World Coins

American collector buys, donates hoard to museum

The Voerendaal hoard of medieval coins and the stoneware container they were found in was sold at auction, then donated to a museum in the Netherlands.

Image courtesy of Schulman b.v.

A medieval hoard of coins sold at auction in the Netherlands recently is going to stay in that country, thanks to the intervention of an American collector.

Northern California-based collector Richard Beleson bought the hoard in the Oct. 19 Schulman auction and donated it to the Limburgs Museum in Venlo, Netherlands, the local museum near where it was found.

The Voerendaal hoard contained 942 coins and realized a hammer price of €52,000 ($54,895 U.S.) against an estimate of €10,000 ($10,557 U.S.)

“While the price was higher than I was thinking, and I do not like to get into bidding wars, I had very strong feelings that the Limburgs Museum was exactly where it belonged, so I was determined to obtain it for the museum,” he told Coin World.

A collector since the age of 5, Beleson, 69, is a longtime member and former trustee of the American Numismatic Society.

“I do not collect medieval coins, but I have always had a fascination with metal detecting and coin hoards, and while I enjoy coin collecting, I think these finds belong in museums,” he said.

Beleson said the sale of the hoard, with the stoneware container in which it was found, offered a unique opportunity.

“Collectors sometimes get a bad rap, but we appreciate and care about the preservation of history just like the archaeologists, just in a different way,” he said.

He only knew of the sale because fellow collector Deven Kane posted an announcement about the sale in the Ancient and Medieval Coins Facebook group.

“When I read about the hoard on Facebook, I thought to myself, ‘This hoard really belongs in a museum in the Netherlands.’ ”

By chance, Beleson had visited the Netherlands last summer, to attend the International Congress on Roman Frontier Studies, which was hosted in Nijmegen. During the conference, he met and befriended professor Mark Driessen, from Leiden University.

Beleson reached out to Driessen for advice on the most suitable museum, which turned out to be the Limburgs Museum, which congress participants had visited on a side trip.

When he contacted the museum, officials there were already trying to determine how they could acquire the hoard.

About the hoard

Finding the Voerendaal hoard was spread over several years.

The unnamed finder used a metal detector on one of his fields and found a single coin in 2016 (the coin is an esterlin, struck in Leuven). He returned several more times, finding three additional esterlins in June 2016.

The majority of coins, hundreds of them, with a broken stone jar, were found at once, at an unidentified time in 2016 or 2017.

The jar measures 20 centimeters tall and dates to the late 13th century, and is typical of the pottery industry in South Limburg.

The hoard contains some variety in types and issues, though by far the largest part (782 pieces) of the find consists of early 14th century esterlins or sterlings.

The composition of this group is extremely homogeneous. All are of the Brabantinus type and only 20 of the esterlins were not from the mint in Leuven.

The hoard was likely buried sometime around 1331 to 1333, the auction house said.

The hoard also contains 14 rare imitations of Count John the Blind of Luxembourg, originating from the mint in Meraude (Poilvache), and German coins, 30 of which are so-called Cassiuspfennigen from the Cologne bishop Heinrich II von Virneburg.

The hoard could have been buried because of tensions between the Duchy of Brabant and the Prince-Bishopric of Liège, and their various supporters. Though some physical fighting occurred, a major engagement was avoided when Maastricht allowed Duke of Brabant Jan III’s army to pass through to Limburg.

“The different origins of the coins from the find match almost perfectly with the parties involved in the conflict,” according to Schulman. “Since finds of larger assemblages of coins are often linked to tumultuous periods, it is attractive to link the [tension] to the burial of the Voerendaal coin find.”

The finders of the Voerendaal hoard kept a modest number of examples from the overall hoard as a memento of their find, among them an esterlin from Namur (the only one in the hoard), one from Meraude, one from Brussels and several of the German pieces, consigning the rest to the auction house.

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