Threepenny Bit = Thrifty Childhood

I used to detect on a piece of land that had served the local village as
a venue for fairs, church events and car boot sales. Although the finds were not overtly spectacular, they were often interesting and worthy of comment. Amongst the pipe tampers, barrel tap keys and such-like, I found many different kinds of English money. Such a coin find evoked memories of my early days living in a Durham pit village – and it was dated for the year in which I was born! Here’s the coin:

© JW – Threepenny Bit showing my birthdate.

At the time it was introduced – in 1937 – it was a radically new design having twelve sides, struck in nickel-brass, and planned for the new coinage of Edward VII, who abdicated, having been uncrowned king for most of 1936.

This was a time when we still spent pounds and pence (not pee) in the shops. Mobiles were things attached to ceilings, twittering was something done by birds and Neil Armstrong had yet to step on the lunar surface. In the middle of all this was the beautiful coin and one of my all-time favourites – the ‘thruppenny bit’. 

The design on the reverse of this coin is a hardy tufted Thrift plant, a flower able to survive on coastal cliffs, mountains and salt marshes as it is wind, drought and salt-tolerant, thus able to survive on rather poor soil.

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Weird Taxes

Pissing off the Romans: Vespasian’s Urine Tax

The Romans Taxed Urine

Governments have always found creative ways to collect cash. From the end of this month I am asked to pay the BBC £159.00 for watching television. I’m holding out on this one. Future blogs are likely to be from one of Her Majesty’s Prisons.

Every night, instead of using the bathroom, I piddle in what I call a ‘Champagne’ bottle. Rose, my carer, flushes away the liquid gold without a second thought.

But it wasn’t always like that. In ancient times urine was considered a valuable commodity. Pee contains a wide array of important minerals and chemicals such as phosphorus and potassium and the Romans took advantage of that, believing it would make their teeth whiter and stop them decaying. So, mixed with pumice they produced toothpaste and mouthwash.

Money does not Stink

When entrepreneurial types-think of Branson or Musk-began collecting the waste matter, both Emperors Nero and Vespasian noticed. They levied a tax on the acquisition of wee, which led to the popular Latin phrase Pecunia non oletor, ‘money does not stink’.

Roman Sestertius coin depicting the emperor Vespasian, brass, 71 C.E.

When Vespasian imposed a Urine Tax on the distribution of urine from public urinals in Rome’s great sewer system, the Roman lower classes urinated into pots which were emptied into cesspools. The urine collected from public urinals was sold as an ingredient for several chemical processes. It was used in tanning, and also as a source of ammonia to clean and whiten togas. The buyers of the urine paid the tax. It is said that when Vespasian’s son Titus complained about the disgusting nature of the tax, his father held up a gold coin and asked whether he felt offended by its smell . When Titus said “No”, Vespasian replied, “Yet it comes from urine” The phrase ‘Pecunia non olet’  is still used today to say that the value of money is not tainted by its origins.

Politics for the People
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Continued … from previous post

Maundy Money has remained much the same since 1670, the coins used for the Maundy ceremony traditionally being struck in sterling silver. A Maundy set still consists of four small silver coins, but in 1971, at the time of decimalisation, the face values of the coins were changed from old to new pence.

Maundy Thursday 28th March 2013

Maundy Money consists of specially minted silver coins distributed by the British sovereign on Maundy Thursday. The number of recipients and the face value in pence of the amount they each receive traditionally correspond to the number of years in the sovereign’s age . Oxford Ceremony.

Graham Aylett and his wife Anne © JW

The coins shown by David were a total surprise and ones I hadn’t seen (in the flesh) before.

I’m sure that many of you know that every year on Maundy Thursday, the Queen attends a Royal Maundy service in one of the many cathedrals throughout the country. Maundy money is distributed to male and female pensioners from local communities near the Cathedral where the service takes place. Maundy Thursday 2013 was in Oxford and as usual the Queen presented the traditional coins to those pensioners who have worked tirelessly for their communities. Within the ancient Christ Church Cathedral, the Queen handed out the famous red and white purses of money to 87 women and 87 men – she was then in her 87th year.

Also celebrating his 87th birthday that year, and a recipient of the money, was Graham Aylett, a well-known figure in Aylesbury. He proudly showed me the red purse containing a £5 coin and 50p coin commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation in 1953. The white purse carried the famous Maundy money, silver 1p, 2p, 3p and 4p pieces – equal to 87p, again marking the Queen’s 87th year.

I had never seen modern Maundy money and was thrilled when Graham allowed me to take photographs to show you.

Maundy Money – Different Eras – Courtesy of The Royal Mint
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Lost and Found

One of the most pleasurable and public-spirited activities detectorists frequently engage in is the recovery of articles (especially finger rings) that have been lost by members of the public. It’s not something that our most vociferous detractors will ever mention, but then that’s understandable; they aren’t usually in the habit of commenting on the positive side of the hobby. Detecting clubs and individuals in the UK often provide a free recovery service – and the public is beginning to recognise that fact.

Graham, Anne and Mrs. John

How Much?

My story starts with a plaintive telephone call from Graham, one-time secretary of the local archaeological society and treasurer of the Old Town Residents’ Association, asking for help in finding an earring lost by his wife, Anne. He wanted to know how much Mrs. John and I would charge for trying to find it.

We soon put him right on that score, told him that our services were free, and arranged to call around the next day. Detectors were readied, boots blackened, probes polished and we were ready to go. All that activity proved to be just a rehearsal. In the morning we were greeted with a heavy covering of snow, so our mission was called off and arranged for another day.

A couple of weeks later, we tried again. Apart from a slight drizzle, the weather wasn’t too bad for digging. Anne explained that on the day she had lost the earring it had been quite windy. She had pegged clothes on the whirligig then did a little digging in the borders. Reading between the lines … the missing article could be almost anywhere in the garden!

Garden near the Church

It was 2013. Even then I was wobbly on my feet and quite decrepit so Mrs. John assigned me to search on the grass. The theory was that the missing ring would be on the surface and I wouldn’t have to do any digging. Meanwhile, she took a small trowel and systematically searched in soil where vegetables were due to be planted. There were loads of signals, but none were for the earring.

Also, there were many good signals in the lawn and although it was tempting I didn’t dig. After an hour or so I was beginning to tire. Not only that, at my age I need excitement, so after a short break I poked about in the borders and dug a couple of beeps that sounded promising.

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