Hello everyone. It’s a function of advancing years to notice changes to those little rituals and routines which you have observed for a lifetime, as they evolve in to different forms. I’m sure, for instance, that you can all recall the things that made Christmas special in your childhood home, and how you may have adopted and adapted the same rituals now that you’re ‘organising’ your own festivities. In the Knowles household for instance, way back in the day, I can well remember the annual hunt for a farthing or a sixpence that had been put in to the Christmas pudding – it was a deemed to be a huge transgression for anyone to either apply their custard or to start eating before someone had managed to find it.
Nowadays, this tradition seems to have faded away almost entirely – no doubt due in no small way to the heavy hand of health and safety directives with regard to baiting foodstuffs with potential choking hazards. We do, however, still retain vestiges of such ceremonial goings on by way of the foil-wrapped chocolate coins which find their way in to Christmas stockings or join other ornaments and decorations on the tree.
The whole Christmas coin narrative dates back to the early middle ages when tokens of one form or another – coins, rings, even dried peas – were baked in to cakes to be eaten over the festive period. The finder was able to claim sovereignty over the household for the day, and avoid some of the more onerous domestic chores on a short-term basis. A current equivalent would be not having to load or unload the dishwasher in the wake of Christmas dinner, or perhaps being excused from visiting a particularly cantankerous relative.
It has to be said that the antiquarian allure of coins had somewhat passed me by, until I signed up as Chairman of scottishantiques.com and became involved with the company’s retail outlet down at The Pantiles Arcade. The sale of these fascinating little pieces of history was one of their already-established specialities and, I have to say, I’m getting drawn further and further in to the realms of numismatic fascination.
I was amazed, for instance, to be given a coin bearing the image of the Roman Emperor Hadrian to inspect – he of wall-building renown.
It was impossible not to notice the rather curious nature of Hadrian’s image – the lower part of his face was covered, quite deliberately, in tiny dots. This it transpires was a depiction of his beard – he was one of just two Emperors to have had such abundant facial foliage, the other being Nero. It was unusual for a Roman head of state not to be clean-shaven, and supposedly Hadrian cultivated his beard to hide some sort of disfigurement, be it an old battle wound, or scarring left by illness or infection. I was quite taken with the fact that this personal detail about a really rather well-known historical figure only became apparent – to me, at least - by looking at a coin, just one example of the wealth of information that can be gleaned from such intriguing little artefacts. Although I’m unfortunately not likely to find such treasures in this year’s plum pudding, I do feel one or two judicious additions to my Christmas list may now be required…