Collection of rare ancient coins discovered in Kent’s Scotney Castle

A vast collection of ancient coins was recently discovered tucked away in a drawer at the National Trust’s Scotney Castle in Kent, England.

The unique set—comprising 186 coins in total—spans 25 centuries of history. The discovery includes pieces from far-flung locations across the globe, including Syria and China, while others come from closer to England, including a late 18th-century Welsh bronze token.

“We know that Edward and Edwy Hussey had a great interest in collecting, but this considerable cache of fascinating coins shows just how much their interest grew into a collection of exceptional importance,” said National Trust archaeologist Nathalie Cohen. “What is a mystery though is why a collection of this calibre ended up at the back of a drawer.”

DISCOVERED BY VOLUNTEERS

Scotney Castle was the home for 200 years of the Hussey family before it was left to the National Trust, which opened the mansion house to visitors in 2007.

The coins were found by Trust volunteers while searching for photographs in a study drawer. Research into family diaries in the archive suggests the coins were amassed during the 19th century by avid collector Edward Hussey III and his son Edwy.

“The Hussey family lived at Scotney for two centuries and collected a wealth of objects and memorabilia. Ever since the Trust took on the house we’ve been discovering things in drawers, cupboards and in the mansion archives, such as medieval papers, First World War diaries and books by celebrated landscape gardener William Gilpin,” said Henrike Philipp, who was part of the volunteer team that discovered the coins.

“Discoveries of rare coins such as these don’t happen often, so this has been especially exciting. We can’t wait to see what we will find next.”

The coin collection reaches as far back as Archaic Greece, with a 7th century BC piece. This silver token is one of the earliest struck in Europe and comes from the tiny island of Aegina. It features a clear depiction of a sea turtle—a creature sacred to Aphrodite.

The bulk of the collection is made up of Roman coins, ranging from the late 2nd century BC to the late 4th century AD. It’s possible the Husseys, like many collectors, were trying to gather a complete set of Roman rulers. Despite the difficulty of this (Roman succession was complex and many coins of the shorter reigns very rare) they were close to achieving it.

The collection of first century emperors (leaving out empresses and caesars) is missing only one piece.

The second century collection is remarkable too, again only lacking a single coin of the short lived Didius Julianus, who reigned in AD 193.

INTERESTED COIN COLLECTORS

Diary entries reveal Edward and Edwys’ dedication to and interest in the coin collection. An entry in Edwy’s diary recorded that on Feb. 2, 1883 he “went to the British Museum with papa as he wanted to ask about some coins.” On Oct. 28, 1894, Edwy “looked at the coin collection after dinner.”

The records also give insight into the purchase value of the collection in the 19th century. In Edward’s diary from 1823 the “Accounts” section, it lists him purchasing “Coins” priced from four shillings to seven shillings and six pence.

Suggesting greater ambitions still for the collection, Edward’s memoranda books include a list of coins he wanted relating to English monarchs, alongside those outstanding from the Roman era.

18 ‘RARE’ EXAMPLES

Experts from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) were consulted by the National Trust and consider eighteen of the coins to be “rare” examples.

“It was a delight, as a coins specialist, to examine such a significant and diverse collection,” said Julian Bowsher, the MOLA numismatic specialist who examined the coins. “A particular highlight was seeing Roman coins that rarely appear in Britain, such as those of the 3rd century emperors Balbinus, Pupienus and Aemilian, none of whom ruled for more than a year.”

ON DISPLAY UNTIL FEBRUARY 2018

The coins are currently on display as part of a new exhibition, “Inside the Collection,” celebrating 10 years since the Trust opened the Scotney Castle mansion to visitors. Other objects on show include beautiful Ming vases and letters from Wallis Simpson and Margaret Thatcher, who both had close connections to the house.

Inside the Collection is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. until Feb. 4.

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