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British Gold Coins Lead Auctions in New York

british gold coins greg reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #312

A Weekly Coinweek Column by Greg Reynolds ……
The Heritage auctions in New York in early January will be remembered for British gold coins, including coins minted in the British Commonwealth and in British India. The Stack’s Bowers auction this week features several very important British pieces, too. As it would not be practical to review the hundreds of gold coins of Britain and former British colonies that are ‘in the news’ this week, this discussion is limited to English hammered gold coins, those that were made ‘by hand’ with tools rather than with machines.

Stack’s Bowers, Heritage, and CNG, plus the Baldwin’s/Goldbergs/Markov coalition, conduct official auctions in conjunction with the annual New York International Convention (NYINC) at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. While British gold is the topic here, this convention is characterized by offerings of an astonishing assortment and quantity of ancient, medieval and relatively modern coins from around the world.

Although British hammered gold coins are just a small part of the history of coinage in whole world, these are of particular importance in the history of the Western World and a surprising number of quality British hammered gold coins survive. It is not difficult to assemble an historically significant and culturally impressive collection of these.

Although some British coins were made by machine in the 1500s and earlier in the 1600s, the use of a screw press did not become standard in England for minting coins until 1662. In England, hammered gold coins were made in substantial quantities beginning in the 1300s.

Wide Assortment of Coins This Week

In terms of categories, other highlights at the convention include silver coins from German speaking societies dating from the 1400s to the 1800s, 19th-century gold and silver coins from Latin America, coins of Sweden, and coins from the ancient Roman Empire. Also, there are important Russian coins and medals in auctions this week, especially in the Baldwin’s/Goldbergs/Markov event.

Fewer Asian coins are now offered at auction in New York than were in the near past. One reason is that Stack’s Bowers, Baldwin’s and Heritage now conduct regular auctions in Hong Kong.

The main Heritage auction at the NY International was conducted on January 3-4. The Stack’s Bowers auction will be held on Friday and Saturday, January 8-9. Both firms are conducting additional Internet-only sessions, the lots for which are currently available for viewing at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

On January 10, Heritage will conduct an additional live auction featuring selections from Issac Rudman’s collection of Mexican coins and “The David Vice Collection of British Commonwealth Coins.” Vice’s consignment further demonstrates the point that auctions this week will be best remembered for British coins, including coins of British colonies.

I have covered sales of British coins in-depth in the past, including British Proof sets sold at the New York International Convention last year. About two years ago, on January 10, 2014, Stack’s Bowers sold a few landmark British gold patterns that were struck in gold.

British hammered coins tend to appeal to a large audience, as many coins survive from an era that was characterized by the amazing growth of the British Empire, major developments in science, the renaissance of art and literature, and path breaking conflicts of religious visions in Europe. Even people who are not enamored by the physical aspects of coins tend to be attracted to the stories and historical settings relating to hammered coins of the British Isles and British colonies, several of which evolved into influential nations. There are many pieces that are much less expensive than the coins mentioned in this discussion.

Collectors and historians are fortunate that a substantial number of pre-1700 British gold coins are available, as archaeological excavations have unearthed many uncirculated coins that were buried in regions with moderate climates. Such coins were to some extent shielded from humidity by appropriate containers and/or suitable natural material that was coincidentally in the respective grounds.

Many coin auctions throughout each year include at least one impressive uncirculated gold coin from the reign of Edward III, who was King of England from 1327 to 1377. Large groups of these have been found in the ground.

Gold Nobles

The main gold denomination of the 1300s and 1400s was the Noble. In the Stack’s Bowers auction, there is a PCGS-graded MS-63 Noble that was struck in the early 1350s. British gold coins, among other coins, will be auctioned by Stack’s Bowers during Saturday evening.

This early 1350s gold coin is a very appealing representative of an Edward III Noble. It was only lightly to moderately dipped, while many other gold coins found in the ground have been extensively conserved. This piece is mostly to very original. Furthermore, it was struck on a nice flan (circular blank). Moreover, it was well detailed. Just touches of friction on the sword, the crown and on one small area of the reverse keeps this coin from meriting a grade higher than MS-63. It is very attractive and delightful.

This Noble is from a ‘pre-Treaty Period’. On Nobles struck before and after the ‘Treaty Period,’ 1361 to 1369, it is asserted that the king of England is also the king of France. During the ‘Treaty Period,’ that claim was omitted from British coins. Both the Heritage and Stack’s Bowers auctions contained London Mint Nobles of the ‘Treaty Period,’ 1361 to 1369.

Treaty Period, 1361-69, London Mint

In the Heritage auction, a London Mint, Treaty Period, Noble is NGC graded MS-63. It was from the “RichLyn Collection,” a major consignment of British coins. It is said in the catalogue that Richard and Lynda have been married for 48 years. They began collecting British gold coins during the 1970s and, evidently, consigned their collection to the just completed Heritage auction.

gr_britgold_cAlthough dipped a little too light for the personal tastes of some connoisseurs, this coin is technically impressive and well struck, a choice piece overall. It justifiably commanded a premium, $8,812.50, over some other certified MS-63 grade gold Nobles of Edward III that have sold in recent years

In the Stack’s Bowers auction, there is a PCGS graded MS-63, London mint Noble from the same ‘Treaty Period,’ 1361 to ’69. Though not as bright or lustrous as some Nobles, it has a pleasing very original appearance. After having been lightly dipped very long ago, it naturally retoned in an especially satisfying manner. The green tints in the central parts of the coin and the copper-russet tints in the obverse (front) outer fields are normal for these coins and, in this case, are particularly attractive. Furthermore, there is no friction at all on the obverse. The portrait of the king and his ship is very well struck. I have examined dozens, probably more than one hundred, Edward III Nobles. This is an excellent coin.

Treaty Period, 1361-69, Calais Mint Noble

gr_britgold_dIn 1347, the balance of power in Europe markedly changed when England annexed Calais, a well situated port on the French side of the English Channel. Calais became French again in 1558, when it was lost during the reign of Queen Mary I and her husband.

In the Heritage auction, there was a NGC graded MS-64 Edward III Noble from Calais (Spink reference S-1504). Although most unearthed coins have been conserved in some ways, after spending centuries underground, this coin is much more original than most and is very much memorable. This Noble from Calais was well struck on an especially nice flan (blank). The reverse is extraordinary, almost technically flawless, absent of friction and very brilliant. For this Edward III Noble, the $12,925 result was strong, though understandable, a coin that must be seen in actuality to be appreciated.

More Nobles

gr_britgold_eIn the Heritage auction on January 4, an Edward III gold Noble from the next time period (1369-1377), is NGC graded as “MS-67+,” really. A price within the published estimate of “$30,000 to $40,000” would have been more than reasonable if pertinent bidders figured that this coin really merited such a grade. I have been following the sales of gold Nobles for more than seven years and an Edward III Noble that was widely held to grade “MS-67,” if there is one, would probably wholesale for an amount between $25,000 to $35,000 and retail perhaps for a price ranging from $40,000 to $55,000.

The $22,325 auction result is consistent with the value of a MS-66 grade coin of this type. This is one of the more disappointing coins in the auction, as it has been dipped far too light and lacks the rich luster that often characterizes surviving gold coins of Edward III.

The “RichLyn Collection” gold Noble of Richard II is typical of survivors and is of the least rare variety of the type (S-1654). It is NGC graded MS-62. The $5,170 price is moderate and is not newsworthy. This auction result is mentioned here to emphasize that a decent, primary gold piece from the short-lived era of King Richard II, 1377 to ’99, is available to collectors for an amount that is small in contrast to values of rare U.S. or Russian gold coins.

King Edward IV

The Edward IV Ryals of 1464 to 1470 are somewhat equivalent to just mentioned Nobles, and are often called “Rose Nobles.” From the RichLyn Collection, a PCGS graded MS-62 Ryal realized $6462.50. It is a desirable type coin.

Queen Mary I

gr_britgold_fIn the Heritage auction, a NGC graded EF-45 gold Angel, 10-shillings coin, from the short reign of Queen Mary I is technically impressive, crusty and relatively original overall. Some weakly struck elements were perhaps mistaken for wear. This coin is almost uncirculated. Though the least rare type of all surviving gold coins of Mary I, this coin is extremely important for numismatic and historical reasons. (Please read my piece on a Sovereign gold coin of Mary I, which provides considerable historical background.)

Though a sound market price, the $6,756.25 result is a good value from a logical perspective. Gold pieces of Mary I with higher certified grades, which do not always truly merit higher grades, often cost dramatically more than this coin, which is pleasing.

Queen Mary I was later to rule jointly with her husband, Philip, though just for a few years, 1554-58. The Mary & Philip, gold Angel in this auction (S-2496) is non-gradable for reasons that are hard to explain. Importantly, experts at NGC reveal that it has the details of an AU grade coin. I emphasize that its color is mostly original and is very attractive. This coin would fit well enough into a collection of carefully selected gradable coins and costs less than the price that a NGC graded AU-55 coin of the same type would realize. The new owner should be proud of this coin, a neat acquisition for $14,100.

Queen Elizabeth I, 1558-1603

Queen Mary I was succeeded by her half-sister, Queen Elizabeth I, both daughters of Henry VIII. In the Stack’s Bowers auction, there will be sold a gold Sovereign of the fifth issue, 1554 to 1586. The Gold Sovereigns of the 1400s to the 1600s should not be confused with the British Sovereign coins that were issued in later time periods. (Three of my previous articles contain discussions of the concept and historical importance of large sovereign gold coins, King Henry VII, King Henry VIII and Queen Mary I.)

gr_britgold_gThis Gold Sovereign of Queen Elizabeth I is non-gradable and is in a PCGS ‘Genuine’ holder. Even so, it would fit well enough into a set of gradable coins. One would have to be a skilled numismatist to detect the reasons why it is non-gradable. The overall color is original enough, though the color of the reverse is a little awkward, though not unusual. There is much pleasing, russet-copper color on the obverse along with normal green tints in the central areas. Also, this coin has the details of an EF to AU grade coin.

In the Heritage auction, a Half-Pound (10-shillings coin) from the late 1660s is notable. It is one of the better survivors of the type. The NGC grade of AU-58 is nearly indisputable. Though moderately cleaned, it has a touch of honest wear and no real problems, certainly gradable. It may not be easy to find a better one. The $10,575 price was strong, though not surprising.

I have examined more than a few gold Angels of Elizabeth I that were clearly better than the piece in this sale, which is PCGS graded as “MS-63.” At $8225, this was not the best deal in the Heritage auction.

King James I, 1603-25

The large Rose-Ryal, 30-shillings gold coins of King James I are, in important ways, the last of an era of majestic gold pieces that started with the gold Sovereigns of King Henry VII. There were two Rose-Ryals in this Heritage auction.
In the upcoming Stack’s Bowers event, there is one Rose-Ryal and one Spur-Ryal, which features a crowned lion rather than a portrait of King James I himself. In terms of face value, a Spur-Ryal (15 shillings) was half of a Rose-Ryal (30 shillings).

gr_britgold_aThe first Rose-Ryal in the Heritage auction was of the “second coinage” of King James I, 1604 to ’19. It is nearly certain that the PCGS grade of AU-55 is or would be widely accepted. There is a small amount of wear. For such a large gold coin, the imperfections are very minor. A light liquid cleaning is hardly noticeable. This piece certainly appears much more natural than most surviving gold coins from the 1600s! It is technically impressive, well struck and pleasing overall.

Indeed, this is a tremendous Rose-Ryal. The $16,450 result is a retail price that is commensurate with the quality and eye appeal of this specific coin.

The second Rose-Ryal (S-2632) is of the “third coinage,” 1619 to ’25. It is NGC graded as EF-45, a grade assignment about which I am not commenting here. Despite the puzzling catalogue estimate of $20,000 to $30,000, the $14,100 result is strong. Though not quite as rare, the just mentioned Rose-Ryal from the second coinage was a better value, at $16,450.

gr_britgold_bThe “third coinage” Rose-Ryal in the Stack’s-Bowers event is of the same issue (S-2632). It is PCGS graded as AU-55. It has recovered well from a moderate liquid cleaning very long ago. Natural retoning includes tan-gold hues with green tints in central parts of the coin. Reddish hues in the outer parts are frequently seen on such coins and are attractive. The reverse is a little blander than the obverse, though exhibits neat red and russet tints, slight green shades here and there.

Although this Rose-Ryal is not dynamic, it has toned very well, is technically impressive and is mostly original. It is an especially appealing coin overall.

The Spur-Ryal in the Stack’s-Bowers auction was probably minted in the 1620s. It has been moderately dipped and has naturally retoned nicely. It is exceptionally well struck on a choice flan. The obverse by itself certainly merits a gem grade. The reverse is not as pristine, though this is a terrific coin overall. It was NGC graded as MS-64 a long time ago.

This Spur-Ryal was earlier part of the epic Millennia Collection, which the Goldbergs auctioned on May 26, 2008. It then realized $74,750. In January 2014, Heritage auctioned this same gold piece for $82,250.

King Charles I, 1625-49

The gold Unites of King Charles I are are famous twenty shilling coins. Charles I was executed by Parliamentarians who defeated Royalist forces in an English Civil War. The Heritage Platinum Night event featured three Unites and one Triple Unite (sixty shillings).

A 1643 Unite (twenty shilling coin) is NGC graded as AU-50. It better than the average survivor, though certainly does not earn a place in the condition rankings. The $17,625 result was strong. I was a little surprised.

A 1644 Unite from the Oxford Mint is PCGS graded as MS-62 and went to the same bidder (#106) who bought the just mentioned 1643 Unite. Although within the published estimate, the $36,425 result was one of the best values in the sale.

This 1644 Unite is undergraded. Moreover, it is a great coin for multiple reasons! The mint caused imperfections keep it from grading MS-65 or higher! The green tinted inner fields contrast well with the russet colors in the outer fields. The toning and old dust are natural. The underlying luster is crisp and cool. It is moderately and suitably brilliant, unlike some other coins from the era that are artificially bright. Moreover, this coin has only the most trivial of hairlines or contact marks. This is a mostly original, very choice unicrculated coin, which really captures the attention of any interested collector who sees it.

The third Unite is also dated 1644 and was struck at Oxford (S-2735). It is not certified. I am not commenting upon it here. It realized more than I expected that it would, $18,800.

The Triple Unite (60-shillings coin) in this sale is a 1642 Oxford Mint piece that is NGC graded as EF-45. It did not sell and is currently available for “$117,500.” Although it is impossible to see the edge and to thoroughly inspect the rims in its present NGC holder, this seems to be a neat coin. Although I spent just a few seconds on it, and would have to spend more time before recommending it, I did not find any significant problems. Moreover, it appears more impressive in actuality than it does in published images. A light liquid cleaning did not do much harm. Natural retoning is very pleasant, especially russet and orange hues. This is a coin that has a positive emotional impact.

Collectors who cannot afford some of the named pieces may collect lower denomination coins from the same respective time periods, such as Half-Nobles and Half-Angels. A strategy to begin collecting British hammered coins with a non-large budget will the topic of a discussion in the future.

©2016 Greg Reynolds


Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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