Venetian coins

In 2009, the British Numismatic Journal published an article I wrote on medieval and post-medieval Venetian coins found in England. These tiny silver coins – known as ‘soldini’ were used as unofficial small change. They were illegally imported into England on Venetian merchant galleys (hence their nickname ‘the galley halfpence’), but in spite of being illegal tender, they were nonetheless widely used.

My article in 2009 was based on 236 examples known in England. Today (15th September 2020), there are now 1161 examples. Seems like a good time for a review of the evidence.

Venetian soldini came into England in two waves: the first arrived 1400–c.1415 under Doge Michele Steno, and the second c.1501–21 under Doge Leonardo Loredan. The table below shows the number of coins (dateable to a Doge) recorded in my article in 2009, and also the number of coins now known today.

Overall, the coinage remains the same today as it was known in 2009. The first incursion into England is still dominated by coins of Michele Steno, while the second is still dominated by coins of Leonardo Loredan. Likewise, the incursions retract significantly after Steno and Loredan. In my article of 2009, I suggested that the coins of the doges prior to Steno came to England as worn coins within batches of coins dating from 1400 at the earliest. The pattern of coinage still suggests this, although to the corpus we can now also add a coin of Andrea Dandalo (1343-54), Lorenzo Celsi (1361-65), and Andrea Contarini (1367-82), pushing the dates back around 40 years than was known at the time of the 2009 survey. We also now have four examples of soldini from Francesco Foscari (1423-57). These latter coins show that coins of the first incursion took a bit longer to tail off that first thought in 2009 (but only perhaps by a few years).

And what about their distribution? Well, the first incursion looks pretty much the same as it did on 2009, but fuller. The second has a few coins pushing the distribution into Northumberland in the north, and Cumbria in the North West. There are also now coins from Cornwall (p.s. if anyone in Cornwall wants me to give them a talk on Venetian coins, just give me a call. I will do a talk for free in exchange for accommodation and perhaps a burger at Rosie’s in Bude).

Back in 2009, my article had the captivating title of ‘The circulation and prohibition of Venetian soldini in late medieval England’. The stats from 2020 show that there is little more to add to the story. While this is not exciting news, it does show that the PAS data from 2009 was already representative of the pattern demonstrated 11 years later and with five times more evidence.

PAS data is good. Long live the PAS.

Published by Dr Adam Daubney

Independent archaeological finds specialist. Research interests in the public discovery of portable antiquities and treasure.

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