How to Identify the sceats & stycas of Northumbria.

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Of all hammered coins on ebay, this Northumbrian coinage appears with the most frequency as 'unidentified'. Hopefully my short guide will shed some light on this difficult coinage and aid in successful positive identification.

 

Toward the close of the 7th century the kings of Northumbria began to mint sceats [small thick silver coins, pronounced shee-ats] in their own name. Prior to this time coins had featured zoomorphic, anthropomorphic, abstract and geometrical designs and patterns. Attribution and origin can prove almost impossible with this coinage, but we are on safer ground with attributable [named] coins.

The first named coins of the Northern kings, all of which are of good silver, were minted at the jointly regal and ecclesiastical mint of York [as were the whole series in fact]. They feature a sylised animal on one face [we dont know for certain which face was the obverse on these coins], variously thought to be a stag, dog or mythical beast [and probably heraldic in origin], facing either left or right, with or without symbols in the field, but having no legend. The opposite face has the name of the reigning king around a small cross. This legend [which almost always begins with an initial cross and reads clockwise around the coin] is generally latinized, and contains some Old English lettering as standard, for example the name of king Eadberht is rendered on coins thus : EDTBEREHTVF and is pronounced EE-AD-BEE-YORT[US]. The V is simply a modern letter U, and the S is shown as an inverted L. Similarly king Aethelred I is EDELRED on the coinage. In this case the first D has a small crossbar on the vertical stroke and represents the Anglo-Saxon letter 'thorn' which is pronounced 'TH'. The second D has no crossbar and is identical to, and pronounced as, a modern letter D. Kings who issued these coins are :

 

Aldfrith : +ALFRIDVS on his coins.

Eadberht : +EDTBEREHTVF on his coins.

Aethelwald Moll : +EDELVALD on his coins. When a king is known by two names, the second name never appears on the coins.

Alchred : +ALHRED on his coins.

Aethelred I : +EDILRED on his coins.

Aelfwald I : +ELFVALDVS on his coins.

 

Another series of coins is related to the named regal sceat coinage. These coins are jointly struck by certain 8th century kings of Northumbria and archbishops of York. They are named on both faces, with the name of the king around a small cross on one face, and the name of the archbishop around a small cross on the other. The first issue of this coinage, jointly struck by king Eadberht and his brother archbishop Ecgberht, has a stylised full-length mitred figure of the archbishop, holding two crooks or crosses, on one face with his legend around. On coins of king Aethelred I and archbishop Eanbald I, the small crosses are sometimes replaced by various other symbols, pellets in circles etc... Most of the episcopal issues [right through to the last archbishop of York, Wulfhere] have an abbreviation of the archbishop's Latin title after his name, AR, ARCEP, AREP etc ... for ARCHIEPISCOPUS. Very occassionally this title is absent. Joint issues in this coinage are :

 

Eadberht with archbishop Ecgberht : +EDTBEREHTVF. +ECGBEREHT AR [generally] on the coins.

Aethelwald Moll with archbishop Ecgberht : +EDELVALD. +ECGBEREHT AR on the coins.

Alchred with archbishop Ecgberht : +ALHRED. +ECGBEREHT AR on the coins.

Aethelred I with archbishop Eanbald I : +EDILRED REX. EANBALD AREP on the coins.

 

The second type of Northumbrian coins are called stycas. These were first minted in base silver [Phase Ia], and for the first time feature the name of the king on one face and the name of the moneyer [the man responsible for producing the coins] on the other, both around a small cross. They were initially minted by kings who had previously struck named sceats, and were also struck by one archbishop, Eanbald II [not to be confused with coins of Eanbald I, which have +EDILRED REX on one face]. One issue, of Aethelred I, has the representation of a shrine or cross on steps [this simply looks like a triangle with a long cross emerging from the top point] on one face, with the name of the moneyer, +CVDCILS [this is a rare issue and is only known for this moneyer] around it. As a reminder of the latinization of names, Aelfwald II appears on his coins as +ELFVALDVS. Eardwulf on his coins is +EARDVVLF. In this case the first V represents a W, as this is how the letter is pronounced in Old English, and the second V is simply a modern U. The  name element 'WOLF' is always represented as 'VVLF' on Anglo-Saxon coins. Full lists of moneyers for all Anglo-Saxon coinage may be found by combining the book English Hammered Coinage, Volume One, by J.J. North, with the EMC/SCBI database website [simply Google it] at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Coins of this type were struck by these authorities :

 

Aethelred I : +EDILRED REX. +CVDHEARD [or others] on his coins.

Eardwulf : +EARDVVLF RE. +CVDHEARD on his coins.

Aelfwald II : +ELFVALDVS. +CVDHEARD on his coins.

Eanred : +EANRED REX. +CVDHEARD [or others] on his coins.

Archbishop Eanbald II : +EANBALD AREP. +EADVVLF or +EDILVEARD on his coins.

 

The next coins issued are known as Phase Ib stycas, and are early coins, very similar to the previous issue, but struck in copper alloy. [Northumbria stuck with the sceat/styca coinage as the other kingdoms south of the Humber switched to broad-flan silver pennies c.760]. These were struck only by king Eanred and archbishop Eanbald II, and tend to be of better quality than the later Phase II coins, [please see below] :

 

Eanred : +EANRED REX. +DAECGBERCT, +EADVINI, +HEARDVVLF, or +HERRED on his coins.

Archbishop Eanbald II : +EANBALD AREP. +EADVVLF or +EDILVEARD on his coins.

 

Phase II coins [c.837-c.855], struck by several kings and archbishops, are where we enter difficult territory. Often very carelessly minted with regard to metal content [some appear brass-like] and legend [very often blundered or mere nonesense, occasionally retrograde or backwards, sometimes mirrored and often with letters missing or offstruck on the flan] they regularly appear with surface corrosion and this makes them hard to read and understand, even harder with the irregular legends. Many different central motifs are used on these coins along with the small cross. Some kings employed more than forty moneyers to strike their coins. On the plus side they survive in much larger numbers than any of the other issues in this series, and are thus much cheaper to purchase. They are always for sale on ebay. Authorities who issued this coinage are :

 

Eanred : +EANRED RE. +MONNE [or many others] on the coins.

Aethelred II [first reign] : +EDILRED RE. +MONNE [or many others] on the coins. Certain small symbols are sometimes seen on coins of this and the previous king. Occasionally the small cross is replaced by another motif, usually on coins by the moneyer LEOFDEGN. One very rare die of LEOFDEGN features a stylised animal as on the first silver named sceats.

Redwulf : +REDVVLF R. +MONNE [or others] on the coins.

Aethelred II [second reign] : +EDILRED RE. +EARDVVLF [or many others] on the coins.

Osberht : +OSBERHT R. +VINIBERHT [or others] on the coins.

Archbishop Wigmund : +VIGMVND AREP. +EDILVEARD [or others] on the coins.

Archbishop Wulfhere : +VVLFHERE AREP. +VVLFRED on the coins.

Irregular Phase II Issues : These are often thought to have been struck during a civil war in Northumbria in the 840's or 850's. They have [barely in some cases] recognisable [semi-blundered] legends and are generally attributable, but are different to regular coins.

 

 

                                                   

An example of a sceat identification. Eadberht silver sceat. [obverse ?] Stylised heraldic beast facing left, with curved tail and one leg raised. No symbols in field. [reverse ?] EDTBEREHTVF around small cross. No initial cross. Initial mark is a single pellet. Offstruck. Made from good silver. Coin from Clive K. Collection [www.HistoricCoinage.com]. Used with kind permission.

                                                            

An example of a styca identification. Phase II copper alloy styca of king Aethelred II, second reign. [Obverse of coin] +EDILRED RE around a small cross within pelleted circle. [Reverse of coin] +EARDVVLF [Eardwulf, the moneyer] around a cross of five pellets within a pelleted circle.

 


I hope this guide has been of help with these difficult little coins. If so, please vote for it. If I can be of help with a coin identification, please do contact me. I have used the standard Coins of England book by Spink for the examples given above. Thankyou for reading my guide, Dave.

 

 

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