Last summer Linda Scotland was down at the edge of Cape Neddick River with her dogs. She was looking down at the broken glass in the mud, feeling dismayed, when she caught sight of what she thought was a religious medal. She showed it to Steve Burns, Community Development Director for the Town of York. Burns urged her to show it to Dr. Emerson Baker, a professor of history and historical archaeology at Salem State University and resident of York. After a bit of research, “Tad” Baker became convinced that the tiny silver disk was a penny from the reign of Edward II (ruled 1307-1327). He contacted Dr. Barrie Cook, Curator of Medieval and Early Modern Coinage at the British Museum, with images of the coin. Dr. Cook’s response: “The image is rather murky, but the coin looks from the shape of the crown to be a penny of Edward I/II, class 10cf (c. 1305-10), Canterbury mint. It should say EDWA R ANGL DNS HIB on the front and CIVI TAS CAN TOR on the back.” The Edwardian series runs straight across reign change (Edward I ruled 272-1307; Edward II ruled 1307-1327) making it hard to determine which king issued a coin of this type.
Baker followed up by examining the site where the coin had been found. It turns out the coin was found amid the remains of a wharf dating to at least the mid nineteenth century and possibly to 1649, when this land was first granted to three Englishmen, including the right to build a stage (wharf) for their fishing operation. The 1649 document notes that two fishermen, John Lander and William Hamm, had previously occupied the land. Both men left the fishing station at Richmond Island, Maine in 1636. So their occupation could have been anytime between 1636 and 1649. Either way, by the mid-17th century, this was a busy working waterfront, where someone could have dropped a coin. In fact, the home of one of the fishermen was only a couple hundred feet away.
The best alternative to someone dropping an old coin is the possibility the coin arrived with construction material for the wharf, through ship ballast. Ships often gathered up piles of rock and sand in harbors and deposited them in their holds to make up weight for a light cargo. In this way, piles of ballast moved from London to Maine and other ports. Indeed, this explains how large chunks of coral from the Caribbean have been found in Maine harbors.
While it is an unusual find, such isolated early coin finds are not altogether unknown. A Roman coin was found many years ago on the coast of Maine. It probably arrived here via ballast. The most famous early coin found in Maine was a Norse silver penny of the eleventh century, found at a prehistoric site in Blue Hill, Maine. This was the only European artifact found at the Native site, suggesting it was traded down the coast from the eleventh-century Norse settlement at L’Anse aux Meadow, Newfoundland, via Native American trade routes.
Comments based on discussion with Emerson “Tad” Baker, II Ph.DThe above image is of a similar but less worn example.
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