Suffolk silver penny

A small assemblage of metalwork recently came into our Suffolk office from a site near Creeting St Peter, in Suffolk. Among it was a 12th century silver penny, discovered during metal detecting of the site’s topsoil.

The coin is an issue of Henry II (1154-1189) and corresponds to the cross-crosslets or ‘Tealby’ type, dating to c. 1158-1161. Numismatists refer to coins of this type as ‘Tealby’ pennies because a large hoard of them was discovered near the village of Tealby, Lincolnshire, in 1807, containing over 6000 coins! Sadly the vast majority were melted down at the Tower of London, with only the best examples (numbering in the hundreds) being acquired by museums or collectors of the day.

Suffolk silver penny

Tealby pennies are relatively common finds in England, quite frequently being found by metal detectorists – a fair number have been voluntarily reported to both the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and Early medieval Corpus (EMC) databases since their inception. However, they are rarely preserved in such good condition as this example. Most are of quite crude style and were badly struck. They were produced, as with most English coins up to the year 1662, by hand-hammering – a silver blank being placed between a pair of engraved iron dies and struck with a hammer to produce an image on each side of it, thus creating a coin.

The obverse of the coin (heads) depicts the facing, crowned, and mantled bust of Henry, holding a cross-tipped sceptre in his right hand. Around this design, the abbreviated Latin inscription ‘hENRI REX [AN]GL’ (Henricus Rex Anglorum – Henry, King of England) can be read. On the reverse (tails), the central design of a cross pattée can be seen, with a smaller cross (called a crosslet) in each angle; a pelleted border surrounds this design. The reverse of this coin is helpful in that it details the name of the mint and the moneyer under whose administrative authority it was struck. This method of quality control, enabling the accurate ‘sourcing’ of coins back to their manufacture point, was used on the vast majority of English coinage struck from around the later 8th century until the late 13th century.

Suffolk silver penny

Typically, the reverse inscription on pennies of this type will begin by naming the moneyer, followed by the word ‘ON’ (at) and then the mint signature – these words usually (helpfully) being separated by colons. The mint signature is an abbreviation of the mint’s name that can be anywhere from one to five letters in length. On this coin, while the first part containing the moneyer’s name is totally illegible, the remains can be read accurately: +[…]:ON:CANT. This indicates that the coin was struck at the Canterbury mint, ‘CANT’ being one of several mint signatures used to indicate that a coin was struck there.

Henry II was the grandson of Henry I – the youngest son of William the Conqueror. His father was Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, and his mother was Matilda, Henry I’s only legitimate daughter. He came to the throne only after a protracted civil war (for most of which he was a child) fought primarily between his mother and her supporters against Stephen, Count of Boulogne, who had taken the English throne in a coup after Henry I’s death. Crowned in 1154, Henry spent much of his early reign rebuilding the English realm, while also focusing on expanding his extensive territories in France. A shrewd economic and legal reformer with a purportedly explosive temper, he is perhaps best remembered for his conflicts over matters of the church’s authority with his Archbishop of Canterbury – Thomas Becket. These would culminate in the latter’s controversial, brutal murder by four knights at the high altar of Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, and permanently tarnished Henry’s reputation both at home and overseas.

Alex Bliss

Our archaeological works were completed in association with Poundfield Precast.

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