Department of Coins and Medals

Hoards old and new

Time to make a cup of tea and reflect on what I’ve been doing today…

I recently started work as a post-doctoral researcher on an AHRC funded joint British Museum / Leicester University research project looking at Roman coin hoards. It’s a bit of a change for me from juggling two part-time jobs in the Department of Coins and Medals (cataloguing Greek and Roman coins in the Museum’s collection and dealing with Roman coin hoards going through the Treasure process). I’m enjoying the chance this project presents to take a step back and start to make sense of the data I’ve helped to create over the past few years, although I confess I slightly miss the big piles of corroded coins.

The last corpus of Roman coin hoards was published in 2000 and represented the life’s work of Anne S. Robertson. Since then there has been a steady increase in the number of Roman coin hoards reported as Treasure. The British Museum has a large archive of files containing detailed information on Treasure cases, many of which have not been published in detail. I am collating information for a new database on Roman coin hoards from Britain, starting with Robertson and the data held by the British Museum (some of which is now on the PAS website).

Today I have been sitting in front of a spreadsheet, continuing with the process of cleaning up the data and trying to get it into a consistent format. There are various problems thrown up by the existing record, from practical ones, such as the changes in British parish names and boundaries to more philosophical ones , such as what do we mean by a hoard?

A hoard on the PAS database.

A hoard on the PAS database.

As I go through Robertson’s data, I am increasingly in awe of the amount of work she undertook on this project without the on-line tools we have come to rely on. Web searches, mapping tools, on-line HER records and digitised newspapers mean it is now often easy to access information she gathered the hard way, but the hours she put in visiting museum collections and looking at material are so valuable still. Some of the records are less useful than others (my current favourite account of a hoard is “A cony drawing his yerth betwyxt Folkestan and Hyve did cast up antique mony” (J. Leland, Itinerary (1535-43), VIII, fol. 141)) but I am excited about the depth of contextual information we have even for some early finds. It’s great to be able to get back in touch with my archaeological background again, even if I’m still working indoors on a lovely day!

The Bitterley Hoard – Part Three – The Coins

PAS Logo

The coins in the Bitterley Hoard were analysed by Dr Barrie Cook and Henry Flynn of the Department of Coins and Medals, British Museum.

The summary of their report can be seen below.

The hoard comprised:

Edward VI, silver: 1 shilling


Elizabeth I, silver: 46 shillings




James I

  gold: 1 Britain crown;






silver: 4 half-crowns and 20 shillings







Charles I,

  Tower mint, silver: 31 half-crowns and 33 shillings






Charles I, provincial mints, silver: 1 half-crown

Charles I, Scottish coinage, silver: 1 30-shillings and 1 12-shillings

In total there are 1 gold and 137 silver coins. The gold was of the crown gold standard, 22 carat fine, and the silver of the traditional sterling standard over 90% fine metal. The face value of the silver coins was £9 6s., including the Scottish coins in English value terms; the single gold coin was originally worth 5s. but was later re-valued to 5s.6d., giving a total for the hoard of £9 11s.6d.

The latest coin is the Bristol half-crown dated 1643, produced between July 1643, when Bristol fell to Prince Rupert for the king, and March 1644. This places this group among the large number of hoards that were deposited in the early years of the English Civil War, never to be recovered until modern times.

The range of coins present is entirely consistent with such a date, with the appropriate representation of Tudor and early Stuart material. Apart from the gold coin, there are only two denominations present, the half-crown and shilling, making this a batch of quite highly selected material, without even sixpences, usually the third denomination present in large numbers in mid-17th century coin hoards.

The full Catalogue can be found here:

Further Reading:

Anyone interested in coin hoards from this period should have a look at the excellent study by Edward Besly.

E. Besly, 1988 English Civil War Coin Hoards British Museum Occasional Paper: 51 British Museum, London.

Peter Reavill

June 2012

A day in the life of a National Finds Adviser for the PAS

I work for the Portable Antiquities Scheme as the Deputy Finds Adviser for Iron Age and Roman coins and part time as a Roman Finds Adviser. It’s my job to help our national network of Finds Liaison Officers to identify and record all the tricky coins and artefacts brought in by metal detectorists to record and to emphasise their research potential. Every day working for the Scheme is different. The past couple of weeks have seen me give lectures at metal Detecting Clubs in Liverpool and the Wirral, attend a conference on Roman coins from Britain and record more than 1000 coins from new sites discovered throughout the country. This entry gives a snapshot of what I’ve been doing today.

9.15am: I arrive at work at the Department of Coins and Medals at the British Museum and spend the next half hour answering email queries from finders and Finds Liaison Officers. Answering queries is a major part of my role. Today, I’ve identified and referenced a couple of coins from the Isle of Wight, where the FLO, Frank Basford, works very hard with detectorists to record as many objects as possible. As a result, he has recorded more than 1500 Roman coins for the island which has totally changed our understanding of the Roman period there.
9.45am: I check in to the Finds Liaison Officers’ Finds Forum and leave a couple of opinions on objects posted there. One of the FLOs wants to know where he can find examples of iron Roman brooches, whilst another queries whether an unusual wire feature on the foot of a Roman brooch is a repair or part of its decoration. I make a note to flick through some Roman catalogues later to try and find parallels. I post a map of the distribution of Roman knee brooches recorded by the PAS which I’ve been working on and it provokes some interesting discussion from FLOs…
10.20am: I start putting together a provisional object and image list for a display on ‘Roman coins as religious offerings’ which will form part of a new Money Gallery at the British museum. I want to use a combination of objects from the museum’s collections and some reported through the PAS. I choose a selection of coins found in the River Thames at London Bridge, some cut and mutilated coins from a range of sites throughout the country and decide it would be a good idea to also have some artefacts too. I therefore email the curators in the Department of Prehistory and Europe to see whether they have any votive objects in their reserve collections which might be suitable. I’m hoping for a miniature object and a lead curse tablet!
1pm: Lunch and a bit of a rest!
2pm: I check up on my intern, Victoria, an MA student in Museum Studies from George Washington University. She’s spent the summer recording coins on the PAS database and scanning accompanying images and has done an amazing job, entering more than 1000 over the past month. We get a lot of help from students and volunteers and I hope they get as much out of it as we do!
2.30pm: Back to the museum display. I’ve just found out I have to write the general display text to accompany my finds by Monday. It’s only 80 words explaining the theme of my display but I think it’s going to be a bit of a challenge.
3pm: Start recording part of a large assemblage of coins from a site in Wiltshire which looks like it might be a Roman temple site. Amongst the coins are about 20 pierced with iron nails – possible evidence of a ritual practice I aim to investigate in more detail later. I add these coins to my spreadsheet of ‘mutilated coins’ recorded by the PAS and will come back to them next week when I start writing an article on ‘Cut and mutilated Roman coins recorded by the PAS’.
4pm: I start collecting together all the reference works and recording sheets that Victoria and I will need tomorrow. We’re going to a Finds Day in Sussex as part of a team of FLOs and PAS Finds Advisers to record coins and objects. Getting out and about to let people know about the Scheme is really important. We’re hoping to see some interesting finds and meet some new finders..