Coin made for Anglo Saxon ruler who would become first King of England sells for small fortune at auction
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A small 10th century coin minted during the reign of the first crowned King of England and found on a farm has “rewritten the history books” according to experts.
The silver halfpenny, described as “one of the single best Anglo-Saxon coin finds ever recorded” measures just 15 millimetres in diameter, the size of a fingernail. It was in circulation during the reign of King Eadgar, who ruled England between 959 and 975.
Historians believe the anonymous metal-detectorist who made the find has helped “rewrite history books”, transforming our understanding of King Eadgar. The coin, discovered by the retiree and passionate birdwatcher in Hampshire, was likely struck soon after the 15-year-old king ascended the throne.
At the age of 30, in 973, Eadgar was crowned. The Bath ceremony was the earliest recorded coronation of an English King or Queen.
Today the halfpenny coin is worth 300-times its weight in gold after selling for £8,060 at auction. Scales measure it at just half a gram – equivalent to a paracetamol tablet. It bears the mint signature for Winchester, the historic heartland of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Wessex that spread across the south of England.
When it was in circulation the Anglo-Saxon economy relied upon a single coin, the silver penny. Halfpennies or farthings were just pennies cut in half or quartered.
As a result, it is extremely rare to find a halfpenny purposefully struck as a circle during this period. The find solves a 180-year-long historic puzzle about Anglo-Saxon finances.
Following the 1839 fire of Threadneedle Street - the famed London site of the Bank of England - a similar circular halfpenny was uncovered in the debris of St Bartholomew’s Church.
It indicated King Eadgar attempted to regulate the Anglo-Saxon economy by minting halfpennies. Few kings fiddled with the established production of full pennies.
However, the find was destroyed and doubt was cast over whether it was authentic.
But the anonymous metal detectorist’s discovery reveals King Eadgar did imitate the achievements of his great-grandfather Alfred the Great, who recoined the financial system to celebrate the recapture of London from the Vikings in 886.
Head coin dealer Gregory Edmund working with specialist auctioneers Spink said: “Eadgar is not a name that immediately comes to mind when we think of Anglo-Saxon England. However his reign was critical to the unification of a single kingdom.
“His coronation at Bath, the first to be recorded, provides us with a wonderful connection to our Royal origins at the very moment we look to celebrate our latest Coronation over a millennium later.
“It is a privilege to share in the story of one of the single best Anglo-Saxon coin finds ever recorded, and I heartily congratulate the lucky individual who has helped to rewrite our history books. This terrific auction result is a testament to their individual and tireless passion for recovering and preserving our past.
“It is fair to say that just one more turn of an industrial farmer’s plough may have robbed us of this incredibly important addition to our understanding of 10th century England, right from the very seat of Royal and political power.”