Rare ‘leopard’ coin found by Norfolk detectorist expected to sell for £140,000

1344 coin is one of three finds to be sold this month that auctioneer says signify a metal detecting ‘golden age’

For more than 20 years, Andy Carter spent his free time scouring muddy fields, stubbornly convinced that he would strike gold. Then one day he did.

The retired research scientist from north Norfolk unearthed an extremely rare gold “leopard” coin, dating back to the reign of Edward III. Next week it is expected to fetch up to £140,000 at auction. “I just felt numb when I found it,” Carter said. “And then I did the gold dance.”

Carter’s leopard florin is one of three gold finds being auctioned this month. A Saxon gold shilling found by Mark Pallett, a drainage engineer from Essex, is estimated to be worth £10,000, and a 12th-century gold cross, unearthed by Jason Willis, a Norfolk builder, is expected to fetch £8,000.

Andy Carter found a rare “leopard” coin.
Andy Carter found a rare “leopard” coin. Photograph: handout

Their discoveries are evidence of a “golden age” of metal detecting, according to Dix Noonan Webb, the Mayfair-based specialist auctioneers and valuers managing the sales. More than 30,000 detectorists were active in the UK and unprecedented finds were rescued from the ground on a daily basis, the company said.

The leopard florin dates from January 1344 and was minted in 23-carat gold at the Tower of London. It had a face value of three shillings or 36 silver pennies and was in circulation for only seven months before it was withdrawn.

“It is in very fine condition and retains light surface marks consistent with a field find,” said Nigel Mills of Dix Noonan Webb. “Only five are known to still exist and this is by far the finer of the two known specimens that have come to auction.” Two of the coins are now in the British Museum and a third is at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Carter, who takes his metal detector out most weekdays since retiring four years ago, said he “just got lucky”. He found the coin at the end of a charity day, known as a rally, involving about 30 detectorists on a farmer’s field near Reepham, north Norfolk, in October 2019.

“There were only three of us still looking – everyone else was packing up. The coin was covered in mud, about 10 inches down. When I brushed off the soil, I saw the hind leg of a big cat. I thought: ‘It can’t be a leopard – they’re as rare as hen’s teeth.’ I called one of the experts over and his eyes were on stalks,” he said.

The Saxon gold shilling.
The Saxon gold shilling. Photograph: Dix Noonan Webb

Pallett, 55, who has been a detectorist for 40 years, had a sense he was going to find something significant when he began searching a stubble field in south Cambridgeshire in early January this year. Turning on his detector, he found it had a low battery “so I knew I didn’t have long”.

Within 15 minutes, he got a faint signal and discovered what he thought was a small button four inches below the surface. “I turned it over and saw a helmeted bust, and thought: ‘Oh my God.’”

The gold shilling, just 13mm in diameter, was in fine condition, said Mills. “The design is based on an obsolete Roman coin of the emperor Crispus from the 4th century AD … Only eight examples of this ‘Crispus’ type have been recorded on the early medieval coins database at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.”

The medieval gold cross.
The medieval gold cross. Photograph: Dix Noonan Webb

The medieval gold cross found by Willis three years ago in a Lincolnshire field is thought to have originated at a hermitage in the nearby hamlet of Throckenholt.

“Between 1293 and 1305, records show that Abbot Odo of Thorney ordered that two or three monks should reside there … Fragments of stone, bones and other relics have been found on this site at various times,” said Mills.


Harriet Sherwood Arts and culture correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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