Put the kettle on, put your feet up, and enjoy a twisty-turny (and still unsolved) detective story which spans the centuries… Thanks to the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston, I give you the story of the Rossall Hoard…
(Update: 7.1.15) The Rossall Hoard is now on display in the Harris Museum in Preston. Matt, their project curator, sent these photos of the display:
At 12.30pm on Wednesday 14th Jan, Matt will be giving a half hour talk and an opportunity to handle the coins in the Discover Preston gallery in the Harris.
The Rossall Hoard is a large group of 388 late Roman silver siliquae, minted at locations around France, Germany and Italy between c.355-402 AD.
They are amongst the last wave of coins the Romans ever supplied to Britain before the collapse of Roman administration around 410, when the usurper Constantine III withdrew what remained of the Roman army in Britain to the continent in order to fight the legitimate emperor, Honorius.
They will be on display at the Harris Museum towards the end of 2014 (hopefully the end of November). The entire hoard has been photographed, catalogued, and prepared for display, and the exhibit will cover several of its most interesting aspects:
Coin clipping. Like most hoards of its date, Rossall has been extensively attacked by coin clippers, who took silver from the coins to produce imitations– coins made to look and feel exactly like the official coins the Roman state used to supply before the end of Roman control. In this respect the Rossall coins straddle two worlds – the Roman and the post-Roman, showing how people tried to continue supplying themselves with ‘Roman style’ coins after they had ceased to be a part of the empire;
Designs. Attention will be paid to what the coins look like, and what assurances to the user the various images and text on the coin provided to the user;
Mint mistakes and die-links. Particular mis-struck and die-linked coins will be explored and focussed on, to shed light on the way Roman coins were produced in the later empire, the astonishing numbers in which they were minted, and the significance of finding several groups of die-linked coins (i.e., coins made using the very same mould) within the same hoard.
And here the story twists and turns…
More general archaeological context will also be given, as well as an explanation of what you could call the ‘Rossall Hoard mystery’
This is where the story gets complicated, because the coins which are held at the Harris Museum, bequeathed to them by the wealthy Brown family of Preston in the 1880s, do not seem to be the authentic Rossall Hoard which was found near Fleetwood in 1840.
The real hoard, it would seem, disappeared into history in the wake of the bankruptcy of their first owner, Sir Peter Fleetwood-Hesketh, in 1844. The Harris is trying to track down the original hoard – could any of you offer some helpful information?
The originals weren’t actually, well, original….
The real Rossall Hoard wasn’t a late Roman coin hoard at all – it was 400 first to third century silver denarii, ie totally different coins!.
At the 1844 sale of Rossall Hall and its contents (where the Rossall Hoard was kept, alongside the rest of Sir Peter Fleetwood-Hesketh’s coin, medal and cameo collection), the auctioneer mistakenly sold the fourth-fifth century AD hoard which the Harris are putting on display, for the real Rossall Hoard.
It was only in 1883, when Dr. Charles Brown (son of the man who purchased the hoard at the sale in 1844) of the ‘Rossall Hoard’ donated it to the museum in Preston, that somebody noticed the hoard being donated was composed of fourth-fifth century coins – not first-third century ones, as it was meant to!
In the intervening years between 1844 and 1883, it’s any guess where the genuine Rossall Hoard ended up. There are a number of possibilities: it could have been broken up by the auctioneer and sold in individual packets, or it could have been retained by the family – though they don’t seem to recall this ever having happened.
No one really knows where the fourth-fifth century hoard of siliquae came from. Sir Peter, or one of his family members, must have picked the hoard up – perhaps at a sale. It’s very unlikely to come from Lancashire, though; hoards of this date and composition are normally found in the southern counties of England. It is British, though – coin clipping was a particularly British phenomenon.
The family have no archives relating to the purchase of anything matching this description, making the detective work even trickier.
More to see
Matthew Ball is the Project Officer who has kindly supplied this information, and who will be completing this display. He told us “As well as the display, I will be writing two follow up blogs – one on the mechanics of curating and displaying a hoard like this, and another giving full details on the ‘Rossall Hoard mystery’ for you to peruse. Keep an eye out for these on the Harris museum blog.”
Matthew added “I also plan to deliver an accompanying talk on the hoard, providing more in-depth information and insights onto the latest research. So keep an eye open for that, too!”
Harris Museum and Art Gallery is at Market Square, Preston, PR1 2PP
T 01772 258248 (office 10am-4pm)
T 01772 905414 (event bookings)
If you lost that somewhere in the middle, in summary:
1. Hoard of Roman coins from 70-c.200 AD found in the ground near Fleetwood.
2. They went into the ownership of Sir Peter Fleetwood-Hesketh at nearby Rossall Hall
3. In 1844 he went bankrupt, sold the hall, and all its contents (including his large coin collection, of which the Rossall Hoard formed but one part)
4. The auctioneer mistakenly identified the current hoard of Roman coins from c.355-402 AD as the Rossall Hoard. With no surviving paperwork, family documents, or auction records we cannot know for definite where this hoard came from, or when the Fleetwood-Heskeths acquired it.
5. Alderman Brown of Preston bought them at the auction, having no reason not to believe they weren’t the genuine Rossall Hoard found in 1840
6. He passed them on to his son, Dr. Charles Brown, upon his death
7. Dr. Brown donated them to the museum in Preston (then at Cross Street) in 1883
8. In 1887 is the first recorded mention of somebody noticing that the dates of the coins didn’t match up to the original reports from 1840, and that this couldn’t be the Rossall Hoard that everybody believed it to be.
In chronological order, this is the first emperor to be found on coins from the Rossall Hoard, Constantius II, on a coin from c.355-360 AD
This is his successor, Julian II, on a coin from 363 AD
Followed by the emperor Valens, on a coin from 374-377 AD
This coin is at the tail end of the hoard – the emperor Honorius, the last emperor whose coins made their wait to Britain before Rome’s withdrawal, on a coin from 397-402 AD.