RAMM’s numismatics collection contains over 6,500 items. Numismatics is the collection and study of coins, tokens, and medals. Some of the differences between these items are minute, and each one tells us a little bit about the time it was made and used. Coins found through archaeological excavations or by metal detecting sit within the antiquities collections area.
Early coins in Devon
The first coins used in Devon are from the Iron Age around 2,100 years ago. These coins were not made in the region but traded from the tribes in Dorset. During the Roman period, coinage became widespread throughout Britain, and coins from across the Empire have been found and collected in Devon. The first coins to be made in Devon come from the Anglo-Saxon mints at Exeter (871-1300), Lydford (959-1066), Totnes (959-1100), and Barnstaple (978-1087).
Seaton Down Hoard
22,888 Roman coins and three iron ingots composes the Seaton Down Hoard. Buried in around AD 350, it is a mystery who buried it and why. You can see the Seaton Down Hoard in the Making History gallery.
Exeter’s mint has a long history, from the very rare coins of Alfred the Great (871-899), through the Anglo-Saxon and Norman kings to the Medieval coinage up to 1300. Exeter also minted coins in 1644 and 1645 for the Royalists during the Civil War. William III also ordered the great coinage in 1696. This was the final phase of coin production in Exeter. It lasted until 1698.
Other forms of currency
Official coins of the realm are not the only currency that has been made in Devon. Merchants often produced their own trade tokens, generally to cover for the lack of small change issued officially. In the 17th century traders in most Devon towns issued trade tokens. In the 18th century only Exeter and Plymouth issued tokens, but by the 19th century they were made in Exeter, Barnstaple, Tavistock and Teignmouth.
Many 19th century public houses, inns, hotels, shops and other merchants issued advertising checks and tickets. These were very like trade tokens but were also an advertisement for their business. Most were made from bronze but some were bone, ivory and even plastic.
The first bank notes were made in the 18th century. These were issued by a number of small banking businesses that sprang up at this time. Between 1790 and 1820 there was a banking crisis and many of these banks either failed, or merged to form larger banks. RAMM has several bank notes from Exeter banks in the collection. The most recent acquisitions are examples of the ‘Exeter Pound’ which was first issued in 2015.
RAMM has a fine collection of medals. Many of these are military and civilian honours awarded to people with a connection to Devon or Exeter. Other medals commemorate specific Exeter or Devon people, events and buildings. Additionally, one of the most interesting groups in RAMM’s collection are the medals from schools in Exeter. These medals rewarded good attendance or proficiency in topics such as mathematics or Latin hexameters.