You never know what you might find when you open an old drawer in the study of a National Trust property; like this stunning collection of old coins, for example
Imagine finding this stash of ancient coins stuffed in the back of a drawer; this is exactly what happened when volunteers at Scotney Castle went searching for photographs in a study.
The stumbled upon discovery, which experts are describing as a “significant and diverse collection”, comprises a grouping of rarely encountered coins that dates back through the Roman period to Ancient Greece.
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The vast collection, tucked away out of sight at the National Trust property in Kent, comprises 186 coins in total and spans twenty-five centuries of history.
It includes pieces from far-flung locations across the globe, including Syria and China. Others come from closer to home, including a late eighteenth century Welsh bronze token.
Research into family diaries in the archive suggests the coins were amassed during the nineteenth century by avid collector Edward Hussey III and his son Edwy. The Hussey family called Scotney Castle home for 200 years until it was left to the National Trust, who opened the mansion house to visitors in 2007.
The diary entries reveal Edward and Edwy’s dedication to the coin collection. An entry in Edwy’s diary recorded on February 2 1883 reveals how he “went to the British Museum with papa as he wanted to ask about some coins”. On 28th October 1894 Edwy “looked at the coin collection after dinner”.
The records also give insight into the purchase value of the collection in the nineteenth century. In Edward’s diary from 1823 the ‘Accounts’ section lists him purchasing ‘Coins’ priced from 4 shillings to 7 shillings and 6 pence.
Suggesting greater ambitions still for the collection, Edward’s memoranda books include a list of coins he wanted relating to English monarchs, alongside those outstanding from the Roman era.
The bulk of the collection is made up of Roman coins, ranging from the late second century BC to the late fourth century AD and it is possible that the Husseys, like many collectors, were trying to gather a ‘complete set’ of Roman rulers.
Despite the difficulty of this – Roman succession was complex and many coins of the shorter reigns very rare – they were close to achieving it.
Julian Bowsher, the MOLA numismatic specialist who examined the coins said it was “a delight, as a coins specialist to examine such a significant and diverse collection”.
“A particular highlight was seeing Roman coins that rarely appear in Britain” he added, “such as those of the 3rd century emperors Balbinus, Pupienus and Aemilian, none of whom ruled for more than a year.”
The Hussey’s collection of first century emperors (leaving out empresses and caesars) is missing just one piece whilst the second century collection is remarkable too, again only lacking a single coin of the short lived Didius Julianus who reigned in AD 193.
The oldest coin in the collection is a silver token from Archaic Greece and the seventh century BC
But just like today, the business of collecting in the 19th century one was a tricky one, and the collection contains a forgery – a 19th century western copy of a denarius coin of the short lived Roman emperor Otho. Signs of forgery include the coin being cast rather than struck, with edges filed to disguise this leaving an uncharacteristic flat edge. Genuine Otho coins, only minted in gold and silver, are very rare.
The oldest coin in the collection is a silver token from Archaic Greece and the seventh century BC. The quarter stater is one of the earliest struck in Europe and comes from the tiny island of Aegina. It features a clear depiction of a sea turtle – a creature sacred to Aphrodite.
A coin that seems out of place in the collection in terms of origin and age, is a nonetheless beautiful Welsh penny token dating to 1787 featuring a hooded bust of a Druid within a thick oak leaf wreath with one acorn below the tie. It has text on its reverse that reads: ‘We promise to pay the bearer one penny, 1787’ and on the rim: ‘On demand in London, Liverpool or Anglesey.’
As to the moment of discovery of this impressive numismatic haul, Henrike Philipp, part of the volunteer team that found it, says, “The Hussey family lived at Scotney for two centuries and collected a wealth of objects and memorabilia.
“Ever since the Trust took on the house we’ve been discovering things in drawers, cupboards and in the mansion archives, such as medieval papers, First World War diaries and books by celebrated landscape gardener William Gilpin.
“Discoveries of rare coins such as these don’t happen often, so this has been especially exciting. We can’t wait to see what we will find next.”
The coins are now on display as part of a new exhibition, Inside the Collection, celebrating ten years since the Trust opened the Scotney Castle mansion to visitors. Other objects on show include beautiful Ming vases, and letters from Wallis Simpson and Margaret Thatcher who both had close connections to the house.
Inside the Collection is open 11am to 3pm for visitors to Scotney Castle until February 4 2018. Access is by timed ticket and is free with admission.
Scotney Castle - National Trust
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
The moated 14th century castle and landscape of Scotney together make this one of England's most romantic places. Created in the 1830s by Edward Hussey who had the imagination to transform the medieval Scotney Castle from derelict dwelling to quaint ruin, thus forming the focus of his picturesque landscape garden,…