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A gold coin found in Newfoundland may be the oldest English coin in Canada

A gold coin found in Newfoundland may be the oldest English coin in Canada

Image of two sides of a worn gold coin depicting an ornate floral design and a coat of arms.
The gold coin, an English noble quarter, was coined 70 years before John Cabot arrived in North America. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

A gold coin found on Newfoundland’s south coast could rewrite the history books about European presence in the region.

The coin, a noble quarter, dates to the 1420s and dates to the reign of Henry VI, and is possibly the oldest English coin ever found in Canada.

Provincial archaeologist Jamie Brake told CBC News the coin is in excellent condition.

“It came off the ground looking like it was invented yesterday,” Brake said Wednesday.

The find is older than the oldest English coin, which was also found in Newfoundland in 2021. That coin, a half coin found at Cupids Cove Plantation Provincial Historic Site, dates to the 1490s.

A gold coin.
The noble quarter, the size of a nickel, is in excellent condition, says the provincial archaeologist. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

The coin was found last summer on a beach, where it had been waiting under sand and salt water for five centuries.

It was discovered by Edward Hynes, who reported the discovery to the provincial archeology office as required by the Historic Resources Act. Brake says the office went to great lengths to follow proper procedures and protect the discovery.

The department is keeping the exact location of the find under wraps for now, Brake said, because unlike previous finds, the site is not under active excavation, is frequented by people and the area is able to be protected.

“We’re trying to be really vague about the location,” says Brake, who would say only that it was found on a beach near a recorded archaeological site dating back to the 1700s.

A historical mystery

A noble quarter was a type of gold coin circulating in the early 1400s with a value of shillings and eightpence, or about $81 by today’s standards.

The unique coin found this summer was minted in London between 1422 and 1427, and these coins ceased around 1470, meaning the find presents a historical puzzle for archaeologists.

The coin dates back more than 70 years to John Cabot’s arrival on the island—and the historical beginning of European regular contact with Newfoundland.

“Between England and here, people there still didn’t know about Newfoundland or North America at the time when that was invented,” says Brake, “So that’s the exciting part of it.”

Brake says the coin shows just how fascinating the province’s archaeological record is.

“There’s been a bit of a pre-16th-century European presence here, you know, minus Norse and so on,” he says.

“Perhaps the possibility of a pre-16th century occupation would be quite surprising and very significant in this part of the world.”

The oldest previously discovered coin was also found in Newfoundland in 2021 at the Cupids Cove Plantation historic site. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

The mystery of how the coin came to be where it was found is likely to remain for some time.

“It’s hard to explain at this point why it’s there, who dumped it. It’s not something you’d expect hanging out of the pockets of migrant fishermen,” Brake says.

According to former Bank of Canada Coin Museum curator Paul Berry, who worked with the team investigating the discovery, it was likely no longer in circulation when it was lost, but that doesn’t help provide answers to how it got there. there

Brake says there may be a more formal excavation at the site in the future, but for now work on the coin is continuing, after which it is likely to be put on display at The Rooms museum in San Juan.

Read more at CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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