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25.02.2021

Lincoln Spanish-American gold hoards

The six coins are part of a hoard that was first discovered back in 1928, when 18 nearly identical coins were found. After an investigation (conducted at a local pub), the original coins were separated. Although 5 of them are now in the British Museum, the rest have gone into private collections. The find is of special significance because it represents the only known hoard of its kind in Britain.

All of the coins are gold and have the denomination known as "8-escudo," and they were all produced under King Charles IV of Spain. Even more unusually, the coins were minted in South America: two were produced in Chile, two in Colombia, one in Mexico, and one in Bolivia. The coins are dated between 1793 and 1801, suggesting that they were buried shortly thereafter, probably in 1802 or 1803.

The obverses (heads) of the coins depict Charles IV in typical late 18th century fashion and military uniform. The Latin legend surrounding his portrait reads: "CAROLVS IV DG HISP. ET IND. Р.'. This can be translated as "Charles IV by the grace of God, King of Spain and India."

The reverses (tails) of the coins show the royal coat of arms surrounded by a collar with the Golden Fleece (from classical mythology) dangling from the bottom. The legend along the edge reads, "IN. UTRO Q. FELIX. FELIX. DEO", which can be translated as "By the will of God we will prosper.

The discovery of these latter coins in 2010 brought the total number of known coins to 24, and again drew attention to the intriguing question of why they were buried in a Lincolnshire field at all.

The date of their burial is interesting in itself, as it was the time of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. The habit of hoarding coins was common until the English Civil War in the 17th century, but the wars with France led to a resurgence of people burying their wealth for safety. We must assume that the treasure was buried for this very reason, but the owner never returned to retrieve it. Today's coins represented the equivalent of several thousand pounds, not an amount that anyone would throw away lightly. Perhaps some tragedy had overtaken the owner and prevented him from returning?

The coins are all the same type, and their close date range suggests that they were all purchased at the same time, perhaps as part of a commercial transaction. The answer may lie in the sheep trade. Lincoln Longwool sheep were sold throughout Europe and South America in the 19th century, and especially in Argentina, where they were crossbred with local sheep breeds. Perhaps the treasure represents profits made by a Branston farmer from the sheep trade with South America? Hopefully further research will shed more light on the individuals involved.

The coins were acquired with the kind assistance of the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the Headley Trust, and the Friends of the Lincoln Museums and Art Gallery.

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