Volume 56, Number 10, October 2019
Two types of people THE recent unveiling of the Chew Valley Hoard of Norman Conquest era pennies at the British Museum seems to have caught the imagination of the public, or at least the press (see our own story on pages 38–40). Most newspapers, serious news websites and news programmes have covered the story recently (COIN NEWS’ own Phil was supposed to be on Sky TV discussing it but Boris Johnson’s speech ran long, or something, so viewers were spared that ordeal) but almost universally the subject was not about how important the coins were but rather how much they were worth. Experts were quoted extensively, explaining how much Harold II and William I pennies currently sold for, and from that the journalists extrapolated the value of the hoard, conveniently forgetting simple economics like supply and demand and rarity value (the hoard has vastly increased the number of Harold II pennies available—although this may all become irrelevant if the hoard is declared “Treasure” and/or it is sold to a museum and kept together). Of course, the value of a hoard like this will always be of interest to Joe and Joanna Public, after all, many people still think of metal detecting purely as “hunting for treasure” and treasure by its very nature is something of value—but the question has to be: what is it that we consider “valuable”? If we are looking just in pounds and pence terms there is no doubt that the Chew Valley find is valuable. Even taking into account the affect that a large number of coins coming on to the open market will have on prices, there are enough varieties and anomalies within the hoard to guarantee a substantial valuation should it be declared Treasure by the Treasure Valuation Committee (the assumption is it will be, but let’s wait and see). Various estimates, as high as £5 million, have been quoted, but even if the true value is 20 per cent of that, it’s still a million pounds! Quite a nice little earner for an afternoon’s digging. Of course, the finders only get to keep half of whatever money is raised, the other half would go to the landowner but even a share of £500,000 (there were two principal finders but others were helping, we’ll leave that little conundrum to them) isn’t to be sniffed at and it is this angle that the newspapers have inevitably focused on. That they do so is no surprise, the idea of finding buried treasure is romantic, it’s exciting, and will inevitably draw readers in, far more so than tales of how important the hoard might be historically. But historically important it is and, arguably, that is of far more value than the monetary terms in which the news stories have reported this find. The sheer volume of coins itself is of huge significance, as is the discovery of mints previously unrecorded for either William or Harold. The existence of mules (coins with obverses and reverses that shouldn’t match), is also hugely important and already theories abound as to why this might have happened. The hoard is, undoubtedly, a very significant discovery and it is very gratifying to learn that Adam Staples, one of the main finders, has gone on record to say that financial gain wasn’t the prime motivation when pursuing his hobby but rather he wanted to find something of “national importance”. There are, I think, two types of people who are interested in coins: those who look at them purely in terms of how much money can be made—whether that’s through spotting dealer’s mistakes at a fair, finding a dateless 20p in their change or digging up a hoard in a wet and muddy field—and those who look at them as interesting items in their own right. Whether that’s interesting from a historical perspective, a design perspective or simply an ”I enjoy getting a set of something” perspective doesn’t matter. What matters is the coins rather than their value. It is the latter group to whom I think most of us belong; we look at coins as far more than ways of making a profit and have an interest that goes far beyond monetary considerations. That said I can’t help but being a little envious of the hoard’s finders, Adam and Lisa. After all, how many of us wouldn’t want to be able to find something that is historically fascinating and important, amply satisfying our numismatic side, whilst at the same time making a great big pile of cash too? I wish them all the very best but would offer up this one little prayer: can it be me next? Please?
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