If you can imagine it, there was a time when the bustling English city of Cambridge (home to the famous University of Cambridge) was a humble town of just 2,000 residents. Granted, this was nearly 1,000 years ago! An historical relic from this bygone era of the medieval period is slated to be sold to the highest bidder tomorrow by auction house Spink, and may fetch as much as £500 ($720).
The historic collectible being auctioned is a silver penny that was struck in Cambridge nearly a millennium ago. It is being sold as part of a larger catalog of the coins in the fantastic collection of Ian Stewart (now known as Lord Stewartby), who formerly served as a Member of Parliament (MP) in the United Kingdom's House of Lords from 1983 to 1992. Lord Stewartby carefully assembled an impressive array of Norman and Anglo-Saxon coins totaling about 400 in number.
Timeless Silver Penny
Although larger coin collections have been amassed before, Lord Stewartby's is noteworthy for its meticulous focus on coins in a specific cultural category. This makes sense, fitting into the former MP's love for his country and heritage.
Believe it or not, even a silver penny of this minuscule size was—no pun intended—worth a pretty penny back in the 11th century. Just one silver penny such as this one supposedly had the same purchasing power as perhaps £20 ($28.80) in terms of modern currency.
The silver penny coming under the hammer on Tuesday is believed to have been minted sometime between 1035 CE and 1040 CE, during the short-lived reign of King Harold. In remarkable detail for a collectible of this advanced age, the coin exhibits impressive detail. The crowned king is shown with what appears to be his royal scepter on the obverse, while the reverse clearly shows a cross.
Incredibly, the coin also bears an inscription that identifies the "moneyer" who actually struck the coin, a man named Wulfwine. During this time, dozens of different small mints spread across territories controlled by the English were striking coins for the Anglo-Saxons. Despite the variety of minting facilities in operation at the time, the coins of the kingdom were carefully struck to nearly exact weight, purity, and size specifications. Their designs included their names on the coins, allowing experts to date them very specifically.
One detail that will likely remain a mystery is which of these many mints was the birthplace of this fantastic silver penny. This example actually traces its origins toward the end of the lifespan of the English silver penny, which was no longer produced after the Norman invasion of England in 1066 CE.
Speaking of the entire Lord Stewartby collection, Spink's numismatic expert and world coin authority, Richard Bishop, indicated that this is only the first of several auctions that will focus on the Stewartby coins. "The [Stewartby] collection is a triumph and a testament to the intricacy of numismatic collecting," he added. The collection as a whole could realize upwards of a quarter-million British pounds ($360,000) across several bidding sessions, based on current estimates.
The opinions and forecasts herein are provided solely for informational purposes, and should not be used or construed as an offer, solicitation, or recommendation to buy or sell any product.