I like auctions and collecting stuff so when it was announced that England’s rarest coin was going to be sold by Spinks Auction House last week, I had to have a look.
The coin is a real rarity dating back to the 7th century and King Eadbald of Kent, who ruled from 616 to 640 A.D.
This type of coin was long known to be amongst the earliest of English examples, and is peculiarly Anglo-Saxon because it does not have motifs found on similar coins of that time, and does not try to copy Roman ones.
On the back of the coin can be seen the word londenv, indicating London as the mint for the coin.
The real significance though is the inscription naming King Eadbald, as this makes it the earliest coin identified as being issued in the name of an English king.
Eadbald succeded Aethelberht as king of Kent in 616.
Aethelberht is principally remembered for having accepted St. Augustine into his kingdom and his subsequent conversion to Roman Christianity.
According to Bede, Eadbald fell foul of the young Church after his accession by rejecting Christianity, ejecting its Bishops and incurring the wrath of the Church for committing 'such fornication as the Apostle Paul mentioned as being unheard of even among the heathen, in that he took his father's wife as his own.'
Whatever Eadbald did at that time the situation did not last, as he later repented and was duly baptised, rejecting his wife and favouring the Church within his kingdom thereafter.
These events reflect the conflict and confusion amongst the Anglo-Saxon elite at this time as Christianity sought to assert itself over the Pagan religion.
As to the date of these named coins, the presence of Christian iconography dates them to after his conversion between 620 and 635.
Only six coins other than this example are known to exist and are held mainly in institutional collections. Only one example, other than this one, is therefore in private hands and is the reason why the auctioneers put an estimate on this coin’s value of between £6,000 to £8,000.
As most of the other coins in the catalogue were estimated at under £1,000, this was their star piece and attracted quite a lot of attention therefore … and maybe even they were surprised when it sold for £26,000!
Now where’s my metal detector?