17 January 2019
Julian Bowsher, Museum of London Archaeology, reveals details of a large collection of coins recently found in a National Trust property in Kent and thought to be the collection of Edward Hussey III
Scotney Castle, near Lamberhurst in Kent, was originally built in the 1370s. It was eventually bought in the 18th century by the Hussey family who built a new castle in the 1830s; remnants of the medieval castle survived as a folly in the newly landscaped grounds. Keen antiquarians and travellers, the Husseys amassed a vast collection of furniture, ceramics, paintings … and coins!
The National Trust took over the house in 2006 after the death of Elizabeth, widow of Christopher Hussey the well-known architectural historian. The priority was to open the house for visitors to enjoy in a phased programme and the process of systematically searching the building and cataloguing every object began soon after.
Two disintegrating boxes containing coins were found in a cabinet in the downstairs study. These comprise 186 pieces ranging from a 7th-century BC quarter stater of the turtle series from Aigina to a 1787 ‘Druid token’ of the Parys Mine Company – described by Dalton and Hamer as ‘the premier token of the 18th century’. Between these are Hellenistic Greek, Roman, Byzantine, medieval Islamic coins and a Chinese ‘cash’ of the Qianlong period (1736–95).
Collecting ancient coins was a popular pastime for the classically educated for many years and such collections survive in a number of (National Trust) country houses, but this is the largest collection of Roman coins in any NT house.
It appears that Edward Hussey III (1807–94) began the coin collection at the age of sixteen. His diaries and notebooks record him buying coins and visiting the British Museum. In the 1880s his son, Edward Windsor Hussey, recorded that he ‘went to the British Museum with papa as he wanted to ask about some coins’.
The collection is largely Roman – a common theme was to collect a coin for every Roman emperor and there is a particularly good 3rd-century AD run including Balbinus, Pupienus, Aemilian and the joint Aurelian/Vabalathus of Palmyra.
Roman rarities also include a Moderationi of Tiberius and a Genio Antiocheni of Maximinus Daza.
Many 4th-century pieces, however, are contemporary counterfeits as found throughout the empire. The small collection of very worn Byzantine folles runs from Justinian I to Maurice Tiberius. Surviving records suggest that there may be further coins to be found: a list compiled by Edward Hussey III noted further Roman coins and some medieval British coins.
A clue to the origins of the collection lies within the coins themselves. We had discounted the idea that they had been found in the vicinity of Scotney, for the Roman coins at least were not of the sort found commonly in Britain. Interestingly, there is a particular bias in the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine coins to mints in what is now south-eastern Turkey and northern Syria.
The much later Islamic coins appear to be from the same area: the Ayyubid coin was minted in Aleppo, the Artuqid in Mardin and the Mamluk in Damascus. However, more than a few were probably bought in the West; the copy of the Othonian denarius is almost certainly an 18th / 19th-century forgery made in the West, bought perhaps due to the rarity of genuine Otho coins!
The National Trust commissioned MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) to identify and catalogue the collection.
MOLA is grateful to Nathalie Cohen, Emma Long, Claire Reed and Chloe Tapping of the NT for their support. We are also grateful to colleagues who identified some of the more obscure pieces – Roger Bland and Curtis Clay, and British Museum staff Richard Abdy, Vesta Curtis, Amelia Dowler and Helen Wang. The coins were conserved by Elizabeth Barham and photographed by Andy Chopping and Maggie Cox (all of MOLA).
Image: The collection includes Roman, Greek Hellenistic and medieval Islamic coins (photo: Andy Chopping / MOLA)