Heads and Tales

Speaker: Wendy Scott

21 May 2019

Heads and Tales: Coins found in our villages and the stories they tell.

At our May meeting the Society displayed coins received from Brian Kimberley who, using a metal detector, has found numerous coins and other artefacts in our area. Keen to pass on his enjoyment to others, Brian has given some of these to the Society for it to share with the current and future residents of our villages.  He was presented with an Honorary Membership as a thank you for his generous gift.

The coins on show, from various periods during the last 2000 years, were all found in our villages, “under our feet”.   There was also a display of enlarged photographs of them, and some descriptions of what was happening in our area at the time they were in circulation.

To help us understand the coins better, Wendy Scott, the Leicestershire Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), gave us a talk about the coinage of England.

The PAS provides an opportunity for members of the public to register archaeological objects they find  (which are not designated as treasure).    The database is an important study resource.  A particularly large number of Roman coins has been registered, and this has helped archaeologists gain a better understanding of the economy of that period.

Coins have been in use in England for just over 2000 years.   The earliest were based on Greek coins.  They were probably not used for purchasing, but given as diplomatic gifts, or used to show status or wealth.   Those found in our area were minted by the Corieltauvi tribe, who lived in Leicestershire and Lincolnshire.

Later, under the Romans, coins began to be used as a means of exchange, as now.

However in the 9th and 10th centuries, in the parts of England occupied by the Vikings, the Scandinavian custom of payment using metal by weight (as ‘bullion’) prevailed.  Although the Vikings adopted the English custom of issuing coins, these were still weighed and used as bullion rather than relying on their face value.

Coins were minted by moneyers in various locations across the country, including Leicester.  A few very early coins were cast, but most were struck:  a blank was placed between 2 dies and the upper die struck with a heavy hammer.  This method produced coins which were all slightly different, with some off-centre.  Machines to mint better quality coins were available from the 16th century onwards.

A recurring problem over the centuries, which reduced confidence in the currency, was that of debased coinage:  the face value of the coins did not match their metal content.   Coins could be minted with a reduced quantity of precious metal, either by using an alloy or by having a base metal core coated with silver or gold.

Some coins (usually Viking) were ‘pecked’ (stabbed with the tip of a knife) in order to establish their quality before they were accepted as payment.

People often clipped the edges of coins in circulation to obtain gold or silver. Measures were put into place to discourage clipping.   The crosses on the reverse, used as an aid to cut the coins into halves or quarters (before halfpennies and farthings were available), were extended to the edge of the coin to establish its original size.  Machine-made coins had milled edges (ridged, similar to modern coins).

Wendy’s talk was well illustrated both with pictures and with original and replica coins for us to hand round.   They dated from the Iron Age to the 1700s and, together with the coins donated by Brian, we had plenty of oppurtunity to see a wide variety at close quarters.