9 december 2010

Ashmolean acquires a hoard of angels


Asthall Hoard
Heavenly hoard: gold coin depicting Archangel Michael slaying the dragon

The Ashmolean Museum has received an early Christmas present, after acquiring a Tudor hoard of 210 English gold angels and half-angel coins. The coins,  found in the Cotswolds and spanning the period from 1470-1526, will go on display in March 2011.

The hoard is the largest intact assemblage of its kind and contains some rare pieces, most notably from the reign of Kings Henry VI (second reign, 1470-1471) and Richard III (1483-1485).

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.

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 in August.

The Ashmolean 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. The National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) gave £64,000, the Museums Libraries and Archives/Victoria and Albert Museum (MLA/VLA) Purchase Grant Fund raised £28,000, the Headley Trust raised £10,000 and £178,000 was donated by Mrs 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 and 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.”

We are extremely grateful to the individuals and funding bodies for their very generous contributions towards this remarkable hoard

Dr Christopher Brown

Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, said: “This is great news. Safeguarding this rare collection shows how philanthropy, with the support of Government money through NHMF and additional corporate subsidy, can come together to help protect our rich and irreplaceable heritage for everyone’s benefit and for all time.”

The hoard 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.