World Coins Auctions – The First Gold Coin of England and sold at 720,000 USD in January 2021

One of Only a Handful of Known Examples and Believed Unique in this Die-Pairing


Henry III (1216-1272) gold Penny of 20 Pence ND (c. 1257) MS63 NGC, London mint, Willem (likely William of Gloucester [William Fitz Otto], the King’s goldsmith) as moneyer, Fr-80 (7 known), S-1375, N-1000 (ER), Schneider-1, Ruding, Annals of the coinage of Great Britain and its dependencies, 3rd ed. (1840), Vol II, pg. 378, Supplementary Plate VI, 18, n. 4 (this coin cited), Evans, “The First Gold Coins of England”, Plate XI, 4 (this coin), Lawrence, “The Long Cross coinage of Henry III and Edward I” (British Numismatic Journal 9, 1912, pp. 145-79), Type II. 21mm. 2.95gm. h | ЄNRIC’ | RЄX : I-I-I’ | :, bearded and crowned king enthroned facing, lis-tipped scepter in right hand, globus cruciger in left / WILL | ЄM : O | N LVn | DЄN (quatrefoil), voided long cross with rose and three pellets in each angle (second N in London lombardic). Beautifully struck and wholly original, this spectacular piece exhibits stunning cabinet tone over lustrous surfaces leading out to traces of upset rims. The centering is careful and the flan, although not overly broad, is near fully round and bears no cracks or obvious flaws. Proposed by the famed British numismatist Sir John Evans to be the ‘true’ first portrait of an English king on the coinage prior to the Tudor issues inaugurated by Henry VII, we have been able to locate only seven pieces remaining of this issue, three of which are in private collections, with this likely being the finest known. The remaining four are housed in museum collections: three in the British Museum and one in the Fitzwilliam Museum. Of the utmost rarity, and one of the most fabled coins in all of British numismatics.


First described and cataloged by British numismatists of the 18th century, the gold Pennies of Henry III represent a fascinating period in medieval numismatics when gold was beginning to trickle back into European commerce after a dearth of nearly 500 years-a period during which the silver penny had reigned virtually unchallenged as the sole denomination minted throughout Europe. Although Islamic (primarily Almohad) and Byzantine gold coins were reasonably common, particularly to the landed gentry and royalty, as they appear to have been since the time of Offa, the 12th and 13th Centuries saw a massive influx of gold into Europe following the Crusades and European encroachment upon the Trans-Saharan gold trade. The first successful European gold issue to trade throughout the continent in the High Middle Ages was the Florentine Florin, first issued in 1252 and struck essentially unchanged in weight or purity until the mid-16th Century. A flurry of imitations followed and, not to be outdone, King Henry III ordered the creation of a gold coin for his kingdom to be struck at twice the weight of a silver Penny and valued at 20 Pence. The gold itself likely originated from Almohad Spain, having been bought up by merchants such as Solomon le Evesque and acquired for the king by goldsmith Edward Fitz Otto, likely in tandem with Henry’s demand between the 1240s and 50s that all payments be made in gold in an effort to build up treasures for major projects overseas-most immediately, the king’s effort to see his son, Edmund, placed on the throne of Sicily, an effort for which he had contracted enormous debts through his alliance with the Pope. In Volume II, Book VII of his A General History of England (first published in 1747), Thomas Carte, however, records that upon the citizens of London making a representation against the gold pence on 24 November 1257, “the King was so willing to oblige them, that he published a proclamation, declaring that nobody was obliged to take it (the gold penny), and whoever did, might bring it to his exchange, and receive there the value at which it had been made current, one halfpenny only being deducted from each, most probably for the expense of coinages” (pg. 111).


Although it was minted in at least a modest quantity, as four die-pairings have been recorded, the issue was ultimately unsuccessful and most of the coins were clearly melted down, with the fact that the coins were undervalued already recognized contemporaneously, the Chronicle of the City of London reporting that the same citizens summoned by the king “farther said that through this coin gold would become much cheaper, since this money would be dispersed into so many hands.” Treasury records in the decade or so following the issue of these gold Pennies mention purchases or deposits, the last record in 1270 noting that a single piece was purchased for two Shillings denoting a rise in the value of this coin to 24 Pence. Sir John Evans suggested in his article “The First Gold Coins of England” (Numismatic Chronicle, 3rd ser., 20 [1900]: 216-51) that many of these pieces were offered to the church by the King and would likely have found the melting pot through that route, suggesting that this coinage failed to cross the line between prestigious gift and circulating currency. However, the esteem of offering the church gold coins minted in his name may explain why Henry’s treasury was willing to pay a slight premium over their intended value. Although ultimately a failed issue that would not be replaced by a circulating gold coinage until the Florins of Edward III in 1344, the influence of Henry’s gold pennies could still be seen abroad, particularly in the Royal d’Or struck by Philippe IV of France from August 1290.

Ex. Spink-Christie’s (July 1996, Lot 203) [cover lot]; Spink Auction 97 (May 1993, Lot 1); David Dupree, acquired via private purchase from Spink in 1989; Lockett Collection (Glendining June 1955, Lot 1196); H. Leslie Ellis, acquired by private purchase from Spink in July 1919; Murdoch Collection (Sotheby’s March 1903, Lot 272); Montagu Collection (Sotheby’s November 1895, Lot 386); E.J. Shepherd Collection (Sotheby’s July 1885, Lot 126); R.M. Murchison Collection (Sotheby’s June 1864, Lot 47); Rev. J.W. Martin Collection (Sotheby’s May 1859, Lot 74), Acquired by private treaty purchase from Marmaduke Trattle (c. 1830)


From the Penn Collection


Metal: Gold

Gold Spot: $1,871/oz (01-21-2021)

Diameter: 21mm


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