World Coin Profiles: Finest Known Gold Ship Ryal of Elizabeth I

Our upcoming April 22-27 Central States World Coins Signature Auction features an absolutely spectacular Elizabeth I (1558-1603) gold “Ship” Ryal of 15 Shillings, graded MS64 by PCGS.

This piece’s very survival seems miraculous. It is one of the rarest and most popular coins of Elizabeth I’s reign, absent from most British collections in any condition, yet preserved here to an unprecedented standard.

Every collector of hammered British gold will be familiar with this intensely sought-after issue, designed with charming medieval-style imagery and Lombardic lettering.

The Ryal was always a slightly controversial type, representing an attempt during Edward IV’s first reign to simplify the confusion of circulating gold denominations by producing the equivalent of a ‘Half Sovereign’ worth 10 Shillings. However, as the Noble of 6 Shillings 8 Pence was by then the accepted standard, the Ryal was ultimately unsuccessful and replaced shortly afterward by the famous Angel.

Despite its initial unpopularity, the 10 Shilling Ryal reared its head once again in Henry VII’s reign, and again in Queen Mary’s reign (then worth 15 Shillings to match the 30 Shilling Sovereign). By the time of Elizabeth’s reign it was a far-from-necessary denomination and was produced solely for trade in the Netherlands, in a failed attempt to extract profit from the arbitrarily higher price Ryals traded for in the Low Countries.

This selection is simply extraordinary to behold, its buttercup-yellow surfaces pristine and glowing with residual mint luster. Perfectly and centrally struck, Elizabeth’s portrait slightly weak and correspondingly soft on the reverse, yet a clearly uncirculated and untouched example with an incredibly sharp and ‘mint fresh’ appearance.

Only a handful of Elizabeth Ship Ryals are ever seen at auction; Heritage has sold just one previous example: an XF45 graded piece in our January sale this year, which realized $72,000. Of the few others known, the present specimen is by far the finest. When offered in May 2015, it brought an all-time record price of over $180,000 hammer. Now fully certified as the single highest graded example by NGC or PCGS by three points, we can only speculate on the excitement this immaculate, near-gem ultimate rarity will generate.

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