An extremely rare Edward III gold coin, known as a ‘leopard’, has been discovered by a metal detectorist in Reepham, Norfolk. Experts believe the 23-carat coin was lost in the wake of the Black Death and could change our understanding of Britain’s medieval economy.
The leopard, equivalent to a whopping £12,000 today, was withdrawn within months of being minted in 1344. Yet it was found for the first time alongside another coin – a rare Edward III noble minted between 1351 and 1352, which was more widely adopted than the leopard.
Norfolk finds liaison officer Dr Helen Geake now believes the leopard was in circulation for much longer than previously thought due to devastation of the bubonic plague, which reached England in 1348. “It was hugely cataclysmic, a third of the population was dying,” explained Dr Geake. “Usually the authorities would be keen to remove a withdrawn coin as soon as possible.“
During the 14th century, silver pennies were the most common form of coinage minted by the royal treasury, so the Leopard was likely owned by someone “at the top of society”. There are currently only three leopards in public collections, two in the British Museum and the third, found in 2006, is in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
“Edward III decided to reintroduce the first gold coins in England since the Anglo-Saxon era – and no-one knows why,” said Dr. Geake. “For some reason they didn’t catch on, but when one or two pennies were the equivalent of a day’s wages at today’s minimum wage rate, perhaps very few people used them.“
The newly registered coins were found in October 2019. Their status as treasure remains subject to a coroner’s inquest, which is scheduled for June 23 2021. Reflecting on the impact of the Reepham hoard on our perceptions of British commerce in the medieval period, Dr Geake added “it means the picture is more complex than thought.”