James Brunt: Coastal Ecologies will now run from Saturday 6 July – Sunday 1 September 2024 at Scarborough Art Gallery

Roman Coins

Here’s a bit of bling to brighten up your day…

These gold coins are still as dazzling as the day they were made over 2000 years ago. They’re part of a larger collection that includes Roman gold coins as well as ‘staters’ from the reigns of Philip II, king of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon and his famous son Alexander the Great (356 BCE to 323 BCE), who conquered much of the ancient world as far as Afghanistan and India.

The principal denomination of his reign, these shimmering coins depict two symbols of female strength – on the obverse, the head of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and warfare, and on the reverse, the winged figure of Nike, goddess of victory, flanked by wording ‘of King Alexander’.

The collection is believed to be that of the Reverend Frederick Kendall, a fascinating but largely forgotten local character who was a contemporary of the much more famous William Smith, now widely known as ‘the father of English geology’. Around 1816, Kendall had published a Catalogue of the Minerals and Fossils of Scarborough, which had attracted the attention of the local scientific community – its 140-plus subscribers included the renowned fossil and shell collector William Bean, historian Thomas Hinderwell, and Sir George Cayley, now regarded as one of the earliest and most important pioneers of aviation.

Kendall had first come into the public eye, though, in somewhat less elevated circumstances – in 1813, he was the defendant in a highly publicised criminal trial which saw him accused of several cases of arson at his Cambridge college, Sidney Sussex. They were clearly serious – the College and University clubbed together to offer a reward of £500 (the equivalent of over £35,000 today) for the capture of the firestarter.

Although Kendall was acquitted, the College was convinced of his guilt, and he was effectively expelled, returning to Scarborough to live with his widowed father and become an active member of the thriving local intelligentsia of the time.

He died in 1836, and in February 1837, his collection of ‘Books, Coins &c.’ was offered up for auction in York, the newspaper advertisement claiming that ‘among the Coins will be found the rarest Types, and in the best state of preservation’. A later version of the ad said the sale of the coins would be ‘postponed’ but it appears they never came up for sale again, passing instead to his son, John (1830-1923).

He was a local magistrate and a Colonel in the local Militia, and on his death made several charitable bequests, including setting up the John Kendall Trust to help ‘friendless children’ in Scarborough. This was sealed by the Charity Commission in 1941 and still exists as a charity. The collection of coins was bequeathed to the museum.