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Hanging subject of engraved medal


The possibly unique, hand-engraved, Wiltshire token piece that records the hanging of John Curtis in a gibbet cage in 1768. (Image courtesy Woolley & Wallis.)

On Oct. 19 the British auction house of Woolley & Wallis sold a rare and unusual, hand engraved token/medal from Wiltshire.

It shows a man hanging in a gibbet cage. The reverse carried the legend around the rim “FOR THE ROBBERY & MURDER of WOLF MEYERS” with “Dec 28 1767” in the center.

The legend on the obverse provides further details: “I CURTIS ALIAS CURTEL HUNG in CHAINS NEAR SAURUM MAR 14 1768.”

The circumstances that led to the hanging are reported in “The Salisbury & Winchester Journal” of Feb. 1, 1768.

Murder had been done on the roadside near Coombe on or about Dec. 28, 1767. The body had been thrown in a pit where it was discovered in late January, partially covered by snow.

The head had a large fracture and the torso had suffered a major stab wound. A coroner’s inquest had no difficulty in bringing a verdict of wilful murder. The victim was identified as “a travelling Jew, Woolfe by name, between thirty and forty years of age”. He had departed Salisbury on Dec. 28 on his way to Coombe.

Later that same day a sailor called John Curtis had arrived in town claiming to have been attacked and robbed on the Blandford road. He had been treated in the local infirmary and discharged on Jan. 4.

The coroner decided the coincidence of the two events was suspicious and issued a warrant for Curtis’s arrest. He was located in Gosport on the HMS Archilles and taken before a justice of the peace who committed him to the Gosport jail.

A search of his sea chest yielded a peddler’s box full of various trade items. Other items were equally incriminating. Among them was a printed handbill advertising silverware for sale. Similar handbills had been found in the pocket of the murdered man.

The report concluded by noting: “He said his name was John Curtis, and that he was born in Jersey, but ’tis supposed he is a Portugeze, and that his name is Courtine.”

In the issue of March 14 “The Salisbury Journal” noted that John Curtis had been found guilty and “will be executed this morning and afterwards hung in irons, on a gibbet which is erected for that purpose, near the spot where he committed the murder, which is on the road-side, about a quarter of a mile on this side Coombe turn-pike gate.”

He protested his innocence to the end. He was age 27. His memorial is the engraved medallion. It may well be unique as no record of similar pieces could be located. It is possible, however, that smaller but like contemporary pieces may have been produced.

At auction this token piece of Wiltshire history realized £821.60 on a £600-£800 estimate.

This article was originally printed in World Coin News. >> Subscribe today.

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