A chance find of a single Roman silver coin in a North Suffolk field is set to bring a cash windfall to two metal detectorists and the farmer on whose land it was discovered.
Instead of one coin, retired Suffolk enthusiasts Norman Howard and John Halles eventually unearthed a hidden store of 206 denarii dating from the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AD. The coins include issues of such famous historical personalities as Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great, Mark Antony, Augustus, Caligula, Claudius and Nero and there are several rare pieces from the time of the Civil War of AD 68-69 following the suicide of Nero.
Now 197 coins from what has become known as the North Suffolk Hoard, after the secret find site, are to be sold and the money divided three ways. Specialist London auctioneers Morton & Eden estimate their sale will raise more than £7,500 in the sale at Sotheby’s on June 9. The remaining nine coins have been purchased by the British Museum to add to the national collection
The first coin was found just a few inches below the surface of a ploughed and levelled field by Mr Howard, 78, who started the hobby after he retired 10 years ago. He said: “The detector bleeped a couple of times and I turned over some of the loose earth and the coin was just lying there.
“I had to leave but I turned to John and said ‘You need to go back there’. He did, the next day and after digging a bit deeper, he found one after another. The area has some very thick clay, left over from the Ice Age, and he took lumps of it home and found more coins stuck in it as he washed it away.
“We reported the find to the local museum and while they were doing their measuring and excavation, we found another seven coins and then a few days later, we found another 28.
“It was very interesting. You never know what you’re going to find. When you think those coins had lain there all those thousands of years throughout history without being disturbed but we really didn’t expect them to turn up like that.”
The coins appear to have been buried in a small pit, but there was no evidence preserved that they had been in any type of container. It is believed they were disturbed during recent ploughing, modern machines working somewhat deeper than older types.
At the time of the inquest to decide the future of the coins, Judith Plouviez, the Archaeological Officer for the Conservation Team at Suffolk County Council said that owing to the wealth of coins found in such a small area, the owner must have been relatively well-to-do, possibly a retired Roman soldier who would have been paid in silver coins. Greater Suffolk Coroner Peter Dean declared the find treasure, allowing the British Museum to acquire its nine coins and the remainder to be sold and the proceeds divided between the finders and the landowner.
Pick of the coins in the Morton & Eden sale is a rare denarius from the reign of the infamous Caligula, who was emperor from AD 37 to 41, the obverse depicting his head in profile with that of his mother Agrippina Senior on the reverse. It alone is estimated at £800-1,000. And a particularly well preserved denarius of Otho, one of the three emperors who reigned briefly in the Civil War of AD 68-69 is estimated at £600-800 - as is an anonymous denarius of the same period showing a bust of Mars, the God of War.
The Morton & Eden sale will be held at Sotheby’s on June 9. For further information, contact Tom Eden at Morton & Eden, telephone 020 7493 5344 or firstname.lastname@example.org.