Auction: ‘Siege coin’ may not be a siege coin

I think there should be serious doubt about the authenticity of the so-called “Scarborough siege coin” which is offered at Spink for sale on May 14 and which was featured in last week’s Scarborough News (April 30).

Forgeries and modern replicas far outnumber the very valuable genuine silver coins produced during the sieges at Carlisle, Newark, Pontefract and Scarborough between 1644 and 1649.

Firstly, to determine the provenance of such coins requires detailed knowledge and understanding of their historical origin and context. I am afraid that when the last Scarborough example was offered at auction on March 29 2012, the auction promotion quoted betrayed a variety of inaccuracies and misunderstanding. Scarborough castle was besieged from February to July 1645, for 22 weeks, not “for 12 months”; its governor Sir Hugh Cholmley, not “Cholmondeley”; and Sir Matthew Boynton did not “mastermind” his surrender, but simply waited patiently for the garrison to run out of water and food (Scarborough Evening News, March 28, 2012).

However, though the Scarborough coin bought at Spink in March 2012 for £58,000 was genuine, I wonder how much scholarly research has gone into the coin shown in last week’s Scarborough News which is totally different.

The inscription on it of “OB Scarborough 1645” is suspiciously unique and unhistorical. “OB”, standing for Obsidium or siege, was normally written as “OBS”. Scarborough was usually spelled Scarbrough in the 17th century. Sir Hugh himself always used this spelling. A contemporary alternative on coins was “SC”. Finally, “Scarborough” is written in modern italic script, not contemporary secretary hand.

Secondly, where is the face valuation of the coin? All authentic Scarborough siege coins were necessarily punched with their exchange value in silver weight, the highest five shillings and eight pence to the lowest, a groat or fourpence.

The images of the castle keep and gateway are far too deeply incised, clean, sharp and clear for a piece which is claimed to be 370 years old. In the catalogues no Scarborough siege coin is described as “extremely fine”, only “extremely rare”.

Jack Binns

Chatsworth Gardens