The Wanstead garden mystery

Wansteadium reader Ruth Nation of Ingatestone Road found this object in her garden a few years ago. The question is… what is it?

She writes: “The mystery is, I suppose, that over the past 9 years or so I have shown it to virtually every visitor to my house and no-one has seen anything like it before. I knew it couldn’t be a coin as it is one-sided and it seemed too large and archaic looking to be a military medal.

“The second mystery is that I have spent countless hours online and in various museums and have not seen anything like it. The closest to it is a ‘pilgrim’s token’.

“It also seems to be mysteriously changing colour and the image that was very hard to make out is now very clear so I don’t what metal it could be made of.

“The last, tongue in cheek and most fun mystery is that no matter how many times I blow the image of it up, look at it with a magnifying glass or take rubbings I can’t make out the writing – it seems that my mysterious find is keeping hold of its secrets!”

So, people of Wanstead, here is the challenge. What is this mysterious item? What is the picture of? What does the writing say? And above all how might it have ended up in a Wanstead back garden? Suggestions welcome below…

Update: Carole Edrich writes:
I think it’s some kind of imprint or mould. Flip the image of the coin as I have in the one attached and some letters are legible. There’s an ‘-io’, possibly a ‘K’, then maybe an ‘in’ then something like ‘-iffe’ or ‘-effe’ so maybe ‘deffend’ Anyway, I’ve attached the image flipped and upped the contrast a bit so that it can be shared.

[blackbirdpie url=”!/Redeyedvireo/status/201284003892957185″]

UPDATE, Monday 14 May:

Frances Simmons of the Simmons Gallery of Art Numismatics and Metrology based in Leytonstone writes:

Following a prompt from a Wansteadium reader, we had a look at this and reckon it’s a 17th century brass badge (something you’d wear to show loyalty or fealty) although it could be earlier. Yes, it does look like St George and the dragon but where’s his horse? More like a knight slaying a lion. Lots of stuff like this and earlier has been dug up around the Thames. We’d recommend that even though it’s just base metal, you report it, as part of the Portable Antiquities Scheme to:
Katherine Creed, Finds Liaison Officer – London
Department of Archaeological Collections and Archive
Museum of London
150 London Wall
Work T: +44 (0) 20 7814 5733
The Museum of London has a tremendous collection and it would be easier to read the inscription from the real item rather than a photo. Probably oxidisation has occurred now the item is out of the ground (clay preserves things nicely) which is why it’s so difficult to read and is changing colour. I’m sure the Museum will be able to help out a bit more. Very interesting! It’s amazing what turns up.

6 thoughts on “The Wanstead garden mystery”

  1. Could it be a seal of some sort? Like the ones used to seal letters and documents.
    They are pressed into soft wax, so you are looking at the mirror image. Try pressing it into plasticine or playdoh it might give you a clearer picture.
    It looks like a lion to me.
    I recently saw loads of seals in The British Museum in the Enlightenment Room, they might be able to help you too.
    Good Luck!

  2. I think Gill is on the right lines with the idea of a seal, and while I can’t make out all the words the writing did seem to look more “normal” back to front.

    To me the figure looks like George slaying the dragon – with sword top left, dragon bottom right…?

  3. Hi there,
    It seems what you have is a mould for a roman coin. The metal was poured into the mould to make the coin and another mould was placed on top to make the other side. Different types of metals were poured into these moulds, some residue of such would stay. The coins themselves are quite rare so to find a coin mould must be rarer still. Wanstead has a history of Roman occupancy and latin can been seen on the edge of the coin mould. Google images for ‘nemean lion coin’ and you will see images of the coin which shows a ‘nemean lion’ in battle with roman leader. Please take to British Museum for confirmation/more info. Nice find.

  4. Marc commented on your photo.
    A few things jump out straight away and i dont know if you already know this or what but the guy in close up on the laptop looks like he’s wearing a kilt and the lettering is curved and it looks like he’s either fighting a lion or griffin as they are usually portrayed with a massive claw, which is what i think is that thing in the middle. And the lettering is rounded rather than romano or old english.
    If I was a betting man, id say this was either Irish or Scottish, and if the lion represents england, and the mans got a kilt n a beard, id say scottish….

  5. This is a puzzling object, with a purpose that is not immediately apparent. What it looks most like stylistically is a wax seal, of about the fourteenth century, but of course it is made of metal (it has a “positive” image, so is not a seal matrix). I have seen photos of both sides, and it is on the large side to be a badge (roughly 50mm in diameter). Also, it is solid, having presumably been cast. As a result, it is rather heavy. There is also no sign of a clasp or pin. There seems to be some sort of degraded coating, now a vaguely copper colour, and perhaps the remains of paint or enamel.

    Whether this interesting little object is genuinely ancient or some kind of later pastiche – perhaps a plaque from a mediaeval-style household ornament – is difficult to tell from photographs. It really needs to be examined by experts at the Portable Antiquities Scheme – . The PAS should always be informed of small casual finds – they won’t take them away from the finder, but will log them for posterity, and will help with identification.

  6. Thanks for all your comments so far – extremely interesting range of suggestions. Find has already been reported to Katherine Creed. Awaiting response. Will keep you all up to date.

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