The recent discovery of a hoard of around five thousand Anglo -Saxon silver pennies from the reigns of Cnut and Ethelred II in a Buckinghamshire field has reminded me of the Ipswich Coin Hoard of 1863. The commonly accepted version is that one hundred and fifty coins were discovered in the Butter Market, and that only seventy-five are known today. They are all silver pennies of Ethelred II, and twenty-seven of them are from the Ipswich Mint: the first coins to be struck in the town. There are suggestions that the discovery place was the site of the Mint.
However, I have done a bit of investigating. There was a very enthusiastic numismatist about fifty years ago who wrote an in-depth article on the hoard, and I have rediscovered this piece. I have also found the original account of Sir John Evans, who was consulted about the Hoard.
It appears that a workman involved in the demolition of a house on the corner of St Lawrence Lane and the Butter Market, now the location of Robert Gatward's most easterly shop, found an earthenware pot. There are two versions: one, that it was under the doorstep and two, that it was ten feet down at the bottom of a rubbish pit. There were other broken pots next to it (?) It contained over five hundred silver Anglo-Saxon pennies, all of which were covered in a reddish oxide. It was stated that only one hundred and twenty were in good condition. They seem to have been sold off rather quickly. A Mr R. Francis of Ipswich communicated the find to Sir John Evans, an eminent numismatist and archaeologist of the time. He was able to examine, identify and list sixty of the coins in 1864. I think that these coins were in the possession of Mr Francis and Mr J Warren and Rev. Pollexfen.
Subsequent work has tracked down another fifteen coins from the hoard. Some of them are now in the British Museum Collection. I have examined this revised list, and counted only 23 from the Ipswich Mint. Strange, perhaps I am missing something.
Also there is something odd about the hoard. Sir John Evans noticed some unusual features. All the coins, from whatever mint around the country, have the identical reverse: the 'first hand of providence' as it is called. Some of the dies are unknown elsewhere; some of the abbreviations for the Moneyers and Mints differ from the usual.
Couple that with the fact that the house where the find was made had been the home of James Conder, a draper and keen numismatist who minted his own low value coins and tokens, and a small level of suspicion creeps in. Was Mr Conder a forger who buried a pot full of coins to 'tone' or 'age' them, and died before the process was complete... and nobody likes to admit that they spent a lot of money on a fake, do they?