Rome’s Golden Legacy

For avid collectors and history enthusiasts alike, the charm of medieval artifacts is undeniable. One such treasure is the Roman gold ducat pendant, a remarkable piece with a rich history that captures the essence of medieval craftsmanship and religious significance.

The Roman gold ducat, inspired by the Venetian model, was minted with intricate designs showing a Roman senator kneeling before St. Peter on one side, and Christ within a star-filled oval on the reverse. The Venetian ducat’s influence is clear, yet the Roman coin stands out due to its unique adaptations and its association with the Roman Senate’s introduction of gold coinage. Unlike the Florentine florin, which was protected from imitation by the city’s financial controllers, the Roman ducat closely followed the Venetian design, making it a fascinating study in medieval monetary politics.

Over the centuries, the Popes altered the designs but maintained the ducat’s weight and size, producing these coins into the 16th century. Due to their pure gold content, many were melted down for new coinage, rendering surviving examples rare and highly valuable. This particular ducat, now mounted as a pendant, showcases its historical and artistic heritage. Interestingly, the reverse side shows Christ upside down, and a small hole punched to the side could have been a test of the coin’s authenticity, as soft gold would easily show such marks.

Strike Gold with Ancient Silver

Ancient coins are more than just currency; their beauty and historical significance often outlast their monetary value. Take, for instance, this silver tetradrachm from the reign of Ptolemy VIII (145-116 BC), King of Egypt and son of Cleopatra I. This coin, featuring the king’s profile on one side and an eagle on the reverse, has been transformed into a swivel brooch, showcasing its intricate designs as wearable art. Notably, the eagle side bears strike marks, evidence that the coin was tested for its silver content in antiquity. These marks, ironically, preserved the coin by deeming it of lower value, making it perfect for jewelry. This unique piece illustrates how historical artifacts can find new life and appreciation through their aesthetic appeal.

Quelle pièce!

‘What a coin!’ indeed… This beautifully preserved 20 franc coin from the reign of Louis XVIII is in a capsule, boxed, graded and certified with a potted history of why it’s so special.

Amazingly, this rare coin was actually minted in London by our own Royal Mint. Used by the British army to pay their troops in France who had been fighting Napoleon’s army until 1815, it caused consternation among the French equivalent of our Royal Mint. In all, some 871,581 such coins were struck but many were smelted for their gold content. Such a coin can be identified by the profile of the French King on the obverse with the crowned arms on the reverse inside a wreath. On the same side we can see the ‘R’ mintmark for the Royal Mint.

Sally Ann Tokens

Manufactured at the Salvation Army’s Spa Road Centre in London, these tokens were distributed to all the men’s social work centres around Britain. Stamped with ‘F’ and ‘S’ (for Food and Shelter), they were designed to be given out to those in most need – often in return for a chore or small service. They could then be exchanged for provisions or a roof for the night at any of their branches. Such a system allowed the organisation to ensure that their resources weren’t over allocated.

They are still waging war on poverty over a century and a half after William Booth, a Methodist preacher, first began his ministry in the East End of London. It can trace its origin to the Blind Beggar pub, still present on Whitechapel Road, and more recently notorious as the spot where Ronnie Kray murdered George Cornell. More happily, it enjoys the distinction of being the site where the first modern Brown Ale was brewed!

In for a penny…

It might be the chance find of an old Victorian penny at home but once the numismatics bug bites, it never ends there. And just like old librarians, old coins are often more valuable than they appear at face value. As we’ve covered on this blog before, there’s always the chance that something worth far, far more than its face value crops up in your change – although with electronic money becoming the norm these days that’s becoming increasingly unlikely!

What you can be sure of is a ready source of advice, expertise and more coins(!) at the country’s only weekly collectors’ fair. Our dealers are always keen to help and have some real rarities among their stock. So why not come on down this Saturday – you never know what you might find!

The Root of All Money

The introduction of new coins or banknotes usually excites a lot of public and media interest but have you ever wondered about the first coin produced? While we know that various early people were bartering for things they prized at least 40,000 years ago, currency as a representation of inherent value is more difficult to pin down. We do know that some natural objects were used in this way, like mother of pearl shells in the Americas or cowry shells (pictured) in many parts of Africa and Southern Asia. In 1892, in Tanzania, an egg cost between 3 and 5 cowry shells while two balls of soap cost 100.

Yet the first named currency is the Mesopotamian shekel which dates from about 5,000 years ago. Yet we do not have any physical examples until the shekel was first minted in the seventh century BCE. As it stands, the earliest example we have is the Lydian Lion (on display in the British Museum right here in London). Made of electrum, an alloy of gold and silver, it is stamped on one side only and believed to have been worth about one month’s pay.

Three Hundred Years of Promising to Pay the Bearer…

The Bank of England was founded in 1694. Over the following century more than 100 provincial banks were established, creating a treasure trove of collectables for the modern notaphilist.

The Newcastle Bank, the Whitehaven Joint Stock Bank, the Manchester and Liverpool District Bank and the Leeds Old Bank are just a few of these. The flowing lines, subtle shading and fine script is a testament to the considerable financial power they once bore. Their relatively high denominations at the time meant that many people in the eighteenth – and even early nineteenth – century might never see a banknote their whole lives.

Prices inevitably reflect rarity and condition. As an example, a £5 note featuring York Minster and issued by Leyburn Bank for the York City & County Banking Company Limited in April 1899 came to auction in 2021. The note was one of the last examples issued by an English provincial bank and sold for £1,984.

Someone’s going to need a bigger pocket

The Royal Mint has been commissioned by a private collector to make a unique coin commemorating Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. It is the largest coin produced by the Royal Mint in its 1,100 year history. But with a weight of 15 kilos and a face value of £15,000, it’s unlikely you’ll see it in your change at the newsagents.

It took 400 hours to make and it’s very hard to put a figure on its real value because there is simply nothing else like it. The front depicts the royal insignia surrounded by symbols of the four home nations while the reverse shows the queen on horseback.

Coining It In

Imagine if you didn’t spend any of the change you received in coins. Instead you put it into a ‘sovereign’ size champagne bottle holding 25 litres (equivalent to 33 standard bottles). It takes you five years but in the end you do fill it up. How much money have you saved?

While the answer might be slightly different if you’re using UK currency, one Austrian user of the social media platform, Reddit, has given us a guide. He photographed his haul and invited others to guess the total value of all the euro, two euro and various cents he’d amassed. Their estimates varied between €430 and €2,500 were way off. The actual amount was roughly €7,000 or £5,900.

This is partly because several coins are worth more than face value. A number are special commemorative coins and others (from the Vatican City State or San Marino) are comparatively rare.

A chance to cash in on the cashless society? Possibly. You might need to save up for that 25 litre champagne bottle first…

Serial Thrillers

It would be a terrible omission to mention collecting banknotes (as we did on last week’s blog) without a follow up post one of the most collectable aspects of notaphily: serial numbers. Significant sums have changed hands for the rights to own notes which are considered to bear statistically significant numbers. Take the example of the (then new) £10 note issued in 2017 featuring Jane Austen. Because one eagle eyed opportunist spotted that the serial number began AH (a rare prefix) and contained 1775, the year of Austen’s birth. It sold on Ebay for £3,600.

Several online articles appeared in the wake of the sale, speculating that serial numbers containing the exact date of her birth or death might also fetch “thousands”. Readers were also advised to be on the lookout for notes featuring the prefixes JA01 and JA75 but reports of how much money could be made were certainly exaggerated and haven’t been borne out by events.

It’s generally accepted that sound advice is to watch out for the lowest serial number for any new note. There is a queue since convention dictates that number AA01 000001 is always given to the Queen and the next few are often distributed to the heir apparent and leading figures in the government. However, any number below 200 could fetch good money at auction so it’s almost worth seeing every banknote as a potential lottery ticket. Good luck!