Scrivener Capon: The Man Who Swallowed a Crown

Scrivener Capon, the proprietor of the Crown Inn located in the seaside resort town of Lowestoft, “had for many years been subject to the epilepsy.”[1] On 12 March 1771, Capon suffered a violent attack. At the time it was customary to put a crown into a person’s mouth edgewise to prevent the person from biting his or her tongue. This time, however, when the coin was inserted, Capon suffered a severe convulsion and that “forced the crown-piece from the person who held it into his mouth, and [he accidentally] swallowed it.”[2]

Scrivener Capon - Lowestoft

Location of Lowestoft on the English coast. Public domain.

When Capon swallowed, “he greatly convulsed and complained much of a pain in both his ears.”[3] Mr. Arnold, the local Lowestoft physician and surgeon, was unavailable at the time. So, by the time, Arnold saw Scrivener Capon, he was in violent agony and “the trouble he felt … was confined to the lower part of his chest, near the pit of … the stomach.”[4]

Hoping to solve Capon’s problem, Arnold consulted with another surgeon. They concluded that there was nothing they could do as the crown was too far down the esophagus. This meant that it had to pass into the stomach, which at length it did.

In the meantime, after the incident. Capon suffered an inflamed throat for a time. He also suffered the “utmost” difficult in swallowing. However, his health soon returned to normal, and, in fact, “his fits were observed to be not so violent or frequent as before.”[5]

For several years Scrivener Capon continued with no real problems. The only problems that he had was suffering from a disagreeable taste in his mouth and “the corroding torment … preying on his mind.”[6] However, in 1772, Capon began to suffer from illness once again.

Capon again consulted Arnold and on 19 September Arnold found him to be “feverish, languid, and very sick at times, with a disagreeable bitter taste in his mouth.”[7] Capon was at the time “employed in fixing wine in deep vaults, and sometimes stood as it were upon his head.”[8] In addition, he had ingested a meal larger than what he usually did and the result was severe stomach ache.

For a week Scrivener Capon suffered unbearably stomach pain. Then at four o’clock in the morning on 26 November, he complained of being intensely ill. He also began to retch so violently, “he thought himself almost choaked [sic], though he did not know the cause of that sensation.”[9] It was then that he voided the crown piece that he had swallowed some twenty months earlier.

Scrivener Capon

Crown 1799. Public domain.

The crown for the first few days was not silver as it “was so black, that the inscription, or scarcely the impression, was perceivable.”[10] The crown remained discolored and never did recover its brightness. However, Capon’s health and spirits improved tremendously and he lived out his life in peace.

When Scrivener Capon died on 5 July 1799, the crown he had so famously swallowed was put in a frame. It remained in his wife’s possession and she claimed it was “the subject of much curiosity among travellers and visitors.”[11] One person who saw the crown in its frame wrote:

“I had taken a copy of the writing annexed to the frame holding the crown-piece, and also memoranada of the case; which though I lately saw it, I cannot now turn to. … Capon … He was a married man, and had a child or two. He is said to have retired on a farm of his own, some years, and has a daughter married to a gentleman at Bungay, in the same county, and died two or three months ago at nearly the age of 70.”[12]

Fortunately, Scrivener Capon became known for more than swallowing a crown. His legacy came about after Lowestoft became a seaside resort in the 1730s and began to entice sea bathers to visit for a six-week period from August through September. As Lowestoft’s reputation for sea bathing grew, bathing machines became popular, and in 1768 it was Capon who installed these machines at the beach for sea bather’s enjoyment. His machines were similar to those used at a seaside town of Margate, a spot where Jane Austen‘s cousin, Eliza de Feuillide visited.

Sea bathing machines as shown at Brighton. Courtesy of the British Museum.

References:

  • [1] Granger, William, The New Wonderful Museum, and Extraordinary Magazine, 1802, p. 43.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 86, 1799, p. 1108.
  • [4] Ibid., p. 1044.
  • [5] Ibid., p. 1108
  • [6] Ibid., p. 1044.
  • [7] Ibid., 1108.
  • [8] Ibid.
  • [9] Ibid.
  • [10] Ibid.
  • [11] Granger, William, p. 44.
  • [12] The Gentleman’s Magazine, p. 1044.

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