'The Yorkshire Aestel' – one of the original knowledge Gizmos to go under the hammer
By Jack Martin
September 18, 2008
September 18, 2008 'The Yorkshire Aestel' belongs to a small group of only seven known aestels; the most celebrated of which is the Alfred Jewel. An aestel is a pointer designed for the reading of manuscripts and most were commissioned by Alfred the Great, famous warrior king of England and one of history’s great champions of learning, justice and civilisation. King Alfred commissioned and sent aestels to all the bishops of his kingdom to accompany a copy of a translation of Pope Gregory I's Regula Pastoralis. Curiously, despite being one of the first man-made objects specifically designed to assist with furthering knowledge, this rare object is only expected to fetch between UKP10,000-15,000 when it goes to auction – perhaps this is a reflection on our modern values, perhaps the opportunity for a treasured possession of true meaning. A gold pointer steeped in history and the very roots of hand-written monastic scholarly endeavour , and dating from the late 9th Century is surely worth much more.
The Yorkshire Aestel, designed to assist in the reading of Medieval manuscripts, will be sold at Bonhams Sale of Antiquities on 15 October in London. It is estimated to fetch UKP10,000-15,000, the aestel was found at Aughton, South Yorkshire in January 2005 and was disclaimed as Treasure by the Crown.
The official catalogue for the sale describes the austel thus: Lot No: 312 - 'The Yorkshire Aestel' - An Anglo-Saxon gold aestel, English, late 9th Century A.D. Hollow cast, of flat-backed drop form, the domed terminal in the form of a zoomorphic head, decorated in applied gold filigree, with scrolling ears and circular eyes in plain wire, one inlaid with a glass eye, the other missing, each eye enclosed with a spiral of twisted filigree curving to form the eyebrows, with two encircling bands of twisted filigree at the base of the cylindrical neck, another band at the rim, the neck pierced with two holes below the rim for attachment, once forming a socket for a manuscript pointer, 31mm high, 4.12g weight.
The rare Saxon relic was found by a metal detector enthusiast and amateur treasure hunter and although diminutive in size (when found, it was first thought to be a milk bottle top), it is historically quite significant. The hollow cast pointer is just, 31mm high, and weighs 4.12g. The name aestel is derived from the Latin hastula (a little spear); the word aestel means a pointer for the reading of manuscripts. The flat back of all these items confirms this identification, as they would lie conveniently on the pages of a book.
Known as 'The Yorkshire Aestel', this example belongs to a small group of only seven known aestels; the most celebrated of which is the Alfred Jewel, now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
One of the most famous objects to survive from Anglo-Saxon England, the Alfred Jewel, traditionally (and not without good reason) is associated with Alfred the Great, king of the West Saxons 871-99. The jewel was found in 1693, at North Petherton in Somerset, on land belonging to Sir Thomas Wroth (c. 1675-1721), only four miles from Athelney, where King Alfred took refuge from the Vikings in 878, and where legend has it, he burnt the cakes.
All seven aestels are thought to date to the time of King Alfred (871-899), indeed four were found in King Alfred's Wessex. The other five identified aestels are The Minster Lovell Jewel (Oxfordshire), The Bowleaze Jewel (Dorset), The Wessex Jewel (Warminster, Wiltshire), The Bidford Bobble, (Warwickshire), and The Borg Aestel (Norway). The Yorkshire Aestel is the only known privately owned aestel.
This aestel was on loan to Winchester Discovery Centre as part of the exhibition 'Alfred The Great. Warfare, Wealth and Wisdom', February-April 2008.
Madeleine Perridge of Bonhams Antiquities Department, comments: “When handling an object like this, anyone with a love of history and literature knows that they are in touch with centuries of monastic scholarly endeavour, and possibly with royal sponsorship of that work. It is a privilege to be selling this beautiful rare object.”
Those interested in researching the significance of this remarkable object might follow these links:
The Life Of King Alfred by Asser, Bishop of Sherborne, written sometime around 888 A.D. and part of the Online Medieval and Classical Library
Alfred the Great on Wikipedia