weren’t hoarded and are usually barely recognisable. Despite this not being at all rare for a Celtic coin (there are over 5 dozen known, which is positively common) this was good enough to be the plate coin for Chris Rudd’s Ancient British Coins (2010, p.134)

Dias Throne Unit, 1-10

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Verlamion (St Albans), Catuvellauni tribe. Bronze, 15mm, 1.77g. Short-haired male head (DIAS in front). Seated figure facing left, standard before and behind, VER below (ABC 2751 (this coin); VA 1816; BMC 1739-44; S 251).

I’ve added these two together as one entry since they’re both Charles I Rose farthings. They’re both extremely rare and yet one cost 20 times as much as the other. Most seasoned collectors of English coins look at these and think they’re all the same and worth a few tens of pounds, but proper identification is important. The first was most expensive not just because of its rarity but because it came from the collection of Tim Everson, who wrote the book on them. That meant it was auctioned as the rare coin it is. It’s a pretty good provenance too.

It’s a mule of the scarce Rose Types 1 and 2. You can tell the early Rose farthings as the crowns have double arches and the roses have a double ring of petals. The obverse crown’s sceptres on the earliest (Type 1) farthings don’t reach the circle and here the privy mark is a martlet (a legless heraldic bird). The reverse crown is narrow and boxlike, but the important feature here is the retrograde N in FRAN. At this point the Token House was experimenting with the design and manufacturing process. The brass wedge is there (to prevent counterfeiting) but there are a number of adjustment marks.

Charles I Rose 1/2 Mule Farthing, 1636

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London Token House. Copper with brass wedge, 14mm, 1.25g. Crown with sceptres inside circle; mintmark martlet. Small crown, reversed N in FRAN; mintmark lis (Everson Rose Type 1/2 156; Peck/BMC 297; S 3210/3202).

This is the much cheaper coin but none the less interesting. It’s a later Rose farthing (Type 4) with a single-arch crown and a rose with a single ring of petals. Rose Type 4 farthings are by far the most common and one of these needs to be a good clear example to even break a tenner. The dealer who sold it didn’t list it as anything more special and probably thought the mangled legends detracted from it. But not all of them are so common. There are some legend variants I’ve never seen. This coin, however, is not rare because of the legends, although they’re interesting in that they are doubled, with REX appearing twice on the reverse.

What makes this coin interesting is the rhomboid shape you can see on each side, which seems to have been an experimental quality control measure the Token House briefly tried. It was probably added to the blank flan to check the diameter – if the rhomboid wasn’t full the flan could be rejected. The rhomboid would then be overstruck with the design (applied with rollers) and disappear. Except it didn’t work. The doubling of the reverse legend points to a further unsuccessful attempt to obliterate it. The idea was dropped and these are now extremely rare. If you find one with a square (in a horizontal not diamond orientation) it will be even rarer, as there’s currently only one known.

The lump taken out of the top is common with Rose farthings, as this is where the brass wedge is and the metal is weaker – sometimes the whole wedge falls out. It’s so common that Everson isn’t sure whether these have a privy mark, which would be in that position, but suggests it might be a lis because of an electrotype in the British Museum (Obverse and Reverse). The British Museum wrongly suggests the rhomboid comes from an overstruck Spanish coin, but no such coin exists.

Charles I Rose Type 4b Farthing with Rhomboid on Flan, 1639-1643

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London Token House. Copper with brass wedge, 15mm, 1.03g. Single-arch crown; CAROLV D G MA BRI. Single rose; FRA ET HI REX REX (doubled). (Everson 4b 207a).

Here's a Celtic coin from the Corieltavi tribe, who were the most northerly to strike coins. It was found in North Ferriby, Lincolnshire, in 2016 (CCI 21.0569). The inscription has been taken to be for a ruler Tigirseno (‘old lord’), son or subordinate of Dumnocoveros (‘giant of the world’). These coins are dished and larger than the typical silver units so are usually broken. Of 33 known, 19 are chipped or fragments. Van Arsdell even says there is no accurate weight available because most coins are broken. This one is as pristine as they get.

Dumnocoveros Tigirseno Unit,  25-35

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Corieltavi tribe. Silver, 17mm, 1.24g. (D)VMNOC between two lines over vertical wreath motif of granular, inward-facing leaves. Horse right, TIGIR above, S under tail, (EN) below, (O) and pellet triad in front (ABC 1974; VA 974; S 415).

This Sabina (another upgrade) was in the Ropsley (Lincolnshire) Hoard 2018, also known as Londonthorpe II, Portable Antiquities Scheme LANCUM-F93E5B. I already have Hadrian from this hoard (which was on last year’s list), which is rather (accidentally) romantic. Considering denarii circulated a long time in second century Britain both coins are surprisingly good, since most of my denarii are very worn.

Sabina Denarius, 130-133

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Rome. Silver, 17mm, 3.07g. Diademed and draped bust to right, wearing stephane; SABINA AVGVSTA HADRIANI AVG P P. Concordia seated to left, holding patera and sceptre; cornucopiae below throne; CONCORDIA AVG ([RIC II.3, 2052).

The Hadrian from last year:

Hadrian Denarius, 126-127
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Rome. Silver, 17x18mm, 3.40g. Head of Hadrian, laureate, right, slight drapery on left shoulder; HADRIANVS AVGVSTVS. Virtus standing right, resting foot on helmet, holding spear and parazonium; COS III (RIC III, 851).

Henry III coins are very common, as are those of Edward I. Coins of Henry III (and a few of his predecessors) are distinct in that the bust has a beard and the hair is made from two or three large curls on either side of his head. Edward I (like the next two Edwards) is clean-shaven, and his hair is long and flowing. This Class 6 posthumous issue of Henry III spans their distinctive bust styles. It was once incredibly rare with only one known, until the Colchester II Hoard 1969 provided 1,916 more. Even so, these were all from the same dies, and by the time the last was struck the dies were horribly worn and most of the coins are poor. This one is a lot better than my previous example. You can clearly see the king has naturalistic, flowing hair, like Edward I, but the face and beard of Henry III.

Henry III Posthumous Issue (under Edward I) Class 6 Long Cross Penny, 1272-1275

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Bury St Edmunds. Silver, 19mm, 1.38g. Crude bust holding sceptre with III to left, naturalistic hair curls like an Edward I bust; no initial mark, legend begins at 11 o'clock; HENRICVS REX III. Long cross; ION- O(N)-SAN-TAD. (S 1377).

My last coin is the only gold in my list. It’s Celtic, from the Iceni of East Anglia a century before Boudica. Indeed, it was found in Norfolk (CCI 99.1318). Usually, Celtic gold features a horse, but this has a wolf. It's thought Norfolk Wolves were issued to pay tribute to Julius Caesar after his second invasion of Britain in 54BC, along with other common staters like the Catuvellauni’s Whaddon Chase. They are often poor quality, but this is unusually bright. In Norse legend, which appears to be similar to Celtic, the wolves Skoll and Hati chase the sun and moon through the sky. This left-facing wolf is chasing the sun, while right-facing wolves chase the moon.

Iceni ‘Norfolk Wolf Left, Sideways Diamond’ Stater, 50-35BC

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Norfolk. Gold, 17mm, 5.40g. Wolf standing left with bristly back, crescent and large pellet above, large pellet and four-pellet diamond below (only two pellets visible). Left-facing Icenian wreath motif, fibula below (ABC−, VA−, BMC−, COI−, S−. Talbot Norfolk Wolf B, Sub-type D, die group 18, dies T/49).

Now for a wildcard. This is not one coin but a whole hoard. To be fair, it’s more of a purse spill than a hoard, but it’s on the Portable Antiquities Scheme website as a hoard (NARC-51AB00). These five coins were found by a detectorist in Gumley, near Market Harborough, Leicestershire, in 2020. Four of the coins are of Elizabeth I – three sixpences dated 1564, 1566 and 1581, and an undated shilling from 1589-1592. It’s described as a ‘Civil War Hoard’ on account of one coin, a Charles I sixpence from 1639-1640. The English Civil War began in 1642, at which point large numbers of coins were hidden. As with many such hoards, this one was likely buried or lost around 1643. Hoards from earlier in the Civil War typically contain sixpences and shillings of Elizabeth I and Charles I, since that is what was circulating at the time.

There was no great support for King or Parliament amongst the gentry of Leicestershire, but it was at the heart of the Civil War because of its location at the centre of England, with the Parliamentarians in London and Charles fleeing northwards. Gumley is 10 miles due north of Naseby, site of one of the pivotal battles of the First Civil War in 1645. Perhaps these coins were used by a participant to buy a round of beers afterwards.

The Market Harborough Civil War Hoard

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Elizabeth I Sixth Issue Shilling, 1589-1592
Tower. Silver, 5.83g. Hand initial mark. Crowned Bust 6B left; ELIZAB.’D.’G.’ANG.’FR.’ET:HIB.’REGI.’ Long cross fourchée over square shield; POSVI/DEV!AD/VITORE/M.MEV! (S 2577).
Charles I Group F Sixpence, 1639-1640
Tower. Silver, 2.72g. Triangle initial mark. Crowned Sixth Bust (Briot Type) left with VI behind; ·CAROL[VS DG].’MAG.’BRI:FR[A ET HI]B.’REX. Squared shield over cross pattée; [CHRISTO AV]SPIC[E REG]NO (S 2817).
Elizabeth I Third/Fourth Issue Sixpence, 1564
Tower. Silver, 2.71g. Pheon initial mark. Crowned bust 3E left with rose behind; ELIZABETH:D.’G.’ANG.’FR.’ET:HIB.’REGINA. Long cross fourchée over square shield reverse, date above; POSVI/DEV!AD/VITORE/M.MEV! (S 2561B).
Elizabeth I Fifth Issue Sixpence, 1581
Tower. Silver, 3.02g. Long/Latin cross initial mark. Crowned bust 5A left with rose behind; ELIZ[ABETH]:D.’G.’ANG.’FR.’ET:HI[B.’ REG]INA. Long cross fourchée over square shield reverse, date above; POS[VI/DE]V!AD/VITOR[E/M].MEV! (S 2572).
Elizabeth I Third/Fourth Issue Sixpence, 1566
Tower. Silver, 3.03g. Portcullis initial mark. Crowned bust 1F left with rose behind; ELIZABETH:D.’G.’ANG.’FR.’ET:HIB.’REGINA. Long cross fourchée over square shield reverse, date above; POSVI/DEV!AD/VITORE/M.MEV! (S 2561).

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22 minutes ago, Rand said:

Are there any tips on good places for buying coins found in the UK listed in the PAS and marked as 'Returned to finder'?

More often than not they’re sold as soon as the finder gets them back, which can sometimes be quite a while after the find date. I often see them sold with PAS references on Facebook and eBay. You can probably find something just searching for ‘PAS’ on eBay. Single finds usually include a photo on the PAS website.

Other times they get sold through dealers or auction houses - that’s how most large hoards are sold and will invariably include PAS references. Mostly UK auctions of course.

I guess the answer then is everywhere and anywhere. Once you start looking they appear. Usually I even check PAS for coins that didn’t get sold with a PAS reference. Sometimes they are recorded and the seller either didn’t know or forgot to include it.

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32 minutes ago, kirispupis said:

Great pickups for the year. It's very nice that you can actually trace your coins to hoards. I don't own a single coin with such.

I guess that’s the difference between collecting coins from places where the incentive is to say as little as possible about the findspot, and coins from somewhere like the UK where the opposite is true. To have none from known hoards is quite impressive though. I think I even have a couple of coins found in hoards in the Mediterranean, although they are English so the local authorities don’t care about them.

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1 hour ago, John Conduitt said:

My last coin is the only gold in my list. It’s Celtic, from the Iceni of East Anglia a century before Boudica. Indeed, it was found in Norfolk (CCI 99.1318). Usually, Celtic gold features a horse, but this has a wolf. It's thought Norfolk Wolves were issued to pay tribute to Julius Caesar after his second invasion of Britain in 54BC, along with other common staters like the Catuvellauni’s Whaddon Chase. They are often poor quality, but this is unusually bright. In Norse legend, which appears to be similar to Celtic, the wolves Skoll and Hati chase the sun and moon through the sky. This left-facing wolf is chasing the sun, while right-facing wolves chase the moon.

Iceni ‘Norfolk Wolf Left, Sideways Diamond’ Stater, 50-35BC

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Norfolk. Gold, 17mm, 5.40g. Wolf standing left with bristly back, crescent and large pellet above, large pellet and four-pellet diamond below (only two pellets visible). Left-facing Icenian wreath motif, fibula below (ABC−, VA−, BMC−, COI−, S−. Talbot Norfolk Wolf B, Sub-type D, die group 18, dies T/49).

Absolutely love this coin!  The abstract nature of the wolf art makes the animal both endearing and frightening simultaneously.  I've been looking for one of these myself.

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I know you collect coins with the find provenances, and it remains very interesting to read where every individual coin came from. Lovely collecting theme (if I can call it that 😄

My favorites are the second coin with the lovely display of the dog on the reverse, your Sabina denarius, and of course the gold stater with the wolf on the reverse. I really like the design of that one! 

Have a great 2024.

 

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An engaging top 10 list @John Conduitt!  I like the romance of Sabina and Hadrian reunited from LANCUM-F93E5B, a Maximinus from a hoard 126 years ago (Cambridge Hoard 1897) and the Marks and Spencer Hoard (i.e. 1936 Dorchester (Dorset) Hoard).  Attractive coins made more so with the find provenance and an enjoyable writeup.  Best wishes for 2024!

 

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