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This blog is a behind the scenes look at the Roman Baths in Bath. We hope you enjoy reading our stories about life surrounding the Roman Baths.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Words on Wednesdays: Numismatics

“Don’t think money does everything or you are going to end up doing everything for money”

As part of my numismatic placement at the Roman Baths, I put together a handling table exploring different forms of money over time; this included coinage, bank notes, currency tokens and jettons. I began with the Iron Age and then went on to explore money in the Roman Empire, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval periods, and the 17-19th century. I hoped to illustrate that money has never had a single form; for thousands of years, the label ‘money’ could be ascribed to any object or material with tradable value!

Visitors to the handling table investigate Iron Age coins

One of the most popular items on my handling table was a copper alloy dupondius, issued by Nero in 64-67 AD, which was found in the Sacred Spring at the Baths. The front, or obverse, of the coin depicts the head of Emperor Nero, and his head is surrounded by text which names his many titles. If we compare this coin to an English pound coin we can see that although the names and values of coinage have changed, what is depicted on coins is not too different.

Roman dupondius issued by Nero

To represent the 19th century, I chose to display 19th century bank notes. Like our modern bank notes, this note from 1841 has the statement, “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of £5”, meaning that the person who held this note could take it into the bank which issued the note and exchange it for the equivalent price in gold coin. This £5 note would be equivalent to around £300 in today’s currency!

£5 bank note issued by Bath Old Bank

Tokens were produced throughout the 17-19th century in times of coin shortages where they acted as substitutes for pennies, farthings and shillings. They were used in both a commercial setting, such as in a shop or a warehouse, and in some cases they were used as gambling tokens! Tokens were in frequent use, and the Roman Baths collection holds examples that were used locally in Sydney Gardens, the Pump Room, and even the Crystal Palace Inn around the corner from the museum!

Bath Token from 1811

I really enjoyed talking to visitors about this forgotten form of money, especially when it had such a big impact on our economy. It was an excellent way to exhibit objects that are not permanently on display!

British Numismatic Society Student Placement

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