Shakespeare wore a gold hoop earring – or so we think … and a bit about St. George.
23 April – St.George’s Day
St. George’s day April 23, is supposedly England’s special day. Actually, we have no official national day and it largely goes uncelebrated, which is a shame as George is our patron saint. His emblem, a red cross on a white background, is the flag of England and part of the British flag. It is believed that George was a brave Roman soldier who protested against the Romans’ torture of Christians and died for his beliefs. The popularity of St George in England stems from the time of the early Crusades when it is said that the Normans saw him in a vision and were victorious. His image appears on many of our UK coins.
This rare 600-year-old gold finger ring, complete with a St. George and the dragon engraving, was unearthed by a detectorist in Norfolk. The Guild of St. George operated in Norwich between 1385 and 1548 and the ring demonstrated his popularity at the time.
The bezel is engraved with the figure of St George standing on the Dragon, with a spear held almost vertically in his right hand and thrust down the monster’s throat, and with a shield in his left hand bearing his cross. He wears a pointed bascinet (a close-fitting helmet, typically having a visor).
It’s always a pleasure to write about the success of the ‘rookie’ detectorist, the first time guy who discovers something magnificent after a few weeks – or just days – searching. I think the last one I highlighted in my scribblings was David Booth who found four Iron Age torcs in a Stirlingshire field. This was a magnificent find and even more remarkable when we realise that the hoard was found with a so-called entry-level detector, the Garrett Ace 250!
For many detectorists wielding their high-end machines costing over a Grand it can be particularly galling – especially when they have been searching for years and have yet to find their personal Holy Grail. Nevertheless, you will no doubt want to celebrate the find and the subject of this particular inspirational (albeit sad story) of another great find that I am about to relate.
Enter our hero, computer engineer Brian Kirby of Yorkshire who purchased his first detector, a Minelab 705 on New Year’s Day in 2010. If you remember, Yorkshire and indeed much of the country was covered in snow at that time so, frustratingly, Brian was unable to get out detecting.
While testing the machine in local woodland, Brian found a silver spoon. This must have been an omen! During the next few months he did go on a couple of digs as a guest and eventually secured permission to search on 12 acres of pasture. After three or four visits he amassed a pile of Victorian and pre-decimal coppers plus a few interesting partefacts. His best find was a George II halfpenny! “Nothing to get even a novice interested,” Brian ruefully told me.
One afternoon and after only four or five weeks detecting, Brian had a couple of hours to spare. He decided to ‘have a go’ over part of the pasture that had been too wet to search on previous visits. Once again he found more pre-decimal coppers.
As many beginners do, Brian was digging at almost every beep. It was getting dark and he started to dig what he thought was another poor signal. He described what happened next: “I saw the glint of gold as soon as I turned the first spade full of soil over. The dirt just fell off when I picked it up and the object looked new – as if it had just been made. The hinge moved freely!”
Brian’s eyesight was not too good and the light was fading, so he set off for home, convinced that he had found a modern cufflink or something of the sort. However, when he arrived back and had a closer look, he realised that his find was quite special! His suspicions were confirmed after he had placed his find for identification on a couple of Internet detecting forums. He had, indeed, found ‘treasure’.
What Brian had found was a small gold seal matrix of the early post-medieval period. The British Museum said that the seal was very unusual, as ‘we don’t often get them intact’. Rod Blunt of the UKDFD said the fact that the handle was hinged AND inscribed was also unusual. The matrix, which weighs just two grammes and is just over 14mm long, would have been used for sealing letters with hot wax…of course you knew that already, didn’t you?
In his short time ‘history hunting’ in the north-east of England, Mark McMullan has dug-up many ‘treasures’ including countless coins. He says, “I’ve unearthed all sorts of things. They are not always the most valuable but I have found a gold sovereign from 1889 and medieval objects going back to the 1100s. It’s not about value, but about the history. When I find something, I want to know everything about it, plus its link to the area. I find the hobby addictive, astonishing, and fascinating.“
I’m going to tell you about he day Mark found something rather mundane on his ‘pit permission’ near Bishop Auckland, that turned out to be a cracker. The subsequent research revealed the sort of detail and social history that a gold sovereign could never match.
Now, the coin above looks rather unremarkable but, after careful cleaning, Mark revealed some fascinating detail. First, I show you a better picture ‘borrowed’ from eBay.
I highlight another one of his finds, this time because of its rarity. He started out detecting with a Minelab CTX 3030 and is still using it about eight years later.
He said: “The sixpence was the first find on a Detecting Scotland dig. When I cleaned the coin at home I found a couple of oddities.”
In a twist to what we usually read when detectorists find something rather different, we learn that the coin was Grant’s first find at the rally and he discovered it after he’d only taken a few steps whilst walking away from the car! A clean-up back at home revealed a couple of oddities that made the coin not your usual 1816 sixpence.
One of the most important parts of any British coin’s design is its portrait of the monarch at the time, and there wasn’t anything unusual there. The date on the coin tells us when it was minted and this was when David noticed the first oddity – the shape of the first ‘1’ in ‘1816’ was most unusual! There are two views here with different lighting. Have you ever seen one like this before? Grant thinks that he may have picked up ‘more than he bargained for’ with his first signal.
If you look carefully at some coins, preferably with a magnifying glass if your eyesight is like mine, you can usually see the designer’s initials. But this coin had what appears to be the counter-stamped with initials that could be GB or GR, unless you know different.
Counter- stamping, for many reasons, was quite prevalent in the 19th century, but not always easy to identify. Generally, coins werestamped to advertise a business, to make a political statement or as personal identification. Maybe it was a kind of ‘test’ mark, showing that the coin was genuine. I’m no expert. Perhaps someone can provide a more valid explanation. And now for something completely different.