Year of the Goat
Volume 52, Number 2, February 2015
Defining “worth” THE recent announcement that a hoard of some 5,000-plus Anglo-Saxon pennies had been discovered, just before Christmas, by a metal detectorist in Buckinghamshire was treated rather differently by different factions of the press. Inevitably the tabloids and their on-line counterparts initially focussed on the idea of “buried treasure” and how rich the finder was likely soon to be. But the more respectable media outlets spoke about the historical importance of the hoard, explaining how rare the coins from the reigns of Aethelred II (978–1016) and Cnut (1016–35) actually are (especially in the condition that those in the newly-found hoard are), why such hoards were lost/buried in the first place and what happens next in terms of Treasure law, etc. Unfortunately it wasn’t long before somebody, somewhere, mentioned that such a discovery could be worth over that magic figure—£1 million. On paper, of course, they are right, but there’s always the danger of too much supply and too little demand, so we will have to wait and see what happens with prices if the hoard comes up for sale as separate coins. As we go to press it is too early to know what is going to happen to them. But as soon as that magic figure was mentioned, then all bets were off—there was no more talk of the importance of the coins, no more talk of hoards or their purpose, instead it was all about how much these things were worth. Don’t believe me? Well check the story out on-line, I can pretty much guarantee that if the potential value of the hoard isn’t mentioned in the headline then it will be mentioned in the first line of the copy. Sadly the same seems to be true of most “coin news” these days (outside of the news we bring you of course). Look at the recent media stories about new issues. The “dateless” 20p (2008), the Kew Gardens 50p (2009), the “drowning swimmer” Olympic 50p (2011)—stories about them all hit the newspapers/ news-sites/TV and each one was accompanied by talk of how much each coin rarity/anomaly was worth. You can pretty much guarantee that the news of the recent 50p incongruity (that the coins in the 2015 sets are denomination-free whereas those for general circulation will proudly declare that they are 50 pences!) will also only be granted space in a newspaper or “airtime” if somebody suggests that there’s money to be made somewhere along the line. As a keen numismatist I’m not sure how I feel about this. I am not sure how I feel when the one question on everyone’s lips when talking about coins seems to be “what’s it worth?”. Of course, the value of a coin is hugely important—we wouldn’t produce the COIN YEARBOOK if it wasn’t—but we like to think that people buying such price-guides are doing so because they have an interest beyond simply how much profit they can make. Then again isn’t it good that people are talking about coins at all? In this day and age where the traditional hobbies and pastimes we all grew up with are being pushed aside by the ubiquitous screens clutched by all and sundry, and where there is so much news circulating all around us that information overload is a very real problem, it has to be a good thing to get a look-in at all. And yes, I know that “£1 million hoard found” is probably a far more appealing headline than “Historically important hoard found”, but I wish it wasn’t and I wish that occasionally the journalists and newsreaders would see beyond the price of things and look at their real value. At least we all know what the true value is, and it is that that keeps us collecting.
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