For all you numismatists....
Anglo-Saxon gold coin leaves British Museum out of pocket
By Nigel Reynolds, Arts Correspondent
A gold coin lost 1,200 years ago on a river bank in Bedfordshire became the most expensive British coin when it was bought by the British Museum for £357,832 ($623,229.38 US)
A little smaller than a pound coin in diameter and much thinner, the glittering mancus, the value of 30 days' wages for a skilled Anglo-Saxon worker, now ranks among the museum's most valuable artefacts.
Anglo-Saxon coin depicting Coenwulf, King of Mercia
Experts described the coin as "the find of the last 100 years".
But the museum is angry at the size of its outlay, claiming that it should have been able to acquire it for two thirds of the price, and has called for reforms to art export laws.
Made from more than 85 per cent gold, weighing 4.33g and showing almost no sign of wear, the coin was struck in 805-810 during the reign of Coenwulf, the King of Mercia, East Anglia and Kent, the most powerful ruler in Britain at the time and a significant figure in the gradual unification of England.
The coin carries his name, title and an image of him and, on the reverse, the intriguing inscription DE VICO LVNDONIAE (From the trading place of London).
Besides being in almost perfect condition, it's significance, says the museum, is that it is the earliest gold coin in the name of an English ruler intended as part of a circulating currency.
Many dozen Anglo-Saxon silver pennies have been unearthed but the Coenwulf mancus is only the eighth British gold coin - the museum now owns seven of them - cast between 670 and 1257 to be found. Earlier gold examples, including one from the reign of Offa, Coenwulf's predecessor as ruler of Mercia, were ceremonial coins.
Little is known about Anglo-Saxon coinage - and less still about Coenwulf who ruled Mercia from 796 to 821. But despite the enormous value of the coin, Gareth Williams, the museum's Anglo-Saxon coin curator, said yesterday that he was convinced that it was used as currency because of the unexpected inscription.
Coenwulf was, like rulers before and after him, in thrall to the language and culture of the Romans who had left Britain three centuries earlier. His decision to use the word vicus, meaning a trading centre, on the coin rather than civitas, the city seat of authority, is a strong indication that the coin was for trading.
The mancus was found several inches below a footpath on the bank of the Ivel near Biggleswade in 2001 by a metal detector enthusiast out walking with his dog.
But how the coin came to be there is anybody's guess. "It would have been a grievous loss," said Mr Williams.
A recent dig near the river - not yet written up by archaeologists - has unearthed the remains of an Anglo-Saxon market place which may have been the destination of whoever lost the coin.
The image of Coenwulf, a bloodthirsty figure who stole the throne from Offa's son and then invaded East Anglia and Kent to create an empire stretching from the South Coast to the Welsh borders and the Humber, is not likely to be a good likeness, said Mr Williams. "The rulers of the time chose to make themselves look like Roman emperors."
He went on: "It may be very expensive but it is an absolutely top discovery. It is beautifully preserved. It has no wear or tear and must have been freshly struck when it was lost. It's condition is so exceptional that we were suspicious at first. We had to test it quite thoroughly before we were convinced."
The mancus first came to public attention when the anonymous finder and the owner of the river bank, put it into auction at Spink in London in October 2004 with an estimate of £150,000. The British Museum bid but dropped out below £200,000 and it sold to an American dealer, Allan Davisson, for £230,000.
Mr Davisson applied to take it to America but the Government issued a temporary export stop. This gave the museum six months to match the selling price. If it failed to do so, the export could go ahead. But in the meantime, Mr Davisson disclosed that he had had an offer of £357,000 from a private collector in the United States and this was the price he wanted "matching".
The museum said yesterday: "This jump in price was very unfortunate and we think that this is a loophole that should be closed. We have always understood that the 'matching price' was the initial sale.
"We have started talks with Government because we feel this needs to be addressed in future."
Insert joke about inflation here.
I'll take two.
A bit overpriced ???
So sayeth the mueum. Of course, being a public entity, they wanted preferential treatment.