It had got to the time of year when crops had gone in and fields available to search were becoming difficult to find. I had concentrated earlier searches on my best sites where the chances of making finds was highest. Now though the crops were coming through and it was time for pastures new. A tour round my sites produced a field at my third port of call that had not yet been sown and it had the added attraction of being worked down nice and flat.

I had been to this site before and had a little success but not as much as the physical evidence suggested. There was a small church and an old Manor House that looked in the main to be Jacobean and just two farm cottages still standing. There must have been at least a hamlet somewhere near the Church and this was confirmed by pottery sherds in the plough soil dating from the Medieval period. A small track led past the Church and the available field was on the other side of this so I decided to start opposite the Church using this as a marker. I had searched for some time and the soil was 'busy' but apart from scrappy bits nothing was coming up of any importance. Then 'bang' a really solid signal came though the headphones and after turning over a good clump of soil with my trowel I was holding the artefact in Picture 1.

Picture 1. Inscribed Purse Bar.

This is one of the two arms (or bar) from a purse-frame and you can clearly see the loops to which the fabric of the purse was attached. It is nicely inlaid with niello and inscribed on one side GA: CIA PLE and on the other A DOMINV. This Latin inscription is part of the greeting by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation and is still used as a common Catholic prayer today:-

Ave Maria, gracia plena, Dominus tecum, benedicta tu in mulieribus et benedictus fructus ventris tui Jesu. Sancta Maria ora pro nobis peccatoribus nunc et in ora mortis nostrae. Amen.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen

The other side bar, which I did not find, would certainly have had the first part on one side AVE MARIA and on its other side the continuation probably with abbreviations TECVM BENEDICTA TV. The full inscription may therefore have been:-

Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou

Of course I didn't know all this at the time, I had to research it but I did know what the artefact was and the implications of the find - broken frame=lost purse=COINS. My immediate feeling was that the artefact was Medieval however I was soon to be proved wrong. It wasn't too long before I got another good positive signal not a million miles away from where the purse bar had popped out. Using my foot-assisted trowel I turned over a good portion of soil and passed my search head over it. A strong signal indicated I had located the find so picking up a large clod of the excavated soil I broke it open with my hands and there staring at me like a pea in a pod was the fantastic Tudor gold coin in Picture 2. Gold comes out of the ground in the same state as it went in and this coin has never been cleaned as just a light brush under running water was all that was required. You can see the colour in the title picture above. Luckily for me it did not encounter any plough damage either.

Picture 2. Gold Half Sovereign of Henry VIII.

It is difficult to stop looking at such a great find but eventually I placed it (very carefully!) in my finds pouch and decided to continue searching. A more intensive search method was obviously now required so I got a couple of canes that I always carried in my car and proceeded to work between these moving one of them along a detector-sweep width at the end of every length of my search area. Ears straining I continued my search for another hour or so but nothing else was coming up and curiosity was getting the better of me. I wasn't absolutely sure who or what the coin was and I was itching to get home and identify it. With my trusty Seaby catalogue it didn't take too long to tie it down as a half sovereign (10 shillings) of Henry VIII (Seaby 2391). That was a lot of money in those days and almost certainly the purse frame and coin would have belonged to someone from the Manor House. Apparently the dies for these coins were never the best and this coin is about as good as they get so it was fairly new when lost.

The mint mark is an arrow dating this coin to 1547-1549 so it is a posthumous coin using Henry's name but actually issued during the reign of Edward VI. The half sovereign of this posthumous issue is the only denomination to depict the youthful figure of Edward VI enthroned on the obverse. The legend reads:-

Henry VIII by the Grace of God, King of England and France, and Lord of Ireland
The reverse legend is from Luke (iv:30)and reads:-
But Jesus, passing through the midst of them, went his way.
As the coin is in such good condition it was probably lost sometime in the early 1550s and this is important archaeologically as it has enabled this type of purse frame to be accurately dated.

Picture 3. Further finds - some of the purse attachments.

Of course I have searched the find spot diligently on many occasions since and have recovered the loop by which the purse was suspended from the belt, a possible part of the closure and a small swivel link. These are illustrated above in Picture 3. Sadly no more coins have ever been found. The Coroner kept the coin for a while and then he duly returned it to me as a single find and not subject to the Treasure Trove Act. I eventually wrote about my find for Treasure Hunting magazine and it appeared on the front cover that you see in Picture 4.

Picture 4. The coin on the front cover of Treasure Hunting Magazine

Copyright © 2002, C J's Metal Detecting Pages, All Rights Reserved.