“This is a very important coin,” says Christopher Webb, head of the coins department at Dix Noonan Webb. “It is one of the first to be struck bearing the head of a Scottish monarch and so represents a key moment in the development of independent Scotland. Furthermore it is a unique type never seen before and so is an exciting find in terms of the history of coinage.”
Steve, the metal detectorist who discovered the coin, says: “I am thrilled to bits, absolutely delighted. It is the best thing I have ever found and I started as a detectorist 42 years ago when I was just 12 years old.” Steve, who comes from north-east England, has asked for his surname not to be revealed.
Steve first identified the field in County Durham where he discovered the David I penny as a potential source of finds about 30 years ago when he was told by an archaeologist that there had been a medieval village there. However for many years he was unable to get permission to go detecting on the site. A couple of years ago he heard that some of the fields had been bought by an old school friend and on approaching him was given the go-ahead to search.
The fields quickly yielded pennies from the reigns of the English kings Edward I and Edward III, a couple of Elizabethan coins, two modern gold rings and a large number of bullets. But it was not until May this year when Steve switched his attention from the corner of the field that he had been concentrating on to its centre that he made his most important find. A faint signal led him to unearth a coin buried about nine inches below the surface. He immediately knew that he had found a coin from the Norman period and took it home.
After three hours of looking through his reference books, Steve still had not been able to identify the coin, although it seemed likely to be a type of penny minted during the reign of Henry I, who ruled England from 1100 to 1135. However further research, including an approach to a leading expert at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, revealed that the head on the coin was not that of Henry but represented his Scottish contemporary David I.
The coin would have been struck some time after the Scots invaded England in 1136 to intervene on the side of Matilda in her war against Stephen to decide who should succeed to the English throne. The invaders captured Carlisle and its mint where the first ever Scottish coins were struck in the name of David I. Although such coins have been found before, the one discovered by Steve is a previously unknown transitional type combining an early obverse (front) with a later reverse. It is unique and so of interest to museums and historians as well as collectors. “I could not believe it, I didn’t know what to say when I found out,” says Steve.
The coin was almost certainly dropped in the medieval village which Steve was tipped off about by the archaeologist and may have lain in the soil for almost 900 years. In the 12th century this was in the area of Northumbria granted to David I under the Treaty of Durham in 1139. Later this year the field will be ploughed for the first time in living memory and the coin might not have survived that modern mechanical intrusion. Steve’s discovery of this piece of Scottish coinage history is therefore well-timed.
Dix Noonan Webb Ltd is one of the world’s leading specialist auctioneers and valuers of coins, tokens, medals, militaria and paper money of all types. Established in 1990, the company boasts over 250 years' combined experience in this field and stages regular auctions throughout the year.
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