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Ashmolean Museum Acquires A Hoard of Angels This Christmas

December 29, 2010 – Spanning the period from 1470-1526, covering the Wars of the Roses to ten years before the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the hoard is the largest intact assemblage of its kind. It contains some rare pieces, most notably from the reign of Kings Henry VI, 2nd reign (1470-1471) and Richard III (1483-1485).

The Ashmolean successfully secured more than half of the hoard’s asking price through private, philanthropic giving with the remaining monies raised through government funding and grants from public sources. Over and above the £64,000 from NHMF, the following helped to raise the money: £28,000 from The MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund; £10,000 from The Headley Trust; and £178,000 from the following: Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Seaman; Baron Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza; The Mougins Museum of Classical Art; The Carl and Eileen Subak Family Foundation; The Friends of the Ashmolean; The Elias Ashmole Group; The Tradescant Patrons Group.

Dr Christopher Brown, Director of the Ashmolean, said “We are extremely grateful to the individuals and funding bodies for their very generous contributions towards this remarkable hoard. Not only will the hoard be a great addition to our renowned collection but it makes a significant contribution to the history of Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds, and to our understanding of the production and circulation of gold coinage in the early Tudor period.”

The hoard was discovered in the summer of 2007 during building work in the village of Asthall, near Burford. It was declared Treasure in April 2010 and was valued by Treasure Valuation Committee at £280,000 on 12 August. It was unearthed on land, which belonged to Eton College at the turn of the sixteenth century. The Tudor gold was buried in the early period of Henry VIII (1509-1547); it is possible this was connected to the hiding of Church wealth, in the context of the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII. Alternatively, it may represent a merchant’s wealth – whatever the reason, the Asthall hoard is testimony to the accumulation of wealth in the region, made particularly rich from the wool trade.

Angels and half-angels were first minted in 1465, bearing the Archangel Michael slaying the dragon on the obverse. It has been suggested that this is an allegory of the overthrow of Lancaster by York. European culture in the fifteenth century was a time of chivalry and lay piety. This religious theme continues on the reverse design, where the traditional ship borne by the gold nobles since 1344 is super-imposed by a cross, and by the inscriptions: Per Crucem Tuam Salva Nos Christe Redemptor: - Through thy cross save us, Christ Redeemer (on the angels); O Crux Ave Spes Unica - Hail! O Cross, our only hope (on the half-angels).

In the second half of the fifteenth century, the introduction of the angel with its overtly pious message coincided with the popular practice of the Royal Touch. Since medieval times, kings have been involved in the healing of tuberculosis of the neck (scrofula, the King’s Evil), a practice which involved touching (Royal Touch), and the giving of alms in the shape of coins. Touch pieces retained the design of angel coins for centuries.

Following conservation, the hoard will go on display in a special exhibition in the Ashmolean’s new Money Gallery for a year from 22 March 2011. It will become a key part of the Museum’s permanent collection of coins, one of the leading currency collections in the world.

If you want to know more about the Ashmolean Museum, click here.

If you want to see some highlights from the Heberden Coin Room, please click here.

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