World Coins

Rare silver penny from the 12th century in September auction

A rare silver penny from medieval England is being offered Sept. 16 in Dix Noonan Webb’s auction. One of 25 pieces known, it was found in 2018 by a metal detectorist.

Images courtesy of Dix Noonan Webb.

An extremely rare silver penny of Stephen and his wife Matilda — who fought with his cousin the Empress Matilda for the throne in the 12th century — is to be offered by Dix Noonan Webb in a live/online auction on Sept. 16.

Discovered by metal detectorist Graeme Rushton on Oct. 20, 2018, on the border of South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, using a Teknetics G2+ metal detector, the coin is one of only 25 known examples and is estimated to realize £5,000 to £10,000 ($6,574 to $13,144 U.S.).

Rushton, who is 50 years old and lives in South Cumbria, has been detecting since he was 8 years old. Ten years ago, he decided to start his own shop called Unearthed, which sells metal detectors.

Finding the rarity

Rushton said, according to a press release from the auction house, “It was only my second visit to the site which had just been ploughed and flattened. After about 45 minutes walking up a slight rise in the field, I got a signal, and after digging down five to six inches, I uncovered the coin which at first I didn’t recognise. It was only after showing pictures of it to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge that I realised how significant the discovery was.”

The coin has on the obverse the legend “STIENS” with standing figures of Stephen and Matilda facing each other supporting a tall scepter between them, while on the reverse is a cross fleury over cross pommee with various ornaments around. The coin was minted in York in the early 1140s and is in Very Fine condition.

Stephen of Blois was the grandson of William I, and became King of England on Dec. 22, 1135, to his death in 1154.

For almost all of the 19 years of his reign, a civil war raged with his cousin Matilda. The English Royalist Barons supported him, while the Angevin French supporters backed Matilda, the daughter of Henry I of England, who had nominated her as heir to the throne. Stephen, however, claimed that his uncle had changed his mind on his deathbed, recognizing Stephen as his successor.

The find-spot was not far from where the Battle of Lincoln took place in February 1141, between Stephen and Matilda’s half-brother Robert, Earl of Gloucester. Stephen was defeated, captured and imprisoned for six months in Bristol Castle before an exchange enabled his release.

In 1153, Stephen agreed to accept Matilda’s son Henry as his heir, thus ending the conflict, which became known as the Anarchy.

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