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rare King Aethelstan silver penny


A rare coin showing King Aethelstan’s crowned head and describing him as ‘King of All Britain’ will soon be on display at the Athelstan Museum in Malmesbury.

It was volunteer Jonathan Tucker, who is also a trustee, who spotted that such a rare coin was coming up for auction. Jonathan is an experienced art dealer, specialising in Asian art for more than 30 years, so he has an eye for unusual items. 

He said: “When I started volunteering at the museum, I realised that we didn’t have any exhibit which was contemporaneous to the life of Athelstan, especially when he became King and when Malmesbury was his capital. We had later items but nothing from his lifetime or his reign (924-939)

“I saw this coin come up and approached the museum about it and was given permission to bid for it on the museum’s behalf.”

The coin was struck at the mint of Wallingford, Oxfordshire by the moneyer Æthelmund. Very few coins feature both Æthelstan’s portrait and the extended title (Æthelstan rex to Brit, ‘King of All Britons’). This coin does, and is the only penny of Wallingford to do so. The extended title denotes that it was made after he became King of England following his victory over the Vikings. 

The museum council paid an undisclosed sum to purchase the Anglo-Saxon coin which will be displayed in the museum from later in January.   

Jonathan said: “The museum is delighted to have acquired an object with a direct link to this key figure for Malmesbury’s history and after whom our museum is named. It is particularly pleasing to have one with his image.” 

Susan Mockler, who is the vice chair of the trustees, said: “The museum is looking forward to displaying the coin as soon as possible in the New Year. This latest addition will benefit from the new lighting that is about to be installed which will show off the coin to its best advantage. l am sure it will be greatly admired for the skill shown by the original makers and for the historic importance it has to our town.”

The sale catalogue for the coin explained that when Æthelstan of Wessex, who was the grandson of Alfred the Great, became king it meant the country once again fell under the control of a single leader; something not seen since the height of the Roman Empire. 

The significance of this was not lost on Æthelstan, who celebrated his position as ‘Rex Totius Britanniæ’ on charters and coins. The expansion of West-Saxon control also served to increase to the number of burghs striking money for the King. This coin is one of a number of recent acquisitions to honour the history of Malmesbury. 

The Athelstan Museum is also known for its own painting by the celebrated artist Joseph Mallord William Turner RA (1775-1851), showing an aspect of Malmesbury Abbey. 

For more information about its various collections and regular events visit

Fiona Scott Media Consultancy Swindon

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