The Norse Penny Reconsidered: The Goddard Coin—Hoax or Genuine?
Svein H. Gullbekk*
*Department of Ethnography, Numismatics and Classical Archaeology, Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo, Olso, Norway.
Journal of the North Atlantic, No. 33 (2017)
The discovery of a Norwegian Viking penny on 18 August 1957, at Naskeag Point, the prehistoric Native American settlement close to Blue Hill Bay, Brooklin, Hancock County, ME, USA (also known as the “Goddard site”), has long been regarded as material evidence for contact between the continents and cultures of North America and Europe during the Viking Age. More recently, however, the veracity and validity of this find have been called into question. To this end, this article considers the penny’s numismatic and archaeological context, and engages with the debate from a Norwegian perspective. There is little doubt that the coin is a genuine Viking penny, struck during the reign of Olaf the Peaceful (the epithet is Kyrre in Norwegian, 1067–1093); what is more complex, however, is whether the discovery constitutes a genuine find or an elaborate hoax. In assessing the evidence, this article considers the penny’s appearance and its relationship to other Norwegian coin finds, both registered and unregistered, and within Norway and further afield. Accounting for the remarkable and exceptional nature of the find, this article concludes that both the penny and its modern archaeological and numismatic context offer plausible evidence that this find is genuine.
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The Norse Penny Reconsidered: The Goddard Coin—Hoax or Genuine?
Svein H. Gullbekk*
Abstract - The discovery of a Norwegian Viking penny on 18 August 1957, at Naskeag Point, the prehistoric Native American
settlement close to Blue Hill Bay, Brooklin, Hancock County, ME, USA (also known as the “Goddard site”), has long
been regarded as material evidence for contact between the continents and cultures of North America and Europe during
the Viking Age. More recently, however, the veracity and validity of this find have been called into question. To this end,
this article considers the penny’s numismatic and archaeological context, and engages with the debate from a Norwegian
perspective. There is little doubt that the coin is a genuine Viking penny, struck during the reign of Olaf the Peaceful (the
epithet is Kyrre in Norwegian, 1067–1093); what is more complex, however, is whether the discovery constitutes a genuine
find or an elaborate hoax. In assessing the evidence, this article considers the penny’s appearance and its relationship to
other Norwegian coin finds, both registered and unregistered, and within Norway and further afield. Accounting for the
remarkable and exceptional nature of the find, this article concludes that both the penny and its modern archaeological and
numismatic context offer plausible evidence that this find is genuine.
*Department of Ethnography, Numismatics and Classical Archaeology, Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo,
Olso, Norway; email@example.com.
The Norse penny constitutes one of the most
celebrated Norwegian single finds from the Viking
Age, a status due, in large part, to its discovery
on 18 August 1957 at an ancient Native American
site at Naskeag Point near Blue Hill Bay, Brooklin,
Hancock County, ME, USA, on the East Coast of
the United States (also known, and referred to here,
as the “Goddard site”). The extraordinary nature of
this find resulted in its display at exhibitions on both
sides of the Atlantic, attracting national and international
media interest. Further excavation work
at the Goddard site in 1979 failed to produce more
numismatic evidence, but did recover additional
evidence suggesting the probable route that the coin
had taken during the 12th or 13th centuries (McGhee
1984:13). The Norse penny once again became the
subject of scholarly attention at the start of the 21st
century, but this time the focus was not on its status
as evidence for Vikings in America, but rather concerned
the circumstances of the find. Edmund Carpenter
(2003) questioned the Norse penny’s arrival
in Maine: whether by Vikings visiting America or as
a result of a small, sophisticated initiative by modern
Americans, attempting to extend the Vikings’
penetration into mainland America by means of an
elaborate hoax. Carpenter’s scrutiny of the evidence
and circumstances around this find is impressive and
overdue. As Carpenter states, the coin has evaded
the large-scale public debate so often applied to such
important finds. The focus of this study will be to redress
this imbalance, and to discuss the numismatic
evidence as a crucial element in our understanding
of the coin’s mysterious heritage.
Evidence of a Hoax?
Hoax finds are not uncommon in the histories
of American numismatics and archaeology. Indeed,
the first reported find of a Roman coin occurred in
1533, when Marineo Siculo claimed that a coin with
the portrait of Augustus had been found in the gold
mines of Panama, and subsequent records of dubious
finds of both ancient Greek and Roman coins in
the United States are extensive (Epstein 1980:1–20,
McKusick 1980:675–676). In this instance, the case
rests on Guy Mellgren, amateur archaeologist and
coin collector who reported his discovery of a medieval
coin on 18 August 1957, at the Goddard site.
This later became variously known as the “Norse
penny”, the “Maine penny”, or the “Goddard coin”
The Norse Penny Find
The first to identify the coin as 11th-century Norwegian
was the British coin dealer Peter Seaby from
London who became aware of this particular coin
and its find context through an article in Bulletin of
the Maine Archaeological Society by B.E. Farmer
(1978), who described the coin as an English penny
issued in the name of King Stephen (1135–1154).
After careful discussions with experts of Viking Age
numismatics, Seaby published it as Norwegian in his
company’s journal, Seaby Coin and Medal Bulletin,
in December 1978 (Dolley 1979, Seaby 1978). The
spectacular find provenance of the coin and significant
interest from the academic society and international
press led Professor Kolbjørn Skaare (1979:4),
the leading numismatist on Norwegian coinage from
2017 Journal of the North Atlantic No. 33:1–8
2017 Journal of the North Atlantic No. 33
the University of Oslo, to travel to Maine State Museum
during 6–8 February 1979. Skaare studied the
coin and declared it to be a genuine piece.
Carpenter’s statement that the authenticity of the
find has never been publicly debated is only partially
correct. Although the topic has been somewhat
neglected by scholars debating in archaeological
or historical journals, Professor Kolbjørn Skaare
informs me that he discussed the matter with the
archaeologists involved at the time of the find (pers.
comm., August 2004). This led Skaare (1981:481)
to state that despite no other Norse artifacts ever being
found at Naskeag Point, “Still I am inclined to
share the opinion of the professional archaeologists
involved [Dr. Bruce Bourque and Dr. Stephen Cox,
both of the Maine State Museum, Augusta] that the
coin find may be as genuine as the coin itself” (cf.
Carpenter points to the fact that no finds of Viking
or medieval coins have been reported from Greenland,
and only a few coins have been found on Iceland,
but of these none was issued by the Norwegian
King Olaf the Peaceful (the epithet is Kyrre in Norwegian,
1067–1093), who was the issuer of the Norse
penny (Gullbekk 2011). In Iceland, several coins dating
from the reign of Harald Hardrade (1047–1066),
Olaf the Peaceful’s more famous father, have been
discovered in graves and at other sites. However,
these finds contribute only to circumstantial evidence
for a reconsideration of whether the Norse penny
found at the Goddard site is a genuine find. The arguments
that Carpenter presents against the Norse
penny from the Goddard site being a hoax find are not
conclusive, but his investigation of the circumstances
of this discovery must be taken seriously, since no
one has raised similar questions in such depth. At this
juncture, it is worth turning to the numismatic evidence
presented by the case.
What is not established by Carpenter’s study is
where the Norse penny came from, should it not be
a genuine find. The circumstances of the 1957 find
lie beyond the scope of this article, but since the
significance of this coin exceeds that of a regular
Norwegian 11th-century penny, it is worth probing
where the coin may have come from, if not brought
to America in the 11th or early 12th century. In other
words, if anyone planted it at the find spot, what was
the likelihood that anyone could have come across
an Olaf the Peaceful penny, a class N coin according
to Laurentius B. Stenersen’s (1881) classificatory
The Numismatic and Archaeological Evidence
Modern records of Norse coins dating from Olaf
the Peaceful’s reign date back only 200 years, and
of these finds, more than 95% have been discovered
in Norway (Gullbekk and Sættem, in press). These
coins have been found in hoards and graves, and as
single finds in locations such as urban settlements,
marketplaces, and churches. Norwegian law, as in
other Scandinavian countries, defines the finds of
medieval coins to be state property (Gullbeck and
Roland 2017). Several medieval coins have gone
Figure 1. The 2 sides of the Norse Penny found 18 August 1957, at Naskeag Point, the prehistoric Native American settlement
near Blue Hill Bay, Brooklin, Hancock County, ME, USA (also referred to as the ”Goddard site”). Olaf the Peaceful
(1067–1093), penny, uncertain mint, Maine State Museum, ME, USA. Courtesy of the Maine State Museum. MSM 72.73.1.
Journal of the North Atlantic
2017 No. 33
to private collections, but these transfers have on
the whole, occurred as a result of museum sales in
the past. The largest transaction of Olaf the Peaceful
coins involved duplicates from the Gresli hoard,
the largest Norwegian hoard to be found from that
period, containing a total of 2301 coins (Stennerson
1881). The sale was conducted by the Coins and
Medals Department, University of Oslo, during the
latter years of the 19th century, and occasionally
through the first quarter of the 20th century. The
large museum collections in Scandinavia, such as
the Royal Collection of Coins and Medals in Copenhagen
and Stockholm, as well as the university collections
at Bergen, Trondheim, Uppsala, and Lund
and several major collections in Europe altogether
received several hundred coins from the Gresli
hoard. The sales also attracted a number of private
collectors from across Scandinavia (Myntkabinettets
avhendingsprotokoll [Inventory of Sales, University
Coin Collection, Oslo] 1881–1928).
A number of the Gresli duplicates sold initially
to private collectors were eventually placed in public
auctions or with dealers, and were subsequently
redistributed to traders and collectors inside and
outside Scandinavia and the USA. One rare occasion
of offerings of Norwegian medieval coins in the
USA was a postal bid auction organized jointly by
Henry Grunthal and Numismatic Fine Arts in New
York with a closing date of 1 June 1948. This sale
included a lot that contained 118 medieval Norse
coins, deniers and small bracteates, mostly from the
Gresli hoard (lot 663). The estimated value was $75,
exceeded by the winning bid of $105. Carpenter uses
this as an example of availability and a likely source
for Mellgren’s possession of the Viking coin (Carpenter
2003:8ff.). The buyer of this lot was the American
Numismatic Society. Its collection contains 14
Norwegian pennies from Olaf the Peaceful, 12 from
the 1948 purchase (accession nos. 1948.79.188–199)
and 2 purchased in 1921, none of which is Stenersen
class N.1 Whether there were more coins from Olaf
the Peaceful in lot 663 is unknown. There are no detailed
records of more such coins in the lot-description,
no records in the ANS archives, and no records
of coins being sold on the collector’s market. Carpenter’s
suggestion that at least one of these pennies
came to be the archaeological hoax at the Goddard
site cannot be considered anything but a speculative
conjecture. The most obvious source for a lot of medieval
Norwegian coins in the New York public sale
conducted in 1948 is the Norwegian Gresli hoard
and sales of numerous late 12th-century bracteates
from another large Norwegian find, the Dæli hoard
of more than 5000 coins that was discovered in 1841
The Norse penny in question is classified as a
variant of Stenersen’s 1881 class N type (Skaare
1995:14). Skaare (1979:14) noted that, although the
coin was class N, it had elements of classes V, X,
and Y. The Stenersen catalogue provides a hoard report
and not a comprehensive survey of the coinage.
However, the Stenersen classification of the Gresli
coins has since served as standard reference for these
series in spite of several studies discussing these issues
in depth (Malmer 1961, Gullbekk 1994). The
Gresli sale included 41 pennies of class N, all duplicates.
Each of these 41 pennies could be a candidate
for identifying the provenance of the Norse penny,
if indeed a hoaxer was involved. Importantly, however,
none of these pennies from the Gresli hoard can
be identified as the Norse penny (Skaare 1979:14).
This was, indeed, also clear to Carpenter, but when
commenting on the sale of the Gresli duplicates, he
writes: “of the 942 duplicate pennies Oslo sold, not
all came from Gresli” (Carpenter 2003:14). He does
not investigate this further, but instead leaves it open
as a possible source for the Norse coin. Carpenter
appears to suggest that the Norse penny did indeed
originate from the Oslo collection, but without being
able to point in the direction of any other specific
source or coin.
An important issue here is that the Maine penny
is of a variant that has hitherto been unknown from
other sources. As a unique variant, it would not have
been defined as duplicate and thus not sold from the
Oslo University collection. The question is, if some
of the coins did not come from the Gresli hoard,
where did these coins come from? The most obvious
answer would be from other Norwegian hoards, such
as the contemporary hoards of Imsland and Måge,
both in western Norway, other known hoards of
Norwegian coins from this period (Stenersen 1889,
Stenersen and Brögger 1912). According to available
records, all coins from these hoards ended up
in public museum collections after being reported
However, no class N coins were found in either
the Imsland or the Måge hoards, as Stenersen (1889)
recorded as keeper of Oslo’s University Coin and
Medal Collection, and as corroborated with the
archaeologist Wilhelm Brögger in 1912. As far as I
have been able to track in the archives of the Coins
and Medals Department in Oslo, the other hoards
from which Gresli-type pennies were sold (such
as the Helgelandsmoen hoard), did not contain any
Stenersen class N pennies (Stenersen 1895:29–30).
In fact, besides the Gresli hoard, only 3 smaller Norwegian
hoards have contained pennies of Stenersen
class N. The first was from Tjora, in Rogaland, western
Norway, which, out of a total of 19 coins from
2017 Journal of the North Atlantic No. 33
the period of Olaf the Peaceful, contained 3 Stenersen
class N pennies (Morgenstierne 1876). However,
none of these coins is die-identical with the Norse
penny. Even more importantly, the 3 Stenersen class
N coins from the Tjora hoard are all preserved in the
collection of the Department of Antiquities, Coins,
and Medals, Museum of Cultural History, University
of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.
C.A. Schive (1865:31–32) referred to 15 coins
from the Olaf the Peaceful period found in a location
defined only as a general geographical reference to
northern Norway, hence the name “Nordlandene”.
Both the Swedish numismatist Brita Malmer
(1961:337–338) and Kolbjørn Skaare (1976:174–
175) discuss whether these coins originate from 1 or
more finds. Skaare divides them into 2 chronological
groups, and thereby records them as 2 finds in his
catalogue of pre-1100 Norwegian coins in Norway.
In the find labelled “Nordlandene I,” 1 specimen of
the Stenersen class N was found. Because this was
reported to be in the Historisk Museum, Bergen,
in 1976 (today Bergen Kulturhistoriske Museum),
it cannot be the specimen found in Maine in 1957
Another hoard of unspecified provenance on the
Norwegian mainland that included a specimen of the
Stenersen class N was published in the Beskrivelse
in 1791, no. 303. The coin in question was illustrated
by Schive (1865:pl. III, no. 31), and Schive’s drawing
indicates this coin is not die-identical with the
Norse penny find of 1957. Crucially, this very coin
still forms part of the Royal Collection of Coins and
Medals, Copenhagen (Skaare 1976:175).
Taking into account these findings, the Norse
penny cannot have originated from any recorded
Norwegian hoard or single find, and cannot thus
have formed part of the duplicates sold from the
Coin and Medals Department in Oslo in the last
quarter of the 19th century or first quarter of the 20th
century (Skaare 1976:160, 164).2 This conclusion
makes it impossible to argue that the Norse penny
was one of the 952 pennies Carpenter refers to as
being traded or donated to museums and collectors
by the University of Oslo between 1881 and 1924.
The hoards described above are the main sources
for Norwegian coinage of the period of Olaf the
Peaceful. There is, of course, a possibility that the
Norse penny originated from an unregistered hoard
discovered before1957, but, taking into consideration
the scarcity of these coins, it is difficult to
envisage how a hoard of Norwegian coins from
Olaf the Peaceful’s period could have slipped under
the scholarly radar if they were distributed on the
open market. In Norway, the main auction house
from 1974 to 2011 was Oslo Mynthandel AS. They
organized 67 auction sales, all with an emphasis on
Norwegian coinage, but never with a specimen of
the Stenersen class N (Nos. 1–67; Oslo Mynthandel
Single finds of coins issued by Olaf the Peaceful
occur throughout Norway: some 20 pennies are
recorded in the archives of the Museum of Cultural
History at Oslo University, the Historical Museum
of Tromsø, the Museum of Natural History and
Archaeology in Trondheim, and the Museum of Cultural
History in Bergen as having been found mainly
in the vicinity of Trondheim and mid-Norway, where
they were presumably minted ( Gullbekk 1994, Risvaag
2006:359–360, Skaare 1976).
Olaf the Peaceful Pennies Found Outside
If the Norse penny did not originate from the
coins traded by Oslo University, another possible
explanation is that the coin originated from a find
located outside Norway. One fact to take into consideration
in such a case is that these pennies’ metallurgic
composition was no more than ~33% silver,
and consequently they were not very desirable, at
least in comparison to the majority of other contemporary
coins. Despite a widespread geographical
distribution, they have not been found in large numbers
outside Norway. Norwegian coins issued by
Olaf the Peaceful are reported in finds from Iceland,
The Faeroe Islands, The Shetlands, The Hebrides,
Sweden, Denmark, Finland, The British Isles, The
Netherlands, and more recently also in Lebanon
(Archibald 1991; Blackburn 1989; Gullbekk 2011;
Moesgaard 2003a, b; Pol 1993; Skaare 1976; van der
Veen 2000; Williams and Sharples 2003). Norwegian
11th-century coins have been found in Russia,
Poland and Germany, but these are limited to coins
issued by Olaf Haraldsson (1015–1028, 1030) and
Harald Hardrade (1047–1066) (Skaare 1976). As far
as has been reported, coins from Olaf the Peaceful
have never been found in these areas. Such material
evidence suggests that Norwegian coins were
predominantly circulated in a westward, rather than
eastward, direction in the latter half of the 11th century.
Single finds from the reign of Olaf the Peaceful
are rare, both inside and outside Norway, although
they have become more common due to use of metal
detectors: 8 single finds of Olaf the Peaceful pennies,
for example, have been found in various locations in
England (Early Medieval Corpus [EMC] numbers
1980.0033, 1983.9937, 1987.0168, 1989.0090,
1991.0336, 2007.0263, 2012.0322, 2013.0299;
Cook 1999:270, EMC 2017 and 1 in Scotland (EMC
Journal of the North Atlantic
2017 No. 33
2001.1198). Nine single finds may not appear substantial,
but, for comparison, of all the Danish 11thcentury
coins discovered, only 3 pennies—those
issued by King Sven Estridsen (1047–1074)—have
been found, and only 3 single coins issued by Olaf’s
father, Harald Hardrada (1047–1066), who was
killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066,
have been discovered in England (EMC 1997.0029;
2001.1252) and 1 in Scotland (EMC 2001.1197).
Indeed, no English monarch or coin types from
the 10th through 12th centuries is represented with
anything close to the 9 single-coin finds of Olaf the
Peaceful pennies. Not even the Otto-Adelaide pennies,
so numerous in Scandinavian finds, have been
found in more than 2 single finds. As a result, it may
be inferred that King Olaf the Peaceful’s Norwegian
coinage was more widespread outside Scandinavia
in comparison to other Scandinavian coinages of the
period, in spite of their low silver content.
The Condition of the Norse Penny
In considering the general condition of the Norse
penny, the coin appears to be in poor condition. In
general, this is concurrent with coins from single
finds or small groups of coins, rather than those discovered
as part of a hoard. If the coin had come from
the parcel sold in 1948, it must have been artificially
distressed (Skaare 1979:15). It is fragmented, and
also seems to have suffered from the wear and tear
that comes with coins frequently changing hands
over a long period of time. This wear may also have
resulted from its use as jewellery or as an amulet,
perhaps within a Native American society. It should
be said that these coins have been discovered in poor
condition in European finds. Occasionally these
coins appear to have been pierced, an example being
the finds from Sami offering sites in Lapland in
the Northern Hemisphere, in find circumstances not
dissimilar to that of the Goddard site (Jammer et al.
If a Hoax, Why Not an Anglo-Saxon Penny?
Before concluding, it is worth examining the
choice of a Nordic coin, if indeed it was chosen and
deliberately planted by Mellgren or another hoaxer.
The Old Norse saga narratives tell of the discovery
of America by the Norwegian Viking explorer Leiv
Eiriksson (ca. 970–1020), thus making a Norwegian
coin the obvious choice. However, Leiv, the son of
Erik the Red, was brought to Greenland by his father
and raised on the Bratalid farm there in the 980s.
The King’s saga recounts that Leiv was given the
mission of introducing Christianity to Greenland by
King Olaf Tryggvasson (995–1000; Holtsmark and
Seip 1970:196–197) . Of interest from a numismatic
perspective is that the most widely used coins within
the Viking world during Leiv’s lifetime were German
and Anglo-Saxon pennies. Leiv died in 1025;
the coin known as the Norse penny was struck threequarters
of a century after Leiv Eriksson’s visit to
America. Therefore, if anyone had wanted to relate
the discovery of America to the Vikings, as told in
the sagas, the most obvious choice of coin would
have to have been either the so-called Otto-Adelaide-
penny, or a penny issued by the Anglo-Saxon
King Aethelred II (978–1016), of either Crux-type
(ca. 991–997) or Long Cross-type (ca. 997–1003).
These coins circulated in larger numbers than the
Olaf the Peaceful coins, and even though they often
presented as coins of excellent fabric and pleasant
conservation, they would not have been more expensive;
quite the opposite. Both German and Anglo-
Saxon coins would have been easily obtainable at a
reasonable price through any established coin dealer
trading during the mid-20th century. In the event of
a hoaxer having decided to plant a Norwegian coin
at the Goddard site, without any prior knowledge
of which coins were used in Norway in the period
ca. 1000, he would have struggled to obtain an 11thcentury
Norwegian coin minted before the reign of
Olaf the Peaceful (1067–1093).
Having investigated the possibility of the Norse
penny’s possible provenance among Norwegian
and wider European finds, herein I have established
that the type of coin found at the Goddard site was
extremely rare (accounting for the 104 specimens
recorded in the Gresli hoard). As far as I am able to
trace, no registered coins of Stenersen class N, apart
from the 41 class N coins of the Gresli pennies sold
publicly, has been made available to the coin trade.
If such a coin had ended up in an amateur archaeologist’s
ownership, and was deliberately used as false
evidence in Maine in 1957, it must have come from
an unregistered find in Northern Europe, presumably
Considering the attention this penny has received
since its discovery, and how much bearing it has had
on exhibitions, media, and research, Carpenter’s
(2003) research into sources both written and oral has
undoubtedly shed new light on the Norse penny and
its complex status as material evidence for or against
a Viking presence at Naskeag Point or rather a transmission
of material objects from the Old World to
the New World. The agents involved could very well
have been Native Americans bringing the coin from
2017 Journal of the North Atlantic No. 33
Labrador or Newfoundland. The evidence presented
is wholly circumstantial, and as a result Carpenter’s
Scottish verdict of “not proven” remains valid.
However, based on the numismatic and archaeological
evidence, I am inclined to believe that this
was a genuine find. As made clear above, the coin
did not come from the sale of duplicates from Gresli,
nor from the sale of other Norwegian hoards
conducted by the University of Oslo in the late 19th
century. Nor can the Norse penny be connected with
any of the registered finds made of coins from Olaf
the Peaceful’s reign outside Norway. Indeed, the
coins issued by Olaf the Peaceful, both in general
and especially those of class N, are rarely found
outside Norway. To be a hoax, this coin must have
been a find that escaped documentation and was
traded from Norway, Scandinavia, or possibly the
British Isles or other area around the North or Baltic
Seas, and thence to North America, where it ended
up in the hands of someone connected to the dig at
Naskeag Point, all before 1957.
Judging by the coin’s poor condition, which
takes the form of even wear and tear, the coin must
have been used either extensively in its period of
economic circulations, or have been in use over a
long period of time, or perhaps both. Coins in this
condition usually present as single finds in Northern
Europe, and this may well be the case with
the Norse penny. The only difference is that this
find occured in America instead of Scandinavia.
It is common knowledge that coins travelled huge
distances during the medieval period. Scandinavian
Viking Age finds contain thousands of coins
issued in Baghdad, Constantinople, Regensburg,
and Melle, to mention a few obvious examples. It is
therefore quite possible that a Viking coin travelled
a similar distance.
The presence of Norse people on the northeastern
coast of mainland America is no longer in doubt:
archaeological evidence corroborates Viking settlements
in Labrador and Newfoundland. That a Norse
coin ended up in a Native American camp, a few
hundred miles south of what is understood to have
been the main Norse settlement, could be explained
in numerous ways. To argue that coins were used as
a means of exchange among the small Norse community
in America is questionable. However, given
that over a period of more than a century, contact
was maintained between Norse and Native American
peoples, it is plausible to imagine that, at times,
such people carried coins as part of their belongings.
The evidence for coins travelling in the footsteps of
people in the 11th century is immense. Coins may
very well have followed settlers sailing to Vinland
and been dispersed during contact with the native
population and later lost or offered. That one such
coin was found in America, beyond what is known of
the geography of the Norse medieval communities,
cannot simply be ruled out as a hoax.
I am grateful to Dr. Jens Christian Moesgaard, Dr. Rachel
Matthew, and the anonymous reviewers for insightful
and valuable comments and suggestions to this article.
Any remaining errors are, of course, my own.
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1My request for information about this issue, directed
to the American Numismatic Society, is referred to
and commented upon in the ANS Magazine (American
Numismatic Society) 4:1 2005 (http://numismatics.org/
magazine/cabinetspring05/). The medieval Norwegian
coins are listed as ANS accession 1948.79 as appears
from their online database.
2In searching for Norwegian medieval coins with unknown
provenance, I have consulted a fair number of Scandinavian
and international public sales catalogues without
records of unregistered stray finds. Pennies of class N
type appear to be quite rare. Examples have in recent
years been offered by Bruun Rasmussen (Copenhagen)
auction 199, lot 5214; Kuenker (Osnabrück) 12 March
2007, de Witt collection, part 2, lot 697;Gemini Auction
VII (2011), lot 543; and Album (Santa Rosa) Auction 20
(2014), lot 2496. I have, however, come across medieval
Norwegian coins from other issuers and periods, mostly
of the 13th and 14th centuries, which had been brought to
market without being adequately registered through the
public archaeological channels.
2017 Journal of the North Atlantic No. 33
Appendix 1. The Sale of Coins from the Gresli Hoard
The coins minted under King Olaf the Peaceful that
were sold by the University of Oslo between the 1880s
and 1920s from the large Gresli hoard, found in 1879, represent
by far the largest source of coins from that period
available outside any museum collection.
Altogether 1021 duplicate pennies were put up for
sale (Table 1). Of these, 804 are reported as sold (archival
information, Museum of Cultural History, University of
Oslo, Oslo, Norway). Unfortunately, the archival evidence
in the University of Oslo’s coin collection does not give a
detailed account of which coins were sold to whom. This
can be studied only through sales lists and auction catalogues,
where these coins turned up for sale in a second
round in the market. Since it has been impossible to track
down the names of the buyers of all the coins in question
in the early sales, several coins that were sold at auction in
the 1880s and 1890s almost certainly ended up being sold
publicly for a third or even fourth time, thus distorting the
numbers presented in this analysis.
From a numismatic perspective, the Norse penny is of
a type (class) that is scarce, but not impossible to obtain.
The sale of duplicates from the largest-ever find of coins
from Olaf the Peaceful’s reign, the Gresli hoard, included
41 (out of a total of 104) coins of class N (Table 1), but as
noted above, none is die-identical with the Norse penny,
nor do any share its poor condition.
Table 1. Distribution of coins, by class, in the Gresli hoard and the
amount of each class that was offered for sale.
Class Offered for sale Total found in Gresli hoard
T 208 375
C 193 317
S 186 335
U 172 238
Y 68 305
N 41 104
O 40 107
X 27 78
R 17 42
L 15 33
V 15 53
F 10 68
P 8 26
I 6 43
H 4 16
M 3 12
Q 3 14
G 2 5
J 2 15
E 1 3