In 2009 I wrote about disgruntled detectorist Simon Hall, who attended an organised dig on a Good Friday when over 70 hammered coins were found. Although he had plenty of signals he was one of only a handful people who didn’t collect. Today I retell that story and add a little more! Undaunted and determined not to be outdone, Simon packed his gear on Easter Monday and set off to explore one of his ‘own’ sites to find the silver coin that had eluded him.
Situated next to a 12th century church and on pasture for as long as he could remember, the field had recently been deep-ploughed and set with potatoes. The signs were good and it wasn’t long before he was cradling a complete, but crudely holed Charles II penny, which he carefully placed in his finds’ case.
Things were looking up! He casually ran his detector over the same spot and, to his surprise, had another signal. The coin was another another Charles penny, again with a small hole. He checked again and was rewarded with a similar coin, which like the others was crudely pierced. Simon said:
You can imagine what was running through my mind as I made yet another scan of the hole. My heart was beating fast as I recover a Commonwealth penny – my very first! It was also holed!
Although scouring the site very carefully no more coins came to light, but he made a careful note of the find spot – who knows what the next turn of the plough will reveal! It can only be a guess, but when these coins were originally lost, could they have been secured by some kind of string now disintegrated? It certainly looked as though the coins had been pierced with a nail or punch because of the crudeness of the hole and deformation of the metal. And what about the significance of those holed coins found on one of the most holy days of the year?
The real answer to the crude holes is probably to do with the Great Recoinage of 1696, one of the greatest monetary events in history as explained below.
RECOINAGE OF 1696 – From UKDFD
The coin is nail-bored in the centre, probably as a consequence of measures taken during the Great Recoinage of 1696 (albeit not truly a hammered coin at which the provision was aimed):
“Persons having unclipt hammered Monies before 10th Feb. 1695, to cause the same to be punched.; After 10th Feb. no unclipt hammered Monies to be current unless so punched.; Receiving, &c. such appearing to be clipt; Penalty; Quarter Sessions empowered to determine Offences.
And in regard such of the Coins of this Realme formerly made with the Hammer and not by the Mill and Presse and which doe att this time remain Whole and Unclipt will still bee most liable and subject to that pernicious Crime of Clipping or Rounding by wicked Persons who regard their owne unjust Lucre more then the Preservation of their native Countrey. For the better Prevention thereof bee it further enacted by the. Authority aforesaid That every Person having such unclipt hammered Moneys in his her or their Hands…doe before the Tenth Day of February One thousand six hundred ninety five or before they dispose of the same cause such unclipt Moneys to bee struck through about the Middle of every Piece with a solid Punch that shall make a Hole without diminishing the Silver And that after the said Tenth Day of February noe unclipt hammered Moneys (that is to say) such Pieces as have both Rings. or the greatest part of the Letters appearing thereon shall bee Current unlesse it be soe struck through And if any Piece struck through shall appeare afterwards to bee clipt noe Person shall tender or receive the same in Payment under the Penalty of. forfeiting as much as the clipt Moneys soe puncht through shall amount to in Tale to bee recovered to the Use of the Poor of the Parish where such Money shall bee soe tendred or received And His Majesties Justices of the Peace or the major part of them in the General Quarter Session upon Complaint to bee made to them of such Offence are hereby impowered to take Cognizance thereof and to determine the same and for that purpose to cause the Parties complained of to appear before them and in case of Conviction to issue their Warrant or Warrants to levy such Penalty upon the Goods and Chattells of the Offenders”
After finding similar holed coins, detectorist Paul Mower has an alternative explanation. The field in which his coins were found had a connection with a site of public gallows. He reckons that when thieves and forgers were hanged, a coin was nailed to the gallows as a reminder of their misdemeanour. It left them in no doubt as to the reason for the death penalty. Paul also said that a similar situation existed within the Royal Navy. A sailor found to be thieving from the ship’s provisions or another crew member would often be hung from the yard arm, a coin affixed to the timber …
Paul’s theory was new to me and as I couldn’t corroborate his story, I decided to ask best-selling author of medieval thrillers, Karen Maitland, if she could add anything. I’ve read all of Karen’s works and was particularly interested in The Gallows Curse, as I know that her research into each book she writes is meticulous. Here’s what she said:
I’ve had a look through my books but can’t see any reference that one specifically. It seems highly likely since whatever the punishment, the symbol of or evidence of it was usually hung round their neck or nailed to the pillory or gallows both to remind the criminal. More importantly to warn as passers-by of the penalties for such a crime especially as many would not be able to read.
There was also the superstitious belief in the Middle Ages and probably later too, that if you attached the evidence or symbol of the crime to the condemned body or put it on the gallows or on the gibbet or in the grave with them, the devil would recognise it and take them straight to hell where they would be punished. This would ensure the vengeful ghost wouldn’t hang around the town or village and torment the living. So even when the authorities themselves didn’t do it, they are tales of villagers or townsfolk taking it upon themselves to do put evidence of the crime on or near the corpse for the devil to spot as he flew over.
I mentioned Karen in an earlier blog post entitled She Didn’t Wear Knickers. I hasten to add that this provocative title was a reference to Jane Austen … but you’ll have to read it to understand the context! Unfortunately, the original post was lost, but I hope top resurrect it sometime in the near future.
NB: NO COINS WERE HURT IN THE PREPARATION OF THIS BLOGPOST
The ‘coin’ picture above was made with an imitation spade guinea made from brass that I bought from the local market for the princely sum of 10p. They were made in huge numbers during the 19th century for use as gaming counters or for advertising. SEE HERE. Some examples copy very closely the design of a proper George III guinea and are occasionally mistaken by detectorists for the real thing!