Frost’s Faces. c.55-45 BC. Silver unit. 16mm. 1.12g. Back to back horse’s, heads looking back over shoulder, various rings and ringed-pellets around forming multiple hidden faces./ Horse right with wishbone ears and leaf-like tail, beaded mane and bridle rein?, multiple ringed-pellets and beaded ringed-pellet above, three large blobs below, rings and ringed-pellets around. ABC−, VA−, BMC−, S−. New type, previously unpublished. EF, large scyphate flan of good quality silver, beautifully ornamented, a superb example of Celtic hidden humour. Securely provenanced and apparently UNIQUE?
This spectacular silver coin, perfectly struck on a large saucer-like flan, is indubitably one of the most dramatically designed and exquisitely executed silver coins of the entire Ancient British series. And it’s incredibly rare; we’ve never seen anything quite like it before, though several of its features have parallels in the coinage of the Southern Region and across the Channel. It apparently shows the upper parts of two horses back to back, or maybe they are better described as ‘sea-horses’ because the two (or three) on the obverse have no legs. Such imagery follows an ancient artistic tradition, dating back thousands of years, of depicting opposed beasts. Opposed dragons decorate iron age scabbards. Opposed horses and back-to-back boars occur on silver and bronze coins of the Somme Valley. And two stylised horses can be seen prancing neck-to-neck on the late iron age Aylesford Bucket, c.75-25 BC, found in 1886 by Sir Arthur Evans only fifty miles north east of where Frost’s Faces was found. Their geographic proximity and artistic similarity are worth noting because they are clearly contemporary or near-contemporary productions. The bucket “was probably made locally” rather than being imported from Gaul, says the British Museum (Celts: art and identity, 2015, p.120). So was Frost’s Faces. Its typically British south-coast identity is demonstrated by the clearly concealed hidden faces of the obverse (the most obvious is the blob-nosed grinning face at 6 o’clock, cf. ABC 704 and 707) and by the chevron-patterned horse’s tail on the reverse (cf. ABC 668, 683, 686). Mixing anthropoid imagery with equine imagery – a very British trait – takes us back again to the horses on the Aylesford Bucket. The British Museum says: “The horses have human-looking feet and protruding pursed lips, and it has been suggested that they were intended to represent humans dressed as horses, like somewhat sinister pantomime animals. This slippage between the human and animal worlds echoes some of the designs from Iron Age coins of the same period” (Celts: art and identity, ed. Julia Farley and Fraser Hunter, p.120). A south-coast horse with very human forelegs can be seen on ABC 716. Published in Coin News, November 2019 (this coin).