The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 26, Number 9, February 26, 2023, Article 22


In an email to customers last week, Allan Davisson previewed Anglo-Saxon coins in the upcoming March 1st 2023 Davissons Ltd. Auction 42. -Editor

Some things come around just once in a generation. Or even more rarely.

Pat Zabel's Collection of Anglo-Saxon Coins of the British Isles is one such shiny thing — an opportunity here for just a few more days. Then, on March 1, gone over the course of a few hours.

The vast array of rare Anglo-Saxon sceats and pennies that Pat found over many years of searching is the centerpiece of our auction this time, and a significant event in British numismatics. The quality and variety is breathtaking.

Eighth through eleventh century England was a tumultuous time when Christianity and paganism fought for the heads and hearts of the British people. (The Netflix series The Last Kingdom, based on the series of books by Richard Cornwell, brought it to life for us while biking inside on our winter stands last year.)

  Davisson 42 Anglo-Saxon 1
  Davisson 42 Anglo-Saxon 2

The thirty-one sceats that open the Anglo-Saxon section along with the three gold thrymsas at the beginning of the sale form an unusually large and significant representation of this early form of currency. Metcalf (Thrymsas and Sceattas in the Ashmoleon Museum Oxford) notes that There are about a hundred distinct varieties of English sceattas, minted during a period of a little less than a hundred years.

This collection offers a significant percentage of the series. And Pat Zabel's focus on quality makes the assemblage even more remarkable. (The later sceatta coinage and continental Anglo-Saxon issues will be featured in our Spring E-Auction 46.)

Moving on to the pennies—The finely trimmed round, thin-flan denier type coinage that emerged after the influence of Charlemagne offers a rich panoply of style and design that ranks high in the history of numismatic artistry. The collection includes portrait pennies of Cuthred, Beornwulf, Burgred, Aethelbert, Aethelred I, Alfred the Great, Edward the Martyr, Harold I, Harthacnut, Edward the Confessor, and Harold II.

  Davisson 42 Anglo-Saxon 3

The searing ambivalence of the St. Peter's Coinage penny (lot 281)–the struggle to reconcile Christianity with the Nordic pagan invasion into Britain–is eloquently captured here with the sword of St. Peter on one side and the hammer of Thor on the other. (I handled this in the 1990's and was happy to have it come around again, something I can happily report about a substantial number of these pieces.)

  Davisson 42 Anglo-Saxon 4

The flowery grace of the design on the coin of Offa (lot 274) whose reign boasted a broad range of designs.

  Davisson 42 Anglo-Saxon 5

The portraiture of various reigns, including the superb Edward the Martyr (lot 292)—distinctive for each, even though there was no apparent effort at realism. (Contrast this rich variety with the repetitious portraiture of the Plantagenets that prevailed until the Tudors finally changed things.)

  Davisson 42 Anglo-Saxon 6

The scarcity of so many of these coins made estimating particularly challenging. I strive to estimate at a level that I believe fairly reflects a reasonable level in today's market. To take a prime example, prices on the marvelously pedigreed Beornwulf penny (lot 276) are available for ten pieces sold since 2007. Prices for the 6 intact pieces (the other four sold were fragments) ranged from about $3500 for a piece that had been lightly tooled and gilded to a piece at Spink with a pedigree back to 1807 that sold for nearly $30,000 in 2018. The 2023 Spink catalog value on the piece in VF is £6000. The approach fairest to both seller and buyer, I decided, was to estimate at a level that is not off-putting to a potential bidder but also a fair return to Pat's estate. With such a small sample, some kind of median price makes more sense than using an extreme—a possible outlier value. (I sold the piece to him in November of 2000 for $4500.)

I could discuss many of the rest of these rarities in similar detail. I am impressed again by the quality of the material and I am also impressed that values have gone up dramatically for choice coins from the Anglo-Saxon era.

What great fun you must have had putting this together! was the e-mail message I got from one long-time and prominent collector of British hammered coins.

He was spot on. For me, it has been a terrific opportunity and great pleasure.

And now, after nearly a quarter century together, it is humbling to contemplate that in less than two weeks' time a new generation of stewards will take possession of these remarkable artifacts of their long-ago age, and they will be spread to the four winds.

  Davisson 42 Anglo-Saxon 7 Aethelred I
Aethelred I (lot 284)
  Davisson 42 Anglo-Saxon 8 Eadwig
Eadwig (lot 290)

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