Not all that glistens is gold: The Wickham Market Hoard

Now the statement ‘Not all that glistens is gold’ in this case is a bit of a naughty comment to attach to the Wickham Market Hoard of late antique coins. It implies the coins are not made of gold whereas it is just that they are not pure 24 Karat gold. Pure gold as we know is a soft metal and is unsuitable for circulating coins and therefore over the centuries various gold alloys have been used.

The Wickham Market Hoard on display at the Ipswich Museum.

The Wickham Market Hoard is comprised of tribal coins made of one such gold alloy. The alloy in this case is a mixture of gold, silver and copper. The coins of different tribes of this period are known as staters and were marked with different symbols.

At the time these coins were in use in Britain, around 10 BC to AD 10, Julius Caesar had already been and gone from our shores, and Britain wouldn’t be officially conquered and part of the Roman Empire until Emperor Claudius’s campaign of AD 43 .

The Romans had, of course, been minting coins for the empire and Roman coins circulated in Britain from Celtic times, but regional tribes also minted their own coinage. Roman coinage had consisted of coins of gold, silver, orichalcum (a brass-like alloy of copper and zinc) and copper. However, the tribal finds dating from this time are hoards that comprise of gold coins only.

The Wickham Market Hoard was discovered in 2008 and is the largest hoard of British Iron Age gold coins to have been found in more than 150 years. There has been nothing of comparable size since the discovery of the Whaddon Chase Hoard in Buckinghamshire in 1849.

A couple of the less worn Freckenham staters clearing showing a horse motif.

On display at the Ipswich Museum, the Wickham Market Hoard consists of 840 staters. That is 830 are Freckenham staters, five are Snettisham staters and five are Ferriby staters. These coins are named after the villages in which the coins were originally discovered. Freckenham is a village in west Suffolk and the staters found their were made by the Iceni tribe.

Gold tribal coins. Freckenham staters showing the horse motif.

These coins have a horse motif on one side and on the reverse a pair of crescents motif with a cross formed of dots or a flower.

Crescent moons on the reverse of the Freckenham staters.

The Snettisham staters were first found near the village of Snettisham, west Norfolk, and were also made by the Iceni. These staters have a similar horse motif, but this time it has a sun symbol between its legs and the reverse of these coins is nearly blank.

A couple of the Snettisham staters with a sun motif between the legs.

Finally, there are the five Ferriby staters so-called as these were discovered as part of a hoard found in north Lincolnshire in 1900. These were made by the Corieltauvi who were a tribe from the East Midlands. These coins also have a horse on one side. It is a more stylised version as the horse’s head is a triangular shape and the body is made up of a series of crescents. The reverse of a Ferriby stater has a wreath of laurel leaves.

Three of the Ferriby staters with a horse motif made of a triangle and crescents (probably easiest to see on the middle example).

These coins struck with their fascinating images are over 2000 years old, and yet the design for the horse motif on the Freckenham staters has a timeless quality. When I first saw them I knew that they would be the basis for my next collection of silk scarves.

Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

21 thoughts on “Not all that glistens is gold: The Wickham Market Hoard”

    1. Yes, it was all new to me too, despite taking ‘Visual Culture Late-Antiquity to Early Christian’ seminar classes. We rather concentrated on classical statuary and sarcophagi!

  1. Wow, these are just super in all ways. I love the sculpture aspect of them, the different styles, and then the idea of them being so OLD. I wonder if there was any info on the stamping process that the makers used?

  2. Fascinating stuff. Yet I imagine many people living at the time would have been as interested as we are, probably living their entire lives with little or no access to money. Even acquiring it in the first place could have been a challenge.

    1. Yes, I expect most ordinary people used the barter system in their daily lives. I think I remember reading somewhere that possibly these hoards were reserves held to pay/buy warriors.

    1. I have to admit I’ve never really got the collector’s obsession with old coins, but the imagery on these could convert me. Mind you a quick perusal of the price of single Iceni coin rapidly knocked that on the head!

      1. Think I am fancying not so much the ownership as the tactile pleasure – they look so beautiful, and to handle them must be like the pleasure of the button tin multiplied by all that cool heavy goldness. I wouldn’t dare look at a purchase price!

      2. Ah tactile pleasure – I remember one our lecturers at UEA who had been around at the beginnings of the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, recounting how Robert Sainsbury had been in the habit of choosing a small, stone piece to carry around in his pocket to feel during the course of the day. I wish I could remember which one it was, I think it might have been the 3.1 cm tall ‘Standing Figure’ dating from 3300 – 3000 BC found in Syria. Needless to say the piece is now on display in a glass cabinet.

  3. Given I collect gold sovereigns I was all swept up in the story of these coins, which I had never heard of before. So it wasn’t apparent that you would use them for artistic inspiration, doohhhh! Of course you would! What a wonderful story to go with the presentation of the scarves.

    1. In all honesty despite knowing about the Iceni, Boudica’s uprising against the Roman occupation and all that, I had no idea they had minted their own coins. These days it is possible to buy Freckenham staters from coin dealers, however a good condition coin costs around £700 or A$1300 – sadly, way out of my price range.

      1. Yes, it’s too rich for me too. I buy at about half that, once a year or every two years. It goes into a collection for my niece and nephews, in lieu of annual birthday and Christmas presents. They get their collection on their 21st. Only one to go now.

      2. That is a great idea. Beats all the questionable garbage so often wanted through childhood that rapidly ends up forgotten. This way there’s a much more useful 21st nest egg.

      3. It started when the second born nephew/niece (it’s easier in Italian – nepoti is plural & non-gendered) was three. It was DISGUSTING, and every moment of the excess was filmed. I came home swearing I could not be a party to such consumerism.
        Over the years, as they grew older, the children came to be very excited about exactly what their collection would hold.
        Nepoti #3 made a silly financial decision in his early twenties, and I was able to give him a way out by “buying” back his collection.
        At some point in the future he can redeem it if his finances permit. In the meantime, he understands some of the collection will be raided for his sister.
        It’s kind of like modern day bartering, don’t you think?

      4. What lucky nepoti. I hope they’ve appreciated your foresight. Yes, bartering absolutely, and now we all know the whole planet could do with more genuine bartering too.

  4. Thanks for sharing such a fascinating element of English history and the images are so detailed Agnes. I must keep working on my Ancestry.com family tree following the English links and hope it can trace back for a claim!!

    1. Ha ha ha – don’t we all wish that. My daft old grandmother, whose family came from that part of Suffolk, used to tell us we were related to the British Chieftain Caratacus! She had no sense of humour and really believed it. We all thought that one of her numerous, mischievous Victorian uncles had spun her a very tall tale. It’s actually the wrong chieftain and wrong tribe for Suffolk.

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