Highlights of the British Collection:

Local Money

Exciting local discoveries and coinage made in the region both throw light on the way people lived here in the past. They also reveal the historical connections between Oxfordshire and the wider world, and how these have changed over time.

Coins have been found in the local area for centuries, but the introduction of metal detectors has greatly increased the quantities recovered. Over the years many coins have been reported to the Ashmolean Museum, and over the last decade thousands of finds of coins (and other artefacts) from Oxfordshire have been reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Coins may be discovered one at a time or in groups of any size (known as hoards), with hoards of thousands of coins found on occasions. Hoards were probably buried for a wide range of reasons, often perhaps by people wanting to keep their money safe but also they may have been buried as a ritual offering or some are no doubt nothing more than a lost purse.  Those which their owners did not recover have remained in the ground for us to find. By contrast most of the individual coins which turn up were accidentally lost.

At certain times money was made locally, at regional or royal mints, by traders and manufacturers, and by banks. Local money illustrates local history, but is also part of a wider story of economic and social change at home and abroad. A range of both locally-made coinage and locally-found coinage can be found in the Museum’s Money Gallery. The Ashmolean has an extensive collection of coins, tokens and bank notes which were made in Oxfordshire over the centuries.

Henry II Penny

Oxford penny showing King Henry II from 1180–1184

From AD 900 to 1280 royal mints in Oxford and Wallingford struck silver pennies. In 1250 a farm labourer earned a penny a day.

Charles I Three Pound Coin

Gold three pound coin (720 pennies) showing Charles I

Charles I established his headquarters in Oxford during the English Civil War. Oxford’s New Inn Hall Street (300 meters from here) housed the king’s most important mint. Between 1642 and 1646 it turned much college treasure into coinage to pay the King’s soldiers. A soldier earned around 12 pennies a day.

Tennis Court Token

Farthing (quarter penny) token of the tennis court keeper Thomas Wood, Oxford 1652

From 1648–1672 and again from 1788–1815 the Royal Mint did not produce any small change. Cities, traders, and manufacturers had their own copper tokens made instead, and guaranteed to exchange them for official coins. These tokens were used locally and have interesting designs relating to their issuers.

Oxford Old Bank 10 Note

£10 note from the Old Bank in Oxford, 1899

Between 1750 and 1921 local banks issued their own notes, as some Scottish banks still do today.

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John Naylor
22 May 2012