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Home > Auctions > 25th February 2020 > Henry VIII Period 'The Bridlington Priory' Gold Merchant's Signet Ring

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LOT 0585

Estimate
GBP (£) 12,000 - 17,000
EUR (€) 14,090 - 19,960
USD ($) 15,660 - 22,180

Opening Bid
£9,000 (EUR 10,565; USD 11,743) (+bp*)

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Henry VIII Period 'The Bridlington Priory' Gold Merchant's Signet Ring

Early 16th century AD

A substantial and important gold signet ring comprising a D-section hoop, facetted shoulders and octagonal bezel; the underside with cable detailing, the shoulders with three swept flutes, each with a band of cinquefoil and foliage ornament; the bezel with intaglio ropework border enclosing an olive branch set horizontally above a heater shield depicting thereon an enigmatic merchant's mark comprising a central cross with crescent ends to top and side limbs, with lateral spur to the foot; the cross flanked to left by the a crescent with six-pointed star below and a larger six-pointed star to right; the six-pointed star appears as a mintmark on the coins of Henry VIII of the York mint for the period 1514-1526 AD and the crescent also at York mint (and Durham) similarly for the period 1526-1529 AD. 16.55 grams, 23.00mm overall, 18.03mm internal diameter (approximate size British O 1/2, USA 7 1/4, Europe 15.61, Japan 15) (1"). Very fine condition; traces of niello fill to the cinquefoils. Very rare.

Provenance
Found while searching with a metal detector in a private garden near Bridlington Priory, East Riding of Yorkshire, UK, by William Coultas on 15th March 2019; declared as Treasure under the Treasure Act 1996 with Treasure reference number 2019T326, subsequently disclaimed and returned to the finder after the local museum was found not to be in a position to acquire it; accompanied by copies of various documents pertaining to the find from the Treasure Registrar at the British Museum, and a copy of the Report to HM Coroner on the find by Adam Parker, plus a copy of the receipt from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport; also copies of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) report [YORYM-5DBF7D], a copy of a two page article on the ring published in The Searcher magazine, and a photograph of the ring taken when it was found.

Literature
See Rylands, J. Paul Merchants' marks and other medieval personal marks in Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 1910 (copy of illustrations therefrom included); Boardman, J. & Scarisbrick, D. The Ralph Harari Collection of Finger Rings, London, 1977, item 167 for type; see de Ricci, Seymour, Catalogue of a Collection of Ancient Rings formed by the late E Guilhou, Paris, 1912 (reprinted).

Footnotes
Bridlington Priory was an Augustinian priory in the diocese of York, founded in 1113 AD and dissolved during the Reformation (Dissolution of the Monasteries). The site of the priory is now occupied by a parish church dedicated to St. Mary. Walter de Gant was the founder of what was one of the earliest Augustinian establishments in England, a double-house with a convent, confirmed in charters by King Henry I. An Anglo-Saxon church and nunnery had occupied the site before the Norman invasion. The first prior may have been called 'Guicheman', a Norman corruption of the English name 'Wickeman'. The priory enjoyed royal favour and owned lands across Yorkshire. Its Canons established a separate foundation, Newburgh Priory, in 1145 AD and King Stephen granted it the right to confiscate the property of felons and fugitives within the town, alongside dues from the harbour. In 1200 AD, John granted leave to hold a yearly fair in the town. During the Anarchy, the Canons were expelled and the buildings fortified by William le Gros, who later awarded it six manors, one at Boynton and the rest in Holderness. Henry IV awarded the priory the rectory of Scarborough. A royal licence to crenelate was granted by Richard II in 1388 AD but it seems that only the Baylegate of the four known entrances was fortified. The priory also had an extensive library, documented by John Leland, the 16th century antiquary and poet, shortly before its Dissolution in 1538 AD. The priory was a very wealthy institution with extensive landholdings across northern England. The church itself was an impressive building some 390 ft (about 120 m) in length with carved interior woodwork by William Brownflete. The fabric of the priory was largely destroyed, with the nave remaining to form the frame of the existing parish church.

Medieval and Tudor merchant's marks such as this example were a non statutory system for identifying personal property or to confirm identity, separate from the hereditary heraldry used by noble families. These marks were used on seals attached to goods for identification purposes or for sealing documents, and the designs were sometimes displayed on a heater shield (as on the present ring) in a more formal context. The cinquefoils are identified by Adam Parker, Finds Liaison Officer for N&E Yorkshire as carnations, also known as 'pinks' and signifying 'betrothal'. A similar merchant's mark appears on the reverse of a ring in the de Guilhou collection, which also features a comparable cable design to the hoop, for which a 16th century date is suggested in Boardman and Scarisbrick.

This ring is of very good quality with exceptional workmanship evident to all of its features; it would undoubtedly have been the property of a wealthy and important merchant; merchant marks are enigmatic and secretive by their nature and often hold punning references to personal names so, for example, the presence of an olive branch could suggest the name Oliver. Some studies of such marks have been undertaken since the 19th century in a few localities and archives but, to date, there seems to have been no attempt to carry out a systemic national study of this fascinating subject nor to compile a corpus of examples from museum collections and public records.