Bentley Sets The New Gold Standard For Sovereigns
There was an air of sadness in the room as the final part of the Bentley Collection went under the hammer. The end of an eighteen month journey of auctions, and thirty four years of collecting, did not however go out with a whimper. 306 lots achieved a sale total of £845,292 (inclusive of buyer’s premium) which took the total for the sale of the entire collection of 1,240 coins to a staggering £3,994,638 (inclusive of buyer’s premium).
Steve Hill, Director and English coin specialist at Baldwin’s commented after the sale:
“It has been a rare and delightful privilege to handle the cataloguing and sale of such a high calibre collection. We hope the catalogues have done the collection justice and will serve as a lasting record of the achievement of the collector, as well as an inspirational resource to all Sovereign enthusiasts.”
Just under a third of the lots (100 in total) were sold to 56 online bidders who joined a packed room and buyers on the telephone to send Bentley out with a bang. A total of 17% of the hammer total was sold to online bidders including lot 1233, a 1937 George VI Matt Proof Finish Gold set of four coins, which sold online for £55,000 hammer to a bidder from the Far East.
High prices were achieved across the board with key pieces selling well above estimate. Among the best performing was lot 966, an extremely rare 1837 Victoria Pattern Sovereign, obverse engraved by William Wyon, chief engraver at the Royal Mint. The coin, depicting the head of Queen Victoria on the obverse, is considered to be the second obverse for the proposed pattern Sovereign for the young Queen, for which she granted Wyon multiple portrait sittings. The coins sold for £33,600 against an estimate of £15,000 – 20,000.
Lot 941, was undoubtedly the highlight and the most valuable coin in the third part of the sale. The George III 1819 Sovereign by Benedetto Pistrucci, the key date of the London series, had a very low calendar mintage (3,574) and there are fewer than ten known examples in private hands. The Bentley Collection coin is the finest example by more than a whole British grading step and has not been on the market for nearly 15 years. The coin was last offered at public auction as lot 286 in Sotheby’s, London on 15 October 1998 where it sold for £55,000 including premium. It carried an estimate of £150,000 – 200,000 and sold for £186,000.
Elsewhere in the collection lots 957 and 1212, an 1830 George IV Proof Sovereign and an 1880 Victoria Pattern Sovereign proved popular selling for £43,200 and £32,400 respectively.
A three part limited edition Collectors’ Catalogue of the entire collection will be available to buy through Baldwin’s at the end of the year and online catalogues and results are available to view online at www.baldwin.co.uk/auction-
Lot 932 George III Trial Gold Flan for a Sovereign, 1816, 22 Carat uniface piece of gold inscribed in italic script on obverse in four lines, Stand. Sovereign Wt. by Act of Part. 1816, plain reverse and edge with bevelled rims, 7.99g, 19.6mm, thickness 1mm (unpublished in standard reference works). Quite heavily hairlined, otherwise as made and engraved, unique.
ex “125 Years of Baldwin’s 1872-1997”, Baldwin’s Auction 15, 13 October 1997, lot 42, sold for £4000
ex An Important Collection of Gold Sovereigns 1816-2000, offered as one lot, Sothebys, November 2000, lot 525 (part)
After the Battle of Waterloo a reform of the coinage was required and the Government at first thought to reintroduce the Guinea and its fractions. However, the general feeling of the public was that they had become used to banknotes in round figures of a Pound and Two Pounds, rather than the more inconvenient calculations required with multiples of gold Guinea coins. Though the Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, desired a return to the Guinea personally (he was briefly Master of the Mint 1799-1801), he was more practically minded and gave no resistance to the concession progressing through Act of Parliament, on the recommendation of the then Master of the Mint William Wellesley Pole. The Privy Council Committee duly recommended coinage of Ten Shilling, Twenty Shilling, Forty Shilling and Five Pound Pieces which was approved by the Prince Regent, 3 August 1816. For further reading see Royal Sovereign 1489-1989, edited by G P Dyer, specifically Chapter 3 The Modern Sovereign.
This intriguing piece is of the utmost historical significance. No doubt it would have been produced for the earliest stage of the process of the introduction of the new Sovereign denomination, once it had been passed by Act of Parliament, 22 June 1816. It is easy to imagine such a piece being passed around a meeting of council members for the committee on coin and such a piece helping visualise the new dimensions for the new Sovereign that came to fruition as currency 1 July 1817.
Such trial pieces do not usually survive or even leave such meetings, the first time this piece ever appeared in public for sale was at the Baldwin’s 125 Years celebrations auction in 1997 and remains unpublished in standard works on the subject of the Sovereign. It has only appeared once since, in the Sotheby sale in 2000 for the Important Collection of Sovereigns which was offered by sale as a single lot, but remained unsold. The Bentley collector was later introduced to this gentleman and a great many Sovereigns changed hands privately including this piece which is now offered for sale for only the third time in 15 years
Lot 934 George III, Pattern Sovereign, 1816, engraved by Thomas Wyon Jnr after Pistrucci’s model, laureate head right, with ties at back, four leaves at top of laurel wreath that consists of 13 leaves, toothed border both sides, legend GEORGIUS III DEI GRATIA, no punctuation, rev inverted die axis, crowned square shield of arms, quartered with the arms of Hanover as an escutcheon, five strings to Irish harp, crown with eleven jewels on left arch, twelve on right arch, central crown upright with parallel vertical lines of jewels, six to left and seven to right, date 18 16 below arms, legend
commences at lower left, BRITTANIARUM REX FID: DEF:, with colon stops, edge plain, 9.67g, 23mm (WR 187 R6, this coin; Montagu 538; Murdoch 181; Douglas-Morris 125; Selig 1167, this coin). Quite hairlined with some tiny blemishes, otherwise practically as struck and of the highest rarity, the plate coin in the Wilson and Rasmussen publication.
ex J G Brooker collection, milled gold collection, sold privately to Spink and Son, c.1970
ex Herman Selig collection (part II), Coins of George III, Spink Auction 131, 2 March 1999, lot 1167
The key features of this early pattern are Wyon’s George III portrait as used and adopted for the silver Shilling, the 13 leaf wreath with 4 leaves at the top, 5 strings to the Irish harp, and the crown on shield with 11/12 pearl arrangement with a 6/7 arrangement on the central vertical.
Lot 940 George III, Proof Sovereign, 1818, engraved by Benedetto Pistrucci, first laureate head right, coarse hair, laurel wreath of 10 leaves, date below, ascending colon after BRITANNIAR, with no lower right serif to first I, no upper serifs to last four letters, lettering clear of raised rim, legend GEORGIUS III D: G: BRITANNIAR: REX F: D:, I of King’s name missing lower right serif, rev struck with inverted die axis, St George on horseback slaying dragon right with broken lance, helmet with flowing streamer, ground-line with BP incuse to left, all within horizontally ruled garter with buckle, W W P incuse on sides of buckle, garter motto HONI. SOIT. QUI. MAL. Y. PENSE., I of HONI missing top left serif, raised rim both sides, edge milled, 7.98g (WR 198 R6; Murdoch 193; Nobleman 49/50; Douglas-Morris 142; S 3785A). Tiny pinhead sized black spot on nape of neck and on temple, some hairlines, otherwise brilliant as struck and extremely rare.
ex Property of Gentleman collection, Spink Auction 117, 19 November 1997, lot 1961
One of the key features of the design of this proof as adopted and engraved for currency by Pistrucci are the wreath of 10 leaves and the date below the bust, coupled with St George slaying the dragon. Some of the letters in the legend lack serifs, no doubt due to blockages or faulty letter punches, with corner serifs broken off, being employed. See the introduction to this catalogue for a discussion about this.
Lot 941 George III Gold Sovereign, 1819, by Benedetto Pistrucci, laureate head right, coarse hair, date below, descending colon after BRITANNIAR: legend GEORGIUS III D: G: BRITANNIAR: REX F: D: rev struck with inverted die axis, St George slaying dragon right with broken lance, groundline with BP incuse to left, all within horizontally ruled garter with buckle, W W P incuse on sides of buckle, garter motto HONI . SOIT . QUI . MAL . Y . PENSE . no upper left serif to I of HONI, raised rim both sides, edge, milled, weight 7.97g (Marsh 3 R6 this coin illustrated plate 3; M.C.E. 466; S.3785). Light red tone, lightly hairlined with a few tiny spots and flecks, about extremely fine and the finest known specimen extant, the key date to the entire series of British Sovereigns minted by the Royal Mint, UK, of highest rarity.
ex Sotheby, 15th October 1998, lot 286, where it sold for £55,000 including premium. Calendar year mintage 3,574.
The classic rarity of the London series, the Bentley Collection specimen is the finest known in private ownership by a full British grading step. All other known specimens are around poor to fair or fine condition with only one other approaching very fine. There are fewer than ten specimens in private hands, and the purported proof version (if correctly identified as such) is unknown to modern numismatists (Murdoch 194=WR199) unseen for over 100 years since the Murdoch sale.
Lot 957 George III Gold Proof Sovereign, 1818, engraved by Benedetto Pistrucci, first laureate head right, coarse hair, laurel wreath of 10 leaves, date below, ascending colon after BRITANNIAR, with no lower right serif to first I, no upper serifs to last four letters, lettering clear of raised rim, legend GEORGIUS III D: G: BRITANNIAR: REX F: D: I of King’s name missing lower right serif, rev struck with inverted die axis, St George on horseback slaying dragon right with broken lance, helmet with flowing streamer, ground-line with BP incuse to left, all within horizontally ruled garter with buckle, W W P incuse on sides of buckle, garter motto HONI. SOIT. QUI. MAL. Y. PENSE. I of HONI missing its top left serif, raised rim both sides, edge, milled, weight 7.98g (WR 198 R6; Murdoch 193; Nobleman 49/50; Douglas-Morris 142; S.3785A). Tiny pinhead sized black spot on nape of neck and on temple, some hairlines, otherwise brilliant as struck and extremely rare.
ex Property of gentleman, Spink Auction 117, 19th November 1997, lot 1961
One of the key features of the design of this proof as adopted and engraved for currency by Pistrucci are the wreath of 10 leaves and the date below the bust, coupled of course with St George slaying the dragon. Some of the letters in the legend lack serifs no doubt due to blockages or faulty letter punches with corner serifs broken off being employed. A discussion about these was highlighted in “a note on varieties” in the introduction of part one of the Bentley Collection.
Lot 966 Victoria Gold Pattern Sovereign, 1837, engraved by William Wyon, small young head left, hair bound with two plain fillets, thinly defined ponytail hair with some dis-jointing, wispy lock of hair from head to ponytail halfway down, W.W. incuse on truncation, date below slightly double struck, rosette either side, fine toothed border and high raised rim both sides, VICTORIA DEI GRATIA more widely spaced from 8 to 4 o’clock, rev struck with inverted die axis, engraved by Jean Baptiste Merlen, crowned quartered narrow shield of arms within laurel wreath tied with bow below shield, twelve pearls on each arch of crown, four pearls vertically arranged on central upright, nine pellets visible on ermine below jewel band, laurel wreath each side consists of 30 leaves per side and terminates in three leaves at top, six harp strings in Irish arms, left string emanates from back of female figure, emblems below, rose at centre, thistle to left, shamrock to right, small rosette ! either side, BRITANNIARUM REGINA FID: DEF: edge, plain, weight, 7.71g, diameter 21.8mm (WR 298 R6; Montagu 1565; Murdoch 500; Douglas-Morris 200). Lightly toned with light hairlines, tiny rim imperfection on reverse, otherwise good extremely fine and extremely rare.
For a narrative on the initial pattern and currency Sovereign of Victoria’s reign see Bentley Collection part one lots 33-35 and preamble.
This is considered to be the second obverse for the proposed pattern Sovereign for young Queen Victoria for which she granted William Wyon multiple portrait sittings.
Lot 1017 Victoria, Gold Sovereign, 1863, numbers 827 in relief on truncation meets field, second larger young head left, date below, sharper more hooked incomplete open 6, doubled date especially 8, legend lightly doubled with last I flawed to rim, rev crowned quartered shield of arms within laurel wreath tied with bow below shield, no die number below, emblems below, 7.99g (Marsh 48A R5; MCE 524; S 3853A). Very light surface marks and scuffs, about very fine, better than usually encountered for this great rarity, extremely rare.
ex Randy Weir Numismatics, Unionville, Ontario, Canada, purchased 28 June 1993 The intriguing “827”variety first came to light in 1954 when an 827 numbered truncation with die number 22 reverse appeared in the Hatton Hoard of gold found in Derbyshire. This initial coin ended up in the British Museum Collection.
The variety here is termed the “first” variety of the “827” Sovereign without a die number on the reverse. The “second” die number 22 variety was sold in part one of the Bentley Collection for £11,000 hammer.
These first variety 827 die number Sovereigns are thought to have been produced and struck from a first batch of re-melted “scissel” and scrap emanating from some Rothschild brittle ingots delivered to the Mint circa November-December 1863. Of the very few specimens known, the Bentley specimen is amongst the finer.
For further reading about the 827 Sovereigns see Spink Numismatic Circular, October 1977, page 421, article by G P Dyer.
Lot 1211 Victoria, Pattern Sovereign, 1870, engraved after William Wyon, second larger young head left, with double fillet, WW in relief without stops on truncation, date below, toothed border both sides, VICTORIA DEI GRATIA, some light doubling of legend, rev inverted die axis, mule with George III reverse, engraved after Benedetto Pistrucci, St George slaying dragon right with broken lance, groundline with BP incuse to left, all within horizontally ruled garter with buckle, W W P incuse on sides of buckle, garter motto HONI . SOIT . QUI . MAL . Y . PENSE ., some serifs weak in motto, edge milled with angled rims, 7.95g, 22mm (WR 313 R7, this coin; Douglas-Morris 208). Has been lightly polished in fields, some heavy hairlines, tiny rim bruise at 7 o’clock on the obverse and a little dirt deposit further around, otherwise good extremely fine, the only Sovereign known muled between different reigns, unique.
ex Captain Vivian Hewitt collection, sold privately to Spink and Son Ltd, c.1969
ex Captain K J Douglas Morris collection, Sothebys, 26 November 1974, lot 208
ex Bank Leu, Zürich, 26 October 2004, lot 444, bought via Spink and Son Ltd The date of this pattern piece coincides with the time of the introduction of the third type of young head obverse as defined in the Bentley Collection, though it happens to have the earlier second type bust as seen on the 1870 currency sovereign with die number 1 (see lot 1128).
Lot 1212 Victoria, Pattern Sovereign, 1880, engraved after William Wyon, third young head left, with double fillet, W.W. in relief on truncation, date below, toothed border and raised rim both sides, VICTORIA DEI GRATIA, one light raised die flaw down cheek from hair, rev struck with en medaillé die axis, engraved after Jean Baptiste Merlen, crowned shield of arms within laurel wreath tied with bow below shield, seven harp strings in Irish arms, left string emanates from scroll, emblems below, small rosette either side, BRITANNIARUM REGINA FID: DEF:, a couple of letters lightly doubled, edge plain, 7.95g, 21.8mm (WR 323 R5; Murdoch 513; Nobleman 273; Douglas-Morris 213). Tiny red spot each side, cloudy tone, otherwise brilliant as struck and probably struck for display at the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1881 (Australia), extremely rare.
ex Virgil M Brand collection, d.1926, dispersed post mortem from c.1932
ex Spink Numismatic Circular, December 1992, item 7601
ex An Important Collection of Gold Sovereigns 1816-2000, offered as one lot, Sothebys, November 2000, lot 525 (part)
Sovereigns of proof quality from highly polished dies would be struck as a matter of record for the Mint and probably for presentation to highly important persons. It seems that in 1880 the Deputy Master of the Melbourne Mint, V Delves Broughton, approached London requesting examples of coins and medals produced for display at the International Exhibition in Melbourne. Mr C W Fremantle, the Comptroller at the Royal Mint, agreed to prepare two proof examples of each of the current coins of 1880 and earlier dates which were struck in such quantity that when prepared for shipment weighed 2cwt. and 19lb. The Museum of Victoria in Australia still retains one of the 1880 “Imperial Proof Sets” the other was seemingly traded after the exhibition for a collection of ancient coins and not long after found its way to the collection of Virgil Brand.
For further reading on the subject of special strikings made by the Mint for exhibition in Australia see the Journal of the Numismatic Association of Australia, vol 2, article by John Sharples, The Numismatic Collection of the Museum of Victoria, available online at the association website.