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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: Choice, historical British Coins Auctioned in New York

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #147 ….
Last week, Stack’s-Bowers and Heritage were among several firms that conducted official auctions at a world coin convention in New York that is held every year at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Manhattan. Last week, I covered European and Costa Rican coins`, plus Brazilian ingots, in the Heritage auction. Both the Stack’s-Bowers and Heritage auctions included newsworthy offerings of British coins and patterns. I focus here on a few patterns and on a sizeable selection of English coins from the 1300s to the mid 1600s. I emphasize scarce coins that have particular historical significance and/or those that score relatively high in the category of originality.

I. Patterns

Four “patterns” each sold for more than any individual British coins. Two are patterns, narrowly defined, and two were produced by private firms.

Two Guinea gold coins of King George II (who reigned from 1727 to 1760) were not minted for circulation until 1734. Pattern Two Guinea pieces of 1733 feature a reverse (back) design that is somewhat different from that of the regular issue. The 1733 pattern in the Heritage auction is NGC certified ‘Proof-63.’ In my view, it is certainly a Proof and it is undergraded. The price realized of $58,750 is neither strong nor weak, a price right in the middle of the market range for this piece.

A 1768 pattern Two Guineas of George III (1760-1820) is much more interesting. The portrait of the king on such patterns is markedly different from the portraits that appear on the regular issue gold coins of George III. Moreover, during the reign of George III, no regular issue gold coins of this denomination, Two Guineas, were issued. They exist only as patterns. The piece in this Heritage sale is NGC certified ‘Proof-62’ and it brought $70,500.

One of the more puzzling pieces to be offered is a very large gold piece from the Victorian era (1837-1901). It grabbed my attention when I tilted it under a light. It is certainly different. It is notably wide, more than 1.5 inches in diameter, and has a reverse design that would not have been seriously considered for a British coin. This piece is NGC certified ‘Proof-64 Cameo.’ The assigned 64 grade is not controversial and this piece is clearly a Proof.

It does not have a date, though was said to have been minted in 1887. The Heritage cataloguer states, and the NGC certification implies, that it was produced in Nuremberg, Germany, by the firm of L.C. Lauer, which minted a wide variety of coin related items. Did Lauer ever produce official patterns?

I am puzzled about its status. I suggest that collectors of British patterns focus on those produced by Royal Mints in the UK (Great Britain). I was surprised that this piece sold for $235,000, an amount which I tentatively regard as an extremely strong price.

The Stack’s-Bowers auction also featured a privately produced pattern, by the firm of Spink, supposedly for a very large gold coin. It is dated 1902. King Edward VII ruled from 1901 to 1910, though was coronated in 1902. This piece does not bear any resemblance to regular issue gold coins of the late 1800s or the early 1900s.

This piece has a diameter of 1.89 inches and weighs more than 2.6 troy ounces, if the data provided in the April 2005 Eliasberg catalogue is accurate. This piece is housed in the largest PCGS holder that I have ever seen, and is certified as “SP-62.” The Eliasberg pedigree is noted on the holder. In terms of artistry and the physical aspects of die preparation, this piece is extremely interesting.

When ANR auctioned the Eliasberg Collection of world gold coins in April 2005, this piece was NGC graded MS-62. It then brought $39,100. On Jan. 12, 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned it for $115,000.

II. Edward III (1327-77)

Are gold coins minted during the era of King Edward III often good values from a logical perspective? He ruled from 1327 to 1377, which was an important era of English history. Of particular importance to coinage is a treaty with France that made permanent an English society at Calais on the continent. An English Mint was established at Calais.

These are attractive, interesting coins, which were struck from relatively elaborate dies, in contrast to coins struck in the British Isles before 1100. Additionally, these were often more carefully made than many business strike gold coins in later centuries.

High grade representatives of gold coins from the 1300s are available. Indeed, many of these are not very rare. A collector could obtain a variety of them without too much difficulty, without spending a fortune.

Nobles, Half Nobles and Angels were struck for circulation. I shed light on past gold coin denominations of Europe in a past article on gold coins as world currencies.

The Half Noble that Heritage auctioned on Jan. 6th is NGC graded MS-61. It was struck on an irregularly shaped planchet (prepared blank). It is otherwise an excellent coin.

This Half Noble has only been very light dipped, a long time ago. It is now a pleasing orange-gold color, with a neat ‘vintage’ appearance. Unlike some PCGS or NGC graded MS-61 coins, which often have noticeable wear on the highpoints, this coin is strictly uncirculated. The reverse (back) of the coin is choice. Some normal contact marks preclude a higher grade. This Edward III Half Noble is attractive overall. It brought $2115, much less than market prices for many NGC graded MS-61 gold coins from the early years of the United States.

The next coin in this Heritage auction, a full Noble, is PCGS graded AU-58. It was struck on a better planchet (prepared blank) than the just mentioned Half Noble, though this planchet is hardly perfect. Moreover, it has much fewer contact marks and I do not remember any hairlines. It, though, has quite a bit of noticeable wear. A grade of AU-55 or -55+ would be more appropriate than AU-58. Though it has been lightly to moderately dipped, this is not a major issue for a coin from the 1300s. The fact that it has so few contact marks or hairlines is important. It is a really neat coin. The realized price of $3055 was modest to strong.

The following Edward III Noble is NGC graded MS-61 and brought a higher price, $4700. As it is clearly debatable as to whether this coin is truly uncirculated, it may have brought a much higher price than the other Noble because this one scores higher in the category of originality. The vintage orange color is excellent.

III. Henry VII (1485-1509)

King Henry VII is the father of King Henry VIII and is the patriarch of the Tudor dynasty. There were two gold Angels of Henry VII in this Heritage auction.

The first was minted at some point from 1505 to 1509. It is PCGS graded AU-53, and it could just as well have been fairly graded AU-55. It has the sharpness of a -53 or -55 grade and has other very positive qualities. This Angel exhibits a nice subdued color, with no evidence of ever having been dipped. It has been just lightly cleaned, with some kind of relatively harmless chemical. There are still particles in the recesses that this coin probably acquired while it was circulating in the 1500s!

This Henry VII Angel is mostly to very original and has very few contact marks or hairlines. This a very desirable coin. The price realized of $3055 is a good value.

The second gold Angel of Henry VII in this sale is PCGS graded MS-65. I note some bothersome imperfections in the strike and a couple of noticeable contact marks. While I certainly like this coin, and find it to be very original, it does not have sufficient eye appeal to merit a 65 grade, in my view. The $17,625 result was very strong.

IV. Henry VIII (1509-47)

Stack’s-Bowers sold two Angels of King Henry VIII, each probably struck between 1509 and 1526. I like the first coin, despite the fact that it has been lightly ‘cleaned’ in three ways, a very light dipping, a light wiping (which is characteristic of a standard cleaning), and a light liquid cleaning with some mild chemical. On average, gold coins recover better from cleanings than copper or silver coins.

This Angel is still mostly original with really nice color, and very few contact marks. Planchet and die imperfections are typical of the issue and appear to a lesser extent on this coin than on many other Angels from the 1500s. I am accepting of the NGC grade of AU-55. The $3055 result was weak to modest.

The second Angel is NGC graded Extremely Fine-45, though really more than three increments separate the net grades of these two Angels. Planchet and die imperfections in addition to other issues result in this one being much less desirable, though not bad for a circulated gold coin from the early 1500s. Given the characteristics of this specific coin, the $1655 result was strong to very strong. This amount is perhaps a reasonable price, though, for such a piece of history.

Henry VIII is the most famous king in the history of Great Britain. England changed considerably during his reign, and his policies set the stage for England/Britain to become one of the three wealthiest, most industrious, and most powerful nations in the world.

The coins struck during his era are thus of considerable historical importance. For background about King Henry VIII and coinage during his reign, please see an earlier article of mine on an exceptional large gold coin, a high quality Sovereign. (Clickable links are in blue.)

The Stack’s-Bowers sale also featured a gold “Crown of the Double Rose.” English Crown coins, whether silver or gold, were usually valued at five shillings. The earlier “Crown of the Rose” denomination was valued at just four shillings, six pence, in order to be consistent, in gold content, with the ducats and equivalent gold coins of continental Europe.

The design of the “Crown of the Double Rose” in this Stack’s-Bowers sale includes a subtle indication that Henry VIII was married to Jane Seymour, his third wife and the mother of King Edward VI. While an NGC grade of MS-62 does not sound impressive to collectors of 19th century U.S. coins, this is an exceptional representative of a “Crown of the Double Rose.”

Yes, despite a light liquid cleaning, a bare bit of wiping, and a very light dipping, this coin scores very high in the category of originality. It toned a pleasing greenish-gold color, with some yellow hues. Rough, problematic dies generated some coarse areas on the coin. There is no actual wear, though, and this coin has no serious problems. Furthermore, there are almost zero, discernible contact marks. This crown is more than attractive. I grade it as ‘MS-62+.’ The $4524 realization is moderate, a good deal for the buyer.

Silver coins of Henry VIII tend to be much less expensive than relevant gold coins from the same time period. There were three four-pence coins (Groats) in this Stack’s-Bowers auction. The first two each sold for $441 and the third brought $470, strong prices in terms of coin markets, though sensible from a logical perspective.

(Each four pence coin is termed a ‘Groat.’ Twelve pence equals one shilling. Usually, twenty shillings equaled one pound, as a monetary concept.)

These three Groats were struck at three different mints. The first was struck at the Tower Mint in London. Despite being not gradable and having been struck on a very problematic planchet, it features a sharp portrait of the king, which is believed to be similar to his real appearance. The obverse, by itself, grades EF-45, maybe. The reverse (back) has substantial problems. Still, this would be a fun coin to own. I like its natural toning.

In a technical sense, the Henry VIII Groat from the Canterbury Mint is superior to the just mentioned coin from the Tower Mint, though it is unevenly struck on a very bad planchet. The surface quality, in terms of originality and lack of contact marks, however, is exemplary. Plus, there is not much wear. Most of the missing detail is due to Canterbury Mint caused imperfections. It is a tough coin to grade, though it is gradable, in my view. From an aesthetic standpoint, the obverse of the just mentioned Tower Mint Groat is more appealing.

I am a little surprised that the York Mint Groat brought the highest price of the three in this Stack’s-Bowers auction. Maybe a leading bidder on these is collecting them by mint location? The planchet defects and the very uneven strike, with much missing detail, are annoying. Still, this Groat from York has nice brownish-russet natural toning. At $471, this coin is a fair value. I recommend, though, that collectors buy Groats of Henry VIII in NGC or PCGS holders, with assigned numerical grades.

While the graders at these services make more than a few mistakes, the purchase of certified coins involves much less risk than the purchase of not certified coins. It is especially difficult to grade coins that were carelessly made with crude equipment, and serious problems may be missed by collectors who grade not certified coins, by themselves.

V. Edward VI (1547-53)

Edward VI, son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, became king in 1547 at the age of nine and died in 1553 when he was just fifteen. Curiously, a large number of coins were issued during his short reign and a substantial number survive. There were a few in these auctions.

In the Stack’s-Bowers auction, there was a six pence (half-shilling) coin, probably struck in 1552 or 1553, It has the details of a VF-30 grade coin, though is not gradable, in my view. It is somewhat attractive, with nice brownish-russet tones. The $446 result was moderate to strong.

Heritage sold two silver ‘Crowns’ of Edward VI, five shilling coins, dated 1551. One is NGC graded EF-40 and sold for $4112.50 and the other is NGC graded EF-45. It brought $3525. They both sold on the floor. Bidder #49 may have been successful for both of them. He certainly was the high bidder for the second.

Despite the lower NGC grade, the first Crown was clearly a higher quality coin than the second. The $4112.50 result was not surprising and was modest. The second is probably gradable as a 16th century coin, though would not be if it was a 19th century coin. In my view, it qualifies for a VF-35 assignment at best. The $3525 price for it was strong.

Although the twenty shilling gold coins of Edward VI that were minted at times from late 1550 to early 1553 are often termed “Sovereigns,” I suggest that these should be termed Gold Pounds, not sovereigns, as the term ‘Sovereign’ during the Tudor dynasty refers to a particular type of English coin. In 1549 and perhaps during early 1550, Sovereigns of Edward VI were indeed struck. In a column a few weeks ago, I referred to one that was sold in a recent Bonhams auction. (Please click.)

This Edward VI Gold Pound (20 shillings = 1 pound) in the Stack’s-Bowers event is appealing. This is a rare and important coin. Values in price guides are surprisingly below market prices, in my view. While this coin should be the topic of a separate inquiry, it suffices to say here that the NGC grade of EF-45 is more than fair and that it is an attractive representative of an Edward VI Gold Pound. The $19,975 price was modest. This is one of the better survivors of this issue. I was expecting a higher price.

Edward VI Half-Pound gold coins are a different matter. If all other factors are equivalent, these weigh half as much as the Gold Pound coins, though they are not worth nearly half as much in 2013. Edward VI Half Pound gold coins are not rare and decent representatives can be easily found. I have seen many of them. The Half-Pound in the Stack’s-Bowers auction is NGC graded EF-40, which is fair enough, and it sold for $7931, a very strong price.

Edward VI was succeeded by his half-sister, Queen Mary I, who was the first daughter of Henry VIII. (Please click for more information.) I like the Groat of Queen Mary I in the Stack’s-Bowers sale. Though not gradable, it exhibits much detail and very pleasant natural toning, including brownish-gray, russet, purplish-russet and green shades. The portrait effectively shows how she probably really looked. Further, the portrait on this coin issue suggests her stern outlook and inner torment. While the $558 price was a little strong for this specific coin, this Groat is particularly meaningful as a piece of history.

VI. Elizabeth I (1558-1603)

Queen Elizabeth I was the half-sister of Queen Mary I. Heritage auctioned three coins from her long reign.

A Crown, five shilling silver coin, is NGC graded VF-35 and is excellent. It is very original and nicely toned. Further, it has almost zero contact marks. The $4876.25 result is commensurate with its positive characteristics. An Elizabethan Angel gold coin in this sale is not gradable and the $3818.75 price was strong.

A gold Half Pound was minted in the early 1560s. It is PCGS graded EF-40, though is barely gradable and is not particularly attractive for an extremely fine grade coin of this type. The $4700 price is somewhat strong.

Queen Elizabeth I was succeeded by her cousin, James I. He ruled from 1603 to 1625. Most gold coin issues of James I are not rare and circulated pieces are often available for less than $2000 each. Three of the six in the Heritage sale did not sell, possibly because these have serious problems and were reserved at levels that were not commensurate with their respective qualities.

There were two Unites (twenty shilling gold coins) of the “second coinage.” In my view, both are not gradable, though the first is certified as “EF-40.” It brought a strong price of $1645. The second Unite of James I in this Heritage sale was formerly in the Eliasberg Collection, which ANR auctioned in April 2005, at which time it sold for $1380. I covered that auction for Numismatic News newspaper and for World Coin News. This time, this Unite went for $1527.50.

VII. Commonwealth & Cromwell

In England, a civil war began in 1642 between the forces of King Charles I and the parliamentarians. In 1649, the king was beheaded and the so-called “Commonwealth” was established. In 1653, Oliver Cromwell became the chief executive, largely a dictator, of this “Commonwealth.” In 1658, Cromwell died. In 1660, the monarchy was restored and Charles II succeeded his father as king.

In this auction, Heritage auctioned Commonwealth Shillings of 1651 and 1656. While the experts at the NGC fairly denied a numerical grade to the former, because of some deep (though small) scratches, this coin has nice natural toning, brown-russet-gray with blue tints. The holder indicates “AU details.” It brought just $998.75, a somewhat weak price for this neat coin. The 1656 shilling did not sell, possibly because it was overgraded as “AU-50” by the NGC.

The next lot, a 1653 Commonwealth Crown (five shillings) was fairly graded AU-50 by the NGC. I like the gray, green and russet natural toning. In terms of surface quality, it is excellent for an AU-50 grade coin. The $6462.50 result is perfectly sensible.

Stack’s-Bowers sold one of the same date and type, which is NGC graded VF-25. After a moderate, liquid cleaning in the past, it naturally retoned in an attractive manner,mostly gray with blue and russet tints. The $2585 result was strong, though very understandable.

The most famous coins of the Commonwealth/Cromwell era, 1649 to 1660, are the Cromwell Broads of 1656. These are twenty shilling gold coins, though different from the Unites that were minted earlier in this same century and much different from the Sovereigns of the 1500s. The Broad auctioned by Heritage is somewhat generously graded AU-58 by the NGC, though it is dynamic. Indeed, it is semi-prooflike, with some somewhat frosted devices, and is very attractive. It brought $23,500.

During the afternoon of Wed. Jan 9th, in the CNG Triton XVI auction at this same convention in New York, a Cromwell Broad that is NGC certified “Proof-64 Cameo” sold for more than $125,000. Bidding started at the $46,000 level. From my vantage point, I could not clearly see the bidders. Unfortunately, I did not view this coin, an oversight that I regret. The CNG cataloguer suggests that it is superior to the Terner-Millennia piece, of which I have a very favorable opinion.

Charles II became king in 1660 and he was succeeded by his brother, James II, in 1685. In the Heritage auction, there were several coins from the Charles II and James II periods, most of which are not newsworthy. Besides, these would require a long, separate discussion to be treated fairly.

VIII. William & Mary (1689-94)

Queen Mary II was the oldest daughter of King James II. Her sister Anne became Queen in 1702. Mary II chose to have her husband serve as her co-ruler. He became king in his own right when she died in 1694.

The coins of William & Mary are avidly collected. The shillings are scarce. The colorfully toned, not certified 1693 shilling in this auction sold for $705. I just glanced at it very quickly.

I was impressed by the Half Crown of 1689 in this Heritage auction. It is PCGS graded MS-64. While I am not committed to this grade for this coin, I am very impressed by this coin’s originality. Although I did not spend much time examining it, I do not remember any evidence of it having been dipped or cleaned. The mellow natural toning is certainly attractive and this coin has very few contact marks. It must have been set aside soon after it was minted in 1689! The price of $14,100 was slightly strong.

Collectors who cannot afford to spend that much may wish to think about the next coin, a Crown of 1691, which sold for $2585. It is NGC graded AU-50. It was moderately dipped long ago and has naturally retoned a stable gray. Imperfections in the planchet are noticeable, though not serious. Furthermore, this coin has very few contact marks. It is a really nice coin and the $2585 price was modest.

A William & Mary Half Guinea gold coin of 1692 is PCGS graded EF-45. Much of the wear is from cleaning rather than from circulation, though this coin is somewhat lustrous and appealing overall. It has decent color and is better than average among survivors of this type. The $2350 result was neither strong nor weak.

The William & Mary Five Guinea piece in the Stack’s-Bowers sale did not sell. This could be because some of the indentations on the obverse, one deep one in particular, are really bothersome. I looked at this coin three times and I continued to be annoyed. Its mellow green color, though, is attractive.

IX. Choosing Coins to Cover

Admittedly, I wish I was able to discuss most of the British coins that were auctioned in New York in January. Indeed, coins have been struck in the British Isles for more than two thousand years, and British coins from almost all eras were offered in New York over the last two weeks. I needed to be realistic, however, about how many can be productively covered here in this discussion.

Yes, sadly, I have not discussed an especially appealing run of 19th century, British silver coins in the Heritage auction. Many of these feature wonderful, natural toning. Generally, these are not rare, however, and it is not practical to discuss the aesthetics of a large number of very attractive coins in an auction review.

I tend to be biased in favor of coins of the Tudor dynasty (1485-1603), mostly because the Tudors had a tremendous effect on the history of England and had a significant impact on the history of the world.

In 2008, I devoted an article to an analysis of an extremely important coin issued during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-14). Her reign and the coins issued during her reign are particularly important for several reasons. I apologize to those interested for not being able to incorporate mentions of coins from her era into the present discussion. It is true, though, that none of the auctions in New York in January featured major offerings of the coins of Queen Anne.

Generally, I wish I had the time to write a thousand pages of articles on British coins. One of the all-time greatest collections of U.S. large cents will be auctioned by Stack’s-Bowers next week, however, and I now look forward to directing my attention towards gem large cents.

©2013 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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