What a rare gold coin from the Black Death can tell us about life in the 1350’s.

One of the things I wanted to do when I was little was to go metal-detecting. I still remember the joy of getting one and going deep into the woods to see what I could find. Sadly for me about 10 minutes into it I was accosted by a local official who told me a licence was needed. Not a very expensive licence but too much for a young teenager in the 1980’s.

My dreams of finding treasure evaporated (unless you include Mudlarking… which also needs a licence). Very annoying especially in the 39 years or so of wandering around those woods, thousands of times, that remains the one and only time I ever met anyone in them, let alone an official.

Fortunately, other people have better luck and recently a “very rare” Edward III gold coin lost in the wake of the Black Death has been found by a teenage metal detectorist.

The 23-carat leopard coin was discovered with another gold coin, called a noble, near Reepham, Norfolk.

Finds liaison officer Helen Geake said the leopard was withdrawn within months of being minted in 1344 and “hardly any have survived”.

She said the coins were equivalent to £12,000 today and would have been owned by someone “at the top of society”.

The leopard – which has never been found with another coin – was discovered with a “rare” 1351-52 Edward III noble.

After the Norman Conquest, the only coins in circulation were silver pennies with the old Anglo-Saxon gold coins taken out of circulation. (To read the history of the penny check out my post)

“The royal treasury might talk in terms of pounds, shillings and pence, but the physical reality was sacks of silver pennies,” said Dr Geake.

“Then Edward III decided to reintroduce the first gold coins in England since the Anglo-Saxon era – and no-one knows why.”

Perhaps it was because with silver, if you had to purchase a large item like a farm animal or property then you’d have to physically carry around large sacks of silver coins with you.

The new gold coins, called a florin, a leopard and a helm, were minted in early 1344, but withdrawn within months. 

Dr Geake said: “For some reason they didn’t catch on, but when one or two pennies were the equivalent of a day’s wages at today’s minimum wage rate, perhaps very few people used them.”

They were replaced with the noble, worth six shillings and eight pence. 

The Reepham find shows the leopard, which was worth three shillings, was in circulation for much longer than previously thought.

Rare Leopard coin

Usually of course discontinued coins would be removed from circulation as quickly as possible but as this coin was found with another coin 6 or 7 years later it suggests perhaps that despite its over-valued rate against silver, the owner still saw much value in it during the terrible times of the Black Death which arrived in 1348.

It also perhaps shows that the government was unable to withdrawn these coins due to the general chaos and cataclysm of having a third of the population dying generally and even more in large cities like London.

The coins were found in October 2019. Their status as treasure is currently being decided by coroners.

For a post on some of the missing buried treasures you might want to read this. I have several other treasure posts including this one in London or indeed you can see my close encounter with a freshly excavated Roman shoe.

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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3 Responses to What a rare gold coin from the Black Death can tell us about life in the 1350’s.

  1. Contractions of Fate says:

    Excellent blog!

    I wonder if that bent Leopard would break if they tried to straigten it?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. PHILIP HEARD says:

    I remember it well

    Liked by 1 person

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