Skip to Content.

Kent Archaeological Review extract

Three Potin Coins from Kent.
by D F Allen.

EDITOR: Further to the article by Professor S S Frere, "Index of Iron Age Coins" on page 9 of the last edition of the Kent Archaeological Review, I am pleased to say that three coins have been sent to Oxford for inspection and the results are given below.

The three coins submitted to me for examination are all cast coins of the type known to British writers as "tin" or "speculum" coins and to French writers as "potin." In fact they are cast in a mixture containing about two parts of copper to one of tin, with various impurities in addition; the mixture varies from casting to casting. The coins were cast in strips or trees, probably in clay moulds, so that after casting, many coins were joined together by tangs between which had to be cut. Of the three coins, the example from Keston clearly shows the cuts on either side, but the one from Otford only has the cut on one side as if it was the last in the row. The coin from Faversham is in a too wasted condition to show this feature clearly.

The moulds must have existed in very large numbers, since coins of the type are very common, both in France and in Britain, and no two examples are known to me in either country from exactly the same mould. It could be that the moulds were only used once and destroyed. There is a record of a set of moulds having been found on the Continent, but it has been lost. In time, examples of the moulds ought to be found in Britain, and most probably in Kent. Excavators should watch for this type of clay refuse on the more important Kentish sites. The objects will not necessarily resemble the so called coin moulds so often found on Belgic sites here, (as well as at sites on the Continent), which were apparently used for casting the blanks on which coins were struck from dies. The moulds will have on them, drawn or impressed, in intaglio, the negative of the designs on the coins themselves.

PHOTO: Potin coins from Otford, Keston, and Faversham.

Plate 2. Potin coins from Otford, Keston and Faversham. Obverse side above and reverse side below.

These designs have an ultimate origin in the bronze coins of the second century BC of Massalia, with the head of the Appollo on one side and a butting bull on the other, themselves imitating a well known coin type of Syracuse. This type was copied extensively in central Gaul in cast coins; enormous numbers survive, but they have never been well classified or assigned to regions. Consequently it is at present impossible to follow their history in Gaul except in the most general way. It is clear that the coins became smaller as they went further north and west and it is probably from some of the northern varieties that the coins found their way to Britain; but at this stage I am quite unable to say where exactly lay the home of the originals which led to the British coinage. I can say, however, that the maps hitherto reproduced are seriously misleading in that they suggest a connection between Britain and parts of Gaul where potin coins existed which are certainly not in the direct line of ancestry; similarly the traditional name of the Gaulish type, " Sequani," is also misleading if it is taken to indicate either where the coins started or their limits of circulation.

By the time the coins were established in Britain they had become much thinner than their Gaulish counterparts, almost flat in fact, and the designs on them had become much more linear than most of the Gaulish varieties. It is usual to divide the British coins into two broad classes, but in fact there are a great many more than two kinds and their relationship and history have yet to be worked out.

For the purpose of this note, however, it is sufficient to say that the coin from Faversham belongs to the larger size, Class I, on which a sort of face and sort of bull are still detectable. On Class II, distinctly smaller in module, the face is reduced to a circle round a dot, with two crescents for features, while the bull on the reverse is reduced to a Euclidian design of square and parallelogram superimposed; that it was once a bull is above and reverse side below. forgotten. The coins from Keston and Otford are good examples of Class II on which, so far as the description is apposite, the face is turned to the right; on many others it is turned to the left.

The hoards of these potin coins in Britain have mainly been found along the Thames, but single specimens have turned up at a great many sites, for instance, from as far west as Hod Hill and Glastonbury. There is, however no doubt that the true home of the type lies in Kent. All recent excavations in Kent have tended to find the coins sometimes in number. Those found are both of Class I and Class II, a fact of some interest because until recently it has been usual to consider the Class II coins as an Essex or East Anglian derivative of Class I. The smaller coins are found north of the Thames, but they are found even more commonly south of it, as exemplified by the two surface finds from Keston and Otford.

There has been much argument about the date of the potin coins, both in Gaul and in Britain. There is some evidence that they are early and primitive; there is just as much evidence that they are late and primitive. The truth seems to be that, as on the Continent, they had in Britain a fairly long life in an " immobilised form," not differing very much from one decade to another. The Snettisham hoard seems to provide good evidence for the coins existing near the middle of the first century BC and it may be noted that these coins did not contain any of Class II. On the other hand, in such excavations as those at Lullingstone Roman Villa, it was Class II coins which were found. It is not possible to put a reliable date to the Faversham coin, which is not in good enough condition for much detail to be extracted; curiously, it appears to be of almost pure copper, without the usual tinned effect on the surface. The Keston and Otford coins, however, are likely to have lain much nearer in date to the Roman Conquest. More than that cannot yet be said.

There is room for much more detailed study on this strange group of coins. It has recently been shown that, in some not yet well understood way, papyrus was used in the fabrication of some of them. The group on which the marks of papyrus are visible on the surface as a kind of graining are readily distinguishable from the others, and it would be of particular interest to pin down their home and date. This has not yet been done, but I have regretfully to say that none of the three coins submitted to me fall into this group.

I set down the weights of the three coins below for record, but the differences are not significant. Only the Keston coin is at or near the original weight, the other two have suffered some decline from weathering rather than use.

Unfortunately, the rest of the article is missing as the copy of the KAR from which it was taken had some pages missing. Hopefully, a complete copy of the KAR will be located sometime, and this page updated.
Close Window
Accessed this page via search engine or bookmark? Full K A R Index here.