A GOLD penny of Ecgberht, King of the West Saxons (802-839), discovered in West Dean is expected to fetch £150,000 to £200,000 when it goes under the hammer at auction.

It is featured in a sale of coins and historical medals on September 7 and 8 at international coins, medals, banknotes and jewellery specialists Dix Noonan Webb.

The coin is understood to be the only late Anglo-Saxon gold coin in private hands; the other eight specimens are in institutions - the British Museum having seven and another being in Lausanne.

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PICTURES: Dix Noonan Webb

The gold penny, or Mancus of 30 Pence, was discovered by a metal detectorist in West Dean in March 2020.

It was struck at a West Saxon mint, possibly Southampton or Winchester, and bears the King’s title, ECGBEORHT REX, around a monogram of the word SAXON.

Peter Preston-Morley, the head of coin department at Dix Noonan Webb, said: “Full XRF and SEM analysis of this coin was performed in June 2021. The results show the use of high-purity gold, with only 2.8 per cent silver and 0.6 per cent copper at detectable levels. This composition is consistent with that of natural gold which has been neither refined nor artificially alloyed.

"Perhaps of more significance, the composition of the Ecgberht mancus falls within the same range as other medieval coins reported by Dr Gareth Williams and Dr Michael Cowell in 2009 ('Analysis of a gold mancus of Coenwulf of Mercia and other comparable coins’, in The British Museum Technical Research Bulletin 3: 31-6).

"Gold of such purity is particularly malleable and easy to strike but also more prone to wear and damage. None of the surface marks seem consistent with damage or alteration caused by attempts at mounting the coin for its use as a brooch or pendant.”

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Only eight other known gold coins were struck in England between c. 630 and 1257. These gold coins were, in all probability, produced for ceremonial or other high-status payments.

It is believed that only on special occasions, perhaps for prestige or, as was the case in the time of Offa, religious events, were orders given for mancuses to be struck.

Mr Preston-Morley adds: “This coin probably represents a mancus: a gold denomination that first appeared in central and northern Italy, but was current in England already before the year 800. Mancuses would have been extremely valuable coins. Each had the buying power of 30 contemporary silver coins, and this at a time when a single Carolingian denarius would buy a dozen two-pound loaves of wheat bread: a single gold mancus would therefore have bought the equivalent of 360 loaves.

"Such high-value coins would not have been made in the normal course of minting. They probably stemmed from an act of royal or high-status largesse; one tenth-century English king's will specifically asked that 2,000 mancuses of gold (which could also be used to measure gold by weight) be taken and minted into mancuses.

"Unfortunately the volume of charters and other records from Ecgberht's reign is very small, so no obvious occasion for the minting of this coin can be identified; nor is it possible to date the coin to a more specific period within Ecgberht's reign. Its lettering and monogram are executed more neatly than on the dies of contemporary pennies.”

Free online bidding is available is dnw.co.uk

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