The first phase of the Hiberno-Norse coinages were imitations of contemporary Anglo-Saxon coins. They were produced in Dublin but closely copied the style of the silver pennies of Aethelred II of England and his successor Cnut. Since the English coin designs changed periodically, the dating and sequence of their Hiberno-Norse equivalents can be identified quite accurately.
- The Irish pennies in this group begin with the Crux type of Aethelred
- They follow the English style pennies through to the quatrefoil type of Cnut from about 1016-22
- These coins are occasionally blundered and occasionally feature Anglo-Norse legends
- These ‘blunders’ can occur on one or or both sides
These early coins were minted under the authority of Sihtric III (a.k.a. Sihtric Silkenbeard) King of Dublin. Sihtric was the son of Olaf Cuarán, Norse King of Dublin, Northumbria & York (ruled c. 989-1036). Sihtric’s mother, Gormflaith, was an Irish princess, daughter of the king of Leinster in the southeastern part of the island.
- The Irish coins are made of good silver and are usually signed in Sihtric’s name and by a Dublin Moneyer so this is not an attempt at forgery but instead it is a pragmatic approach to produce coins with designs that would be widely acceptable throughout the Viking world but particularly for trading with the Vikings of the North of England and the Anglo-Saxons themselves.
- Early Hiberno Norse coins generally turn up in high grades – the average grade is Very Fine (VF) or better
- this suggests that they were not heavily circulated (handled), i.e. not for ‘every day’ use
- Peck marks’ occur on many coins of Hiberno-Norse Phase I and there have been a number of attempts to explain them – the two most popular being :-
- the result of a sharp implement being used to pry the coin from the die after striking.
- the result of tests to check that the coin is not a lead copy
- lead, or soft alloys of lead, were the only metals readily available for counterfeiters at that time
In line with their Anglo-Saxon contemporaries, Hiberno-Norse Phase I can be further divided into the following numismatic classes:-
Class A 996-1001 Crux issue (King Aethelred II)
Class B 1002-1008 Long Cross issue (King Aethelred II)
It is during the Long Cross issue of the Hiberno-Norse, Phase I series that unusual but distinctive numismatic ‘anomalies’ occur. These two coins are struck from well executed dies and have characteristics similar to those of the Long Cross issue of Sithric – except that they are issued in the names of Thymn and Ogsen.
- The enigmatic issuers are unknown to history other than from their coins.
- There has been considerable speculation as to their origin
- Some research suggest that Thymn’s coins were struck outside of Dublin
- Thymn’s coins are rare
- Ogsen’s coins are extremely rare
Class C 1009-1011 Helmet issue (King Aethelred II)
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Class D 1011-1016 Small Cross issue (King Aethelred II)
Class E 1016-1018 Quatrefoil issue (King Cnut)
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Quatrefoil is the rarest of the five ‘known’ Hiberno-Norse types in Phase I.
- Only thirty specimens are known
- six are in public collections in Ireland and the UK
- twenty-three are in museums on the Continent
- and one was recently in the trade
These thirty coins are struck from sixteen obverse and reverse dies, which suggests that we know a good proportion of the dies originally employed in the coinage. Since the sample is relatively small, a statistical estimate of the original number of dies used cannot be made with a high level of confidence. However, the figures indicate that there were in the order of twenty-five obverse and reverse dies.
This fairly small estimated number of dies does not appear merely to be the result of a limited group of coins having been exported to the Northern Lands, for each of the five coins with putative find provenances in the British Isles is die-linked to coins found in Scandinavia.
It is unlikely, therefore, that more than a few dozen Quatrefoil dies were ever employed at the Dublin mint, a figure that is comparable to the estimate for the earlier Helmet issue, although considerably smaller than the number that must have been used in the Crux, Long Cross and Last Small Cross issues at Dublin.
We are thus dealing with a very small coinage, and its rarity today is not due merely to a paucity of finds or to a dwindling of the coin export to the Northern Lands.
- Only six of the obverse dies (HN4-7, 17-20) carry the name of the Dublin king, Sihtric.
- The other ten copy English legends, normally that of Cnut but one has the name of Aethelred II
The reverse dies, on the other hand, have predominantly Hiberno-Norse legends
- eight have recognisable Dublin mint-signatures (DYFL, DIF, DYFI, DYFLI, DYN , D , DY, DVF)
- one or possibly two copy London coins (HN2, 7)
- and the others are essentially illiterate.
Two Dublin moneyers are named on the Quatrefoil coins.
- Fereman occurs on four dies in corrupt but discernible forms (FERENN , FEREMN , FNREII, FEINEI)
- echoes of the same name probably lie behind three others (HEHEN , NERIN , NDREM)
- This is the most common moneyer’s name in the Hiberno-Norse series,
- It is found in each of the five issues of Phase I and repeated on coins of Phases II and III, thus spanning a period of some fifty years. At some stage the use of the name evidently became merely an immobilisation, and the rather illiterate forms observed here suggest that this had happened already by the time of the Quatrefoil issue.
- In the case of the second name, we can be reasonably confident that it does represent a moneyer who was active at this period. Stegn or Stegen (ON Steinn) is recorded in both this Quatrefoil issue and early coins of Phase II. It seems that when ordering dies, Stegn was rather particular about the form and accuracy of the legends.
- One of his pairs, of typical later Hiberno-Norse style, has an obverse reading +ZIHTR C RE + DYFLMO , rather than the more usual Cnut legend.
- The reverse also has a somewhat pedantic inscription, +ZTEGE N MO N O N D (‘Stegen moneyer at Dublin’).
- Stegn used one other obverse and two other reverse dies
- Sihtric seems to have commissioned the Chester die-cutter to make them for him
Class F 1018 ? Helmet issue (King Cnut) – probably never minted / issued in Ireland
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If one is ever found, it will probably look something like the contemporary Anglo-Saxon coin below