Incised coins AD1558-1649

In 2016 a hoard of 1200 post-medieval silver coins were found at Ewerby, Lincolnshire. The coins date to the 16th and 17th centuries and span the reigns of Henry VIII to Charles I.

Several coins within the hoard had deep scratches on one or both sides. These scratches took the form of stars, lines, crosses, or zig-zags. Each seems to have been carefully placed, either to damage the image of the ruler, or to convey information to its owner.

A cursory search of the Portable Antiquities Scheme database showed that this phenomenon was not confined to the Ewerby hoard, but is also found on coins of the period across England. Other numismatists have noticed similar coins turning up in hoards from across England and Wales.

On the 16th November 2021 I posted a thread on Twitter which pulled together a few thoughts and questions. I think there is a really interesting bigger project here pulling together all of the examples and looking at the chronology, issues, and motifs on these coins.

Here’s the Twitter thread:

Here’s a thread about some strange markings on post-medieval silver coins found in England. I’ve got a database of over 40 examples, and here are just a few to get the Twitter hive thinking…(all photos from @findsorguk)

A small proportion of coins of Elizabeth I (1558-1603), James I (1603-1625), and Charles I (1625-1649) found in England have strange scratch marks on them. These are not just the sort of thing that happens when you pull a coin across a table. Oh no. Ho no. They are knife marks.

These marks are seen on coins where the bust seems to have been rubbed or filed away. They are also seen on coins where the bust is clear. Many cuts are in front of the bust. They can go vertically, diagonally, or even look like they are emanating from the nose or eyes.

On other coins the cuts are placed over the bust as if to say ‘you’re cancelled’. These can be crosses, grids, or angry slashes.

And yet, on other coins, the cuts do not seem to interfere with the portrait at all.

There are many coins of this period where the portrait appears to have been deliberately defaced, but these cuts seem to be something different. Indeed, on a few examples you get a nice little star instead of an angry line.

“Do you also get cuts on the reverses of coins” I hear you say? Yes, you do! And here it gets even weirder. In some cases, the coins are marked above the shield. You sometimes see ‘XX’ (see previous tweet), or two stars.

Several coins in the Ewerby hoard (Lincs) had other ‘value’ marks. One coin is marked with ‘IIII’ above the shield, while another is marked ‘V’.

These cut marks are not accidental, nor do they appear to be marks left from cutting (?paper) while using the coin as a solid base. They are clearly communicating something to the owner. But what?

Are the coins being revalued? Or perhaps used as tallies? Or checked? Or is there something ritualistic happening here?

They are found across England and appear in hoards and as single finds. There’s probably a good answer for these cut marks that someone can give? Maybe they are the result of many different actions, rather than one single motivator? Thank you @findsorguk for the pics.

Published by Dr Adam Daubney

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

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