A 1937 Edward VIII 5 Pounds Pattern coin — one of only a small number of commemorative British gold coins produced for the would-be coronation of Edward VIII — set a world record as the most expensive British coin when it sold for $2,280,000 during a public auction of rare world coins held by Heritage Auctions on Friday, March 26.
Edward VIII gold Proof Pattern 5 Pounds 1937 PR67 Ultra Cameo NGC, KM-Unl., Fr-406 (Very Rare), S-4063, Schneider-Unl., L&S-Unl., W&R-432 (R6), Dyer-Plate D, Giordano-P13 (RRRR). Reeded edge. By T. Humphrey Paget, reverse design after Benedetto Pistrucci. Within the whole of the British series, few coins can claim to inspire such awe and controversy as the emissions of Edward VIII. Presenting a beloved prince who was as much a product of the roaring 20s of his youth as he was remembered for trying to escape from under the thumb of his father, George V, Edward VIII’s coins are at once as provocative as was the man himself. Breaking with centuries of British numismatic tradition, perhaps the most immediate feature of the King’s issues is his left-facing bust, positioned just as the portraits employed on his father’s coins. Since the transition of power from Oliver Cromwell to Charles II, the Kings of England had adopted a style of alternating the direction of their busts with each change of monarch, and while records exist to document the long discussions between Edward and his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Neville Chamberlain, the ultimate decision was made to keep the King’s portrait in this profile. Edward was indeed no stranger to taking steps that flew in the face of what was conceived at the time as “conventional” (particularly in his father’s opinion). His style of dress and mannerisms were considered “simple” and “frank,” much to the delight of the common people and in opposition to what could have been called kingly or royal.
Despite extensive preparations having been made for the production of specimen coronation sets “in accordance with custom” for distribution to collectors and important persons, plans for Edward VIII’s coinage were ultimately cut short by his decision to abdicate the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, a commoner and yet the woman he loved, after just 10-1/2 months of rule. Though Peck, following the Royal Mint reports from 1935-1936, records that over 200 dies for coins, medals, and seals were prepared–clearly indicating that the mint had all intentions of producing a full series of issues for circulation–these were ultimately destroyed after Edward’s fateful decision. As such, the coinage that was struck was confined to a series of special-purpose Patterns, rather than issues for general use. Interestingly, reports of the time also cite “A Coronation set of gold coins consist[ing] of four pieces – £5, £2, £1 and a half-sovereign” (Daily Telegraph, 10 July 1936), though, controversially, no 1/2 sovereign was ever minted.
Attempting to trace all surviving examples of these Patterns still in existence, Joseph Giordano, in his Portraits of a Prince, recorded approximately 6 sets known to him in 2009, most of which have been broken-up since their initial issuance. Indeed, when the Royal Mint took an inventory in September 1950, it reported only 3 complete sets in existence, and all evidence indicates that that number today can be reduced to two–one in the collection of the Royal Mint itself, and the only other held privately, residing in the Tyrant Collection. Likely the most desirable coin of the set for its effortlessly imposing stature, as much as its status as the largest denomination produced in Edward’s name, the 5 Pounds is known from a mere two specimens in private hands: this piece, and the aforementioned representative in the Tyrant Collection. It seems hardly an extrapolation to propose that the present offering may very likely be the finest in existence. Outranking the Tyrant specimen by a full two grade points and its Ultra Cameo designation, this coin can easily be regarded as virtually perfect. Coupling unbroken matte frost over the features with beaming mirrorlike reflectivity that dominates even from a distance, a rotation in hand reveals night-and-day contrast that makes the fields appear jet-black. Even under high magnification, the fields are free of even the most insignificant wisps of handling, instead disclosing fine die polish lines that further confirm its painstaking preservation over the last 84 years.
First and Properly Once in Our Life-time
To the best of our knowledge, not a single example of the Edward VIII 5 Pounds has come to auction in at least the past 20 years, if not longer. What is more, while both the Richard Lobel Collection and Spink’s November 1997 catalog of the LaRiviere and Kaufman Collections contained an example of the Proof Crown–and the former also had the Farthing, Penny, 6 Pence, Shilling, and ½ Crown–neither had an example of the 5 Pounds. Nor, for reference, did the Schneider Collection contain a single issue of Edward VIII. According to our research, approximately 5 coins of Edward VIII have crossed the auction block in recent years, providing some indication to the level of interest that such types inspire:
1) The Edward VIII Pattern Sovereign (ex. Hemisphere and R. E. Gibson collections) – Realized a hammer price of £430,000 (approximately $729,000 at the time) in May 2014 (uncertified and described as hairlined over both sides). Brokered by the Royal Mint for £1,000,000 ($1.3 million) in January 2020 (when it was described as having been certified PR63 Cameo).
2) The Edward VIII Pattern Crown (ex. Richard Lobel Collection) – Realized a hammer price of $300,000 in January 2020 (uncertified)
3) The Edward VIII Pattern 6 Pence (ex. Richard Lobel Collection) – Realized a hammer price of ¥5,000,000 (approximately $45,583 at the time) in January 2019 (certified PR63+ by PCGS)
4) The Edward VIII Pattern Penny (ex. Waterbird and Richard Lobel collections) – Realized a hammer price of £111,000 (approximately $138,500 at the time) in September 2019 (certified PR63+ Red and Brown by NGC)
5) The Edward VIII Pattern 3 Pence (ex. Penn Collection) – Realized an all-in price of $63,000 in our January 2021 NYINC Auction #3089 (lot 31245) (certified MS61 by NGC)
Friedberg also records that a 2 Pound piece was auctioned in London, November 2001, for £58,000 (approximately $85,000 at the time), though we have been unable to consult that specimen.
By all measures, then, bidders should consider the opportunity presented here to be truly once-in-a-lifetime. A surviving letter exchanged between the Duke of Windsor and his brother, George VI, reveals that even Edward himself was refused his request to obtain a set for himself, and we, therefore, feel it is fitting to state that this is the coin that even a “king” couldn’t have. An absolute paragon in the field of British numismatics, and the undisputed star of the Paramount Collection.
From the Paramount Collection
As always, Heritage Auctions is fully confident that the audience of interested bidders will appreciate the breadth, scale, and quality of the offerings herein. Holding in tandem with the Hong Kong International Numismatic Fair, we present on of the top occasions for collector, investors, and enthusiasts alike to see some of the best pieces the market has to offer. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you want to share a story, discuss a lot, or better target that key issue that will complete your collection. To know more information, please email to firstname.lastname@example.org , or simply call +852 2155 1698.