In March 2020, I was notified of an interesting find of a wallet from 11th century Denmark, which has not been paid much attention. This brief article will provide basic information on the entire find and the reconstruction attempts.
On a Sunday in 1853, an unnamed brick factory worker from Tåsinge, Denmark, went to uninhabited island of Iholm, which lies in the Svendborg Strait between the islands of Funen and Tåsinge, accompanied by his friends. As he was strolling and destroying molehills, he saw metal reflections in one of them. Inside, he found 15 coins that he had buried again due to fear of disaster and illness, he washed himself and went home. The man shared the information about the discovery with the master brickman, who went to the island with its owner. The find-place, located in the middle of the small island, was thoroughly examined within a radius of about 4 meters and a depth of 1 meter. At a depth of 20-25 cm below the surface, they found a silver treasure that was kept in a leather case, and other silver objects were discovered within a 30 cm radius. The treasure was collected and handed over to the National Museum in Copenhagen (Grundtvig 1948: 170; Skovmand 1942: 90, Cat. No. 32).
The main part of the treasure consisted of 475 coins, more precisely 3 Danish, 1 Norwegian, 17 Swedish, 238 Anglo-Saxon, 10 Dutch, 163 German, 2 Carolingian, 8 Czech, 1 Byzantine, 1 Persian, 27 Kufic and 2 semi-finished coins (Erslev 1875: 119- 120; Hauberg 1900: 165, Cat No. 45; Malmer 1966: 269, Cat No. 43). Duczko informs that the treasure includes two shield pendants with whirl motifs (Duczko 1989: 18). In addition, three fragments of necklaces were found in the treasure (Hårdh 1996: 48, 191), four complete bracelets and ingots (Nationalmuseet 2020; Trap 1923: 706). In 1989, around 100 coins and silver fragments were discovered near the site, so the total number was about 590 pieces of silver (Nationalmuseet 2020). The dating of the treasure is the first quarter of the 11th century. The catalog number of the treasure, which is partially exhibited in the National Museum in Copenhagen (room 23), is C NM 13594-608, C. 1837. The find-place is sometimes also referred as Yholm, Bregninge, Svendborg, Svendborgsund, Tåsinge or Taasinge.
The available literature has always descibed the numismatic part of the treasure (among others Brøndsted 1938: 382; Galster 1980: 65; Rasmusson 1937: 125-6; Schive 1865: 13; Wahlstedt 1930: 23, 28), while the leather fragments remain almost unnoticed by literature. The next chapter will therefore be devoted to the description of leather fragments.
But not all the silver that glitters! The wallet in which the treasure was located was no less valuable and was a representative item. In the present state, it consists of two leather fragments, one of which is part of the wallet pocket and the other is a sewn application that has been gold-plated (Nationalmuseet 2020; Mannering 2017):
As far as we know, two attempts have been made to reconstruct the waller which should be mentioned. The first of these was created in the Danish workshop Nichols Naturligvis. The overall look is great and the only details we can criticize is the size of the application, which covers too big space compared to the original, and the shape of the lower edge, which should be more spiked and probably without a strap. Generally, this attempt copies models from Birka. The workshop is very active in experimenting with the possible looks of the original interwoven motif, which was symmetrical, in their opinion.
Attempted reconstruction by Nichols Naturligvis.
The other attempt was made by Swedish reenactor Veronica Wik, who mounted the asymmetric application on a purse. The benefit of this reconstruction is the fact it reflects the larger capacity of the wallet, which should have been able to hold several hundred pieces of silver, as well as a greater offset of the application from the edge, which is more consistent with the original find. We must also appreciate the involvement of coins and hence the pursuit of a realistic concept.
Reconstruction attempt by Veronica Wik.
Since both versions are not ideal, me and reenactor and graphic designer Tomáš Cajthaml prepared two graphic designs that outlines the original appearance of the artifact in the best possible way – the wallet is folding, has only one strap, the application has the correct ratio to the rest and the offset respects the original composition. We used the shape of Roswinkel wallet, which we consider the closest shape analogy. The look of the application was taken from the attempt of Veronika Wic, although we are aware that none of the designs is 100% accurate.
Suggested drawn reconstructions of Iholm wallet.
Made by Tomáš Cajthaml.
Wallet from Iholm is a rare specimen that complements the mosaic of purses, bags and wallets known from the Viking Age. In terms of decorating, it ranks among the top finds. It suggests that gilded leather was a more widespread phenomenon than previously thought. It is also probably the first wallet known from Viking Age Denmark, which will be appreciated especially by reenactors interested in the region who now have the opportunity to take this artifact into consideration. All this should serve as an appeal to the staff of the National Museum in Copenhagen, pointing out that the wallet has not yet been published.
Finally, I would like to thank Nichols Naturligvis for drawing my attention to this find. My thanks also deserve Veronica Wik. In the last, most honorable place, I would like to pay tribute to Tomáš Cajthaml, who quickly and unselfishly created great graphics, thanks to which this artifact can be appreciated by people from all over the world.
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