A comprehensive, illustrated, catalogue of early Anglo-Saxon silver coinage
by Tony Abramson
Sceats, the small module silver ‘proto-pennies’, of c.685 – c.750AD, have been classified in two ways – a numerical typology and an alphabetical Series. The typology dates back to the British Museum catalogue of 1888, is chronologically random, lacks meaningful sequencing, contains duplications and Merovingian emissions, suffers omissions and conflates dissimilar types. It is not soundly based on archaeological, historical, finds or distribution evidence.
The Serial classification, devised by Stuart Rigold in 1977, pre-dates the surge of metal detector finds of sceats many of which have been discovered since Michael Metcalf’s magnum opus, ‘Thrymsas and Sceattas in Ashmolean Museum Oxford’ (RNS, 1993), a comprehensive survey based on Rigold’s arrangement.
Unfortunately, neither of these great works makes easy reading for the occasional enquirer. An up-to-date, highly illustrated, inexpensive guide is needed - one which can be followed by those not familiar with the coinage but is nevertheless based on archaeological and metallurgical evidence.
Arranging the catalogue is complicated by the recent emergence of the study of the remarkably varied motifs as the main field of activity following the publication of Anna Gannon’s ‘The Iconography of Early Anglo-Saxon Coinage’ (OUP, 2003). Whilst this is a ground-breaking revelation from start to finish, the language is that of the art historian, which, again, may not suit the infrequent visitor.
Tony Abramson’s solution is a heavily-illustrated catalogue of the entire coinage divided into ten familiar themes of related groups. These themes are:
1. The radiate bust/votive standard of Series A and its runic successors, C, D, R and some of the eclectic types.
2. The profile head including the diademed figure of Series B and its successors in J and G, some of which are busts rather than heads, together with some of the minor groups and fringe material.
3. The diademed bust of Series K and L, with the relevant eclectic varieties, covering both the standing figure and lion motifs.
4. The bird and branch, or pecking bird, theme of Series H and U.
5. The backward-looking, fantastic and other animal types where these form a cohesive theme, such as Series N and Q, leading into the animal types of
6. The Northumbrian theme, which stands on its own merits for both the animal and inscribed groups.
7. The Continental quilled crescent (‘porcupine’) coinage and English varieties.
8. The facing bust varieties of Series Z, X and those described as ‘Wodan’ types.
9. The helmeted bust type of Series F, and
10. The few residual, isolated groups or varieties forming separate themes, which cannot be accommodated above.
This completely re-numbered scheme of arrangement abandons the numerical typology but, for reasons of continuity, retains Rigold’s alphabetical serial references and the ‘eclectic’ labels included in Metcalf. The resultant catalogue has 114 groups covering 570 main varieties. At the time of going to press the number of varieties continued to grow, providing collectors with the excitement of being able to add to the corpus.
Sceatta List contains concordances with previous classifications and current catalogues (e.g. Spink), explorations of closely related types (‘dominoes’), hoard chronology, an expansion of the different styles of drapery displayed on this early Anglo-Saxon coinage, and a useful bibliography. The volatility of market prices for sceats are tackled head on and prices for every variety are given for two grades – approximating to fine and very fine.
280pp, p/b © Tony Abramson, 2012. Production: Charlesworth Press.
Sceatta List and Stycas Simplified are sold in one volume.