Collection of rare ancient coins discovered at Scotney Castle
A vast collection of ancient coins has been discovered tucked away in a drawer at the National Trust’s Scotney Castle in Kent. The unique set, comprising 186 coins in total, spans twenty-five centuries of history.
The discovery includes pieces from far-flung locations across the globe, including Syria and China. Others come from closer to home, including a late eighteenth century Welsh bronze token.
Scotney Castle was the home for 200 hundred years of the Hussey family before it was left to the National Trust who 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 nineteenth century by avid collector Edward Hussey III and his son Edwy.
The coin collection reaches as far back as Archaic Greece, with a seventh 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 second century BC to the late fourth century AD. It is possible that 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 just 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.
Nathalie Cohen, National Trust archaeologist, says, “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. What is a mystery though is why a collection of this calibre ended up at the back of a drawer.”
Diary entries reveal Edward and Edwys’ dedication to and interest in the coin collection. An entry in Edwy’s diary recorded that on 2nd February 1883 he ‘went to the British Museum with papa as he wanted to ask about some coins’. On 28th October 1894 Edwy ‘looked at the coin collection after dinner’.
The records also give insight into the purchase value of the collection in the nineteenth century. In Edward’s diary from 1823 the ‘Accounts’ section lists him purchasing ‘Coins’ priced from 4 shillings to 7 shillings and 6 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.
Experts from MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) have been consulted by the National Trust and consider eighteen of the coins to be ‘rare’ examples.
Julian Bowsher, the MOLA numismatic specialist who examined the coins adds, “It was a delight, as a coins specialist, to examine such a significant and diverse collection. 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.”
Henrike Philipp, part of the volunteer team that found the coins at Scotney Castle says, “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.
“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 coins will go on display as part of a new exhibition, Inside the Collection, celebrating ten 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 opens 11am to 3pm, from 4 November to 4 February. Access is by timed ticket. Free event, normal admission applies. Visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/scotney-castle to find out more.