A UNIQUE Anglo-Saxon coin which provides a clue to the murder of a king has fetched £78,000 at auction.

The silver penny was found in early March in a Sussex field by metal detectorist Darrin Simpson, 48, of Eastbourne.

It has now been auctioned at the international coin and medal specialists Dix Noonan Webb in London.

And the price paid for the 1,200 year-old coin by an internet bidder was far above the pre-sale estimate of £15,000 to £20,000.

Bidders in the room, on the internet and those who had lodged advance commission bids pushed the price up rapidly from its £17,000 starting point.

The final hammer price was £65,000, which with buyers’ commission adds up to £78,000.

Mr Simpson will give half the money to the farmer on whose land the coin was found and another quarter to the three friends who were detecting with him when he discovered it.

He said: “It’s fantastic, an amazing result. I am really quite shocked.”

The silver penny was struck in the reign of late eighth century East Anglian ruler Æthelberht II. Three others have been discovered but they all have a different design and this is the first which bears the title REX (“king”) on the same side as his name.

It is thought this may explain why his more powerful neighbour Offa, King of Mercia, had him beheaded in 794 – he may have thought Æthelberht II was becoming too ambitious.

A spokesman for Dix Noonan Webb said: “There was fierce bidding for this unique coin. The price paid shows that the worldwide market for important pieces like this Æthelberht II coin is extremely strong.

“You don’t really know the value of something like this on the market until the market has decided what it is worth – and the market has spoken.”

He added: “This coin could easily have been destroyed by a plough or a digger or just a shovel.

“We don’t know when it went into that field but it was probably well before the Battle of Hastings. It’s miraculous that it has survived.”