Thursday, August 04, 2011

Each Moneyer Was His Own Little Mint: An Ode to Numismatics


It is now Day 5 of the biennial meeting of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists [but only Day 3 of days with sessions], and after the excitement yesterday of the hard-drive on my MacBook crashing [data recovered: whew, but I have to replace the hard-drive which will necessitate staying in Madison, Wisconsin one extra day: darn, that is really hard labor ... NOT], we began today with a special plenary session on numismatics in honor of Mark Blackburn, Keeper of Coins and Medals [best job title EVER] at the Fitzwilliam Museum, featuring talks by Anna Gannon, Rory Naismith, and Philip Shaw. In the spirit of my last report-as-poem from ISAS 2011, I offer the following poetic digest of this session:

Ode to Plenary B: New Approaches to Coin Studies

I. Gannon: This is When I Started Casting My Net

If I can just say, I don't want to dwell on this;
can you all hear me?

We are sure this is King Eadbald of Kent;
in profile, it follows very closely
the Merovingian coinage across the sea.
It does look a little bit like a porcupine,
a deranged bust.

Vine scrolls are so numerous--
please raise your hand if you cannot see this.
I hope you can glimpse the body here,
and here's another one:
bunches of grapes, but also us.

I would like to talk you through images
you have to play with,
with your eyes: the grapes are expressed as rosettes.

How do you know that people could follow
these complex theological messages?
I'm sorry, I should start at the beginning:
this is the Annunciation. It is something you would taste.
I have argued that this is the five senses.

I forgot to put in a picture of the Fuller Brooch:
this is the time of the conversion of England.
It's very interesting to see the experiments.
This is when I started casting my net
beyond Anglo-Saxon things.
As we see in Roman mosaics, and yes,
it is quite three-dimensional:
the hen, even as a hen,
gathereth her chickens under her wing.
There are columns onto which you would have put candles.

II. Naismith: Blowing in the Wind

This one comes from the change-over:
the coin indicates the tremendous flexibility
of the king's style.
This just summarizes the basic chronology.
Saying who was boss was just as important
as showing who was boss.

I hesitate to use the word "portrait":
curly hair like this had a long iconographic history,
blowing in the wind at the moment of heroic apotheosis.

So she loses her rights in 790,
if she even had any.
Serpents occurred on a small but significant number.

Other rulers in the time of Offa
also got in on the action--
one can be in little doubt that the die-cutters
were literate and knew what they were doing.
What circumstances might have produced it?
In effect, each moneyer was his own little mint,
the heart of the system;
there was no unity of design.

III. Shaw: -eth Libretto

We've got quite a lot of his coins;
Æthelheard was a bit of a rebel.

ð is clearly the go-to letter for this sound.

I think what we're seeing here, by and large,
are Kentish beneficiaries.
As we go into the later parts of the century,
we might be getting a mixture.
We also get a Worcester charter in there.
From 785 onward, something dramatic happens:
we know they already have -eth in their repertoire,
and things take off a bit.

Suddenly, everything steepens.

I'm not suggesting there's a royal decree about -eth.

What does this say about Æthelheard?
I probably don't have the time now
to explain the indications
for a dental fricative,
but you can ask me later.

We see resistance.

The ecclesiastical context is important here;
I'll leave you with that.


Anonymous said...

This is even more fun because I know the people involved. You've caught Anna's slightly accidental poetry and Rory's precision really nicely. Once again bravo! I hope to be able to point Mark at this later on.

Eileen Joy said...

Thank you, Jonathan. I was *specifically* hoping you would read this since I know you spent time at the Fitzwilliam. I don't know anything about numismatics and was apprehensive about this session [like: will I be bored?], and it turned out to be one of the best so far of the entire conference!

Anonymous said...

Indeed I did: Mark was my boss for five years, Anna had one of my jobs there before I did and I'm still on committees with Rory. It's the kind of department that forges really long-lasting friendships. And numismatics certainly can be boring, but not with these people involved. Or sceattas, really; one could do a fascinating paper on sceattas simply by putting up, say, forty slides with no more comment than "I mean, seriously, what?" For those who've never met either word or coins, and are wondering if there's more to say, have a look at this online exhibition, which Mark wrote and I coded! (N. B. now that I look, Mark's podcast has been moved, and is here now, not where it's linked. I'll contact my replacement about that fact.

Paul Hyams said...

I love it. And how nice to have a detailed report on 3 no doubt quite technical papers.

Eileen Joy said...

Thank you, Paul; the papers *were* quite technical, especially the last one on the use of -eth/D on coins, but I really loved them, maybe especially because it is a field I know virtually nothing about [except for one trip to the Fitzwiliam back in 2004 where I and some other NEH Institute participants got a private tour from Mark Blackburn of the coin holdings].

Karl Steel said...

WOW. This is really clever. I love it!

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Oh how I love this performance of the performances!