David I, penny

The finder of this coin prefers to remain anonymous. He initially believed his find was a penny of Henry I. It does look like a type XV penny of Henry I but it is something far more significant.

The coin is weak in a number of places but if the whole legend on the reverse was visible then it would read +EREBALD ON CARD. Therefore, Erebald is the moneyer and Carlisle the mint. Carlisle is a rare mint for Henry I and it produced pennies of only type XIV and XV. Over the years I have seen a few as detecting finds and they now sell for less than they did 20 years since.

The obverse legend that could be expected would read HENRICVS but on this coin the legend starts with DAVI. Therefore, instead of being a coin of Henry I of England, this is a penny of David I of Scotland.

Historical background

Stephen usurps the throne of England

At the start of December 1135 King Henry I of England died. In 1127 the leading magnates had all sworn to accept Henry’s daughter, Matilda, as Queen of England when Henry died. However, in December of 1135 the same magnates must have been having second thoughts. Prior experience had shown that both England and Normandy needed a strong ruler, one who could call upon the support of all the barons. Did Matilda have the necessary requirements?

These doubts and other outstanding questions were speedily settled when Stephen of Blois (nephew and favourite of Henry I), acting with great speed, crossed the Channel and was crowned as king on 22 December 1135. Most of the Norman barons pledged allegiance to Stephen as King of England and Duke of Normandy. Matilda, widow of Henry V of Germany, was now married to Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, and as could be expected she was not at all happy that Stephen had usurped the throne of England.

King David invades the north of England

King David of Scotland had been one of those who had sworn to accept Matilda as queen. Early in January of 1136 the Scots invaded the north of England. The main reason for this was supposed to be to give support to Matilda’s claim to the throne. However, David might also have seen an opportunity to grab land before Stephen had time to consolidate his position, as the Scots had a longstanding claim to Cumbria.

Carlisle mint captured

Carlisle and its mint were swiftly captured and this led to the very first Scottish coins being struck. They initially copied the design of the last issue of Henry I but had David’s name on the obverse; slightly later coins would copy Stephen’s cross moline (‘Watford’) type. Coins similar to this find were produced for a very short time. The reason they imitated type XV of Henry I was most probably because the die maker had nothing else to copy. However, as soon as the Scots became aware of the cross Moline type of Stephen they switched to that design. In Coins of Scotland, Ireland and the Islands David I pennies of Henry I type XV e are listed as number 5001 (the very first coin listed in this reference work).

Valuation

This find has a number of flat areas. Rather than being caused by long circulation, these are probably the end result of the disc of silver being of uneven thickness. The discs were cut from hammered-out sheets of silver that would not be of a uniform thickness. When a disc was struck between dies the thicker parts would be impressed but the thinner areas would end up weak or flat. Another fault on the coin under discussion is the elongated hole in the edge.

The overall condition of this coin leaves a good deal to be desired but a significant plus point is its rarity. And, Scottish coins have a strong following. So, what’s it worth? Well, back in 2016 a finer specimen, said to be one of only eight known, sold at auction for £7,000. Another specimen, sold more recently, achieved a hammer price close to £12,000. With the weak areas and the hole this find wouldn’t sell for as much as the last two coins. However, if properly catalogued by the right saleroom I’m certain that it would fetch a price that the finder would not have dreamed of when the coin first surfaced.

A previous encounter with a similar coin

Here’s a little story about a similar coin. It would be about 15 years back that I was opening the mail that had just been delivered. As I ripped an envelope open a coin dropped to the floor. The reverse was facing upwards and as I looked down on it I said: “Good grief, someone has sent a Henry I type XV penny by ordinary post.” I checked the letter inside the torn envelope and saw it was from a lady I know, who is very good at locating rare coins.

I then picked up the coin and when I turned it over I was amazed by what I saw, for the legend started with DAVIT! Yes, this was a penny of David I of Scotland with an obverse and reverse copied from late coins of Henry I. At the time only two or three were known. The lady who had posted it to me thought it would be worthless and that’s why it wasn’t insured.

She came to pick it up and a few months later it was sold at auction in London and the hammer price was £6,500. I should hasten to add it was a finer specimen than the find featured in this article. Just think if the lady’s coin had dropped out of the envelope whilst in transit. Two people, the finder and me, would never have known that a really important coin had gone astray.

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