November 8, 2012 – On the 27th September 2012 101 of the rarest Henry III Pennies from the Brussels Hoard went under the hammer in London, over 100 years after they were first discovered in July 1908. A. H. Baldwin & Sons Ltd offered these coins for sale in celebration of the publication (jointly by Baldwin’s and the British Numismatic Society) of the definitive study of the hoard, written by Ron Churchill and Bob Thomas.
Found in Brussels by a group of workman engaged in pulling down an old tavern during construction of the main railway line through the centre of the city. The uncovered hoard totalled over 140,000 English, Scottish and Irish pennies and continental coins. The original reports recorded the site of discovery as which, at the time, was occupied by the café-hôtel-restaurant À l’Assaut and basked in the shadow of the striking Cathedral of St Gudule and St Michael.
The coins were concealed in a being 32 and 34 Rue d’Assaut large container which had been placed in a bricked-up vault beneath a water cistern in the basement of a stone house on the site of 32 and 34 Rue d’Assaut. At the time the owner M Coenegracht said that the container crumbled into dust as soon as it was touched but it had the shape of a round upside-down dish (couvercle). It was found under an ornamental tiled floor during the demolition of the wall of an old tank constructed in the solid arch or vault.
There have been few attempts to establish when the container was sealed. The range of coins included short cross coins, early prototype long cross coins (1a) extending to long cross coins struck in the mid 1260s (5g) It is likely, therefore, that the last coins were added to the hoard between 1265 and 1267 and that, given the political situation at the time, with perhaps few coins added during the unrest, the container was sealed sometime in 1266 but more probably 1267 when the craft guilds were armed and rebelled against the city’s hierarchy.
It was, however, through the foresight of a prominent Belgium coin dealer, Charles Dupriez (and later Albert Baldwin, grandson of Baldwin’s founder) that the “English” portion of the hoard was kept intact for detailed study. The coins were sold en-bloc in 2 lots at auction 99 of the auction house of Charles Dupriez in Brussels in October 1909. Lot 1372 from that auction contained 80,927 English, Scottish and Irish silver pennies. The purchase of lot 1372 by Albert Baldwin has now the aura of a fable. It is said that a thick fog descended over the English Channel the night before the auction which delayed potential buyers. This left the field almost exclusively open for Albert Baldwin and he returned to London the owner of the vast majority of the English coins for a sum of 15,250 francs (plus a commission of 10%) then equivalent to about £9,000. Lot 1373 contained around 55,000 continental coins; sold to another bidder these coins were sadly melted down after initial identification.
A hand written note by Albert Baldwin records that he attended the sale of British coins and purchased them in one lot. Some months later he attended another sale when he purchased a further 2,000 pennies from the hoard. Some coins were apparently stolen before the Brussels sale. At the time they were described as “several hundred” coins. Whether this second purchase consisted of some of these stolen pieces is unknown. However, it is recorded that some of the stolen coins found their way to an antiquary in Brussels and some ended up in Bruges. At some point in the 1950s, Albert Baldwin had his house burgled. Handfuls or even whole bags were taken and his son (and current Baldwin’s Chairman) Edward Baldwin recalls that Henry III pennies were distributed along country footpaths in Orpington as the result of a Police chase. The rural area in question has long since been built on but he wonders if people still find the coins in their gardens.
Despite a desire to keep the hoard intact until researched and published, commercial realities meant that some coins were sold to the leading collectors of the day and many hundreds of the poorer pieces were melted to help pay the wages during the Depression. In the 1950s an embargo on further disposals was put in place pending the proper academic study of what remained. Notwithstanding the inroads, over half the English portion of the Hoard has provided a worthwhile subject for study and, in total, some 55,000 English coins have been analyzed.
Ron Churchill, Bob Thomas, The Brussels Hoard of 1908. The Long Cross Coinage of Henry III. London, 2012. Hardback, numerous colour and b/w illustrations in the text. GBP 50.
The results of this study have been published in one volume, entitled, The Brussels Hoard of 1908. Written by ex-Whitehall civil servant and historical devotee, Ron Churchill and retired banker and numismatist, Bob Thomas the book has proved to be a true labor of love. Over 12 years in the making it has involved hundreds of hours work by two dedicated enthusiasts. It will however, prove to be the new reference work on Henry III coinage for generations of numismatists.
The book includes details of the discovery of the hoard and its subsequent history as well as considering the likely date of deposition and a detailed analysis of the individual coins extant at the commencement of the study. Building on this analysis the authors have attempted to update the classification of the long cross series of Henry III whilst introducing a new element to this classification.
The majority of the coins in the hoard are either close to or of sterling grade. The 101 included in the auction are some of the finest examples of the Henry III Penny, Long Cross type and the majority have been used as the plate coins in the Brussels Hoard book.
Lot 2428 from the auction is one of only 9 contained in the hoard.
The Brussels Hoard book is available to buy online from Baldwin’s website.
Baldwin’s have also published a companion volume to the Brussels Hoard book. This, “Moneyers and other Mint Officials during the reign of Henry III” is also by Ron Churchill and brings to light over 40 years’ of research by the author into the people behind the coins. It is fascinating reading. You can find the book here.
You can find details of the whole auction here …
… or browse through an online catalogue.