Henry VII Sovereign Returns

One of the earliest gold Sovereigns a collector could own is to be auctioned online
by The Royal Mint on 4 March 2021.

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The Royal Mint is offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire a majestic hammered Sovereign through an online auction. Our historic coin experts have sourced a Type 2 Henry VII Sovereign, one of a select few in the world that are not held by institutions. Struck more than 500 years ago, this exceptionally rare coin was created to assert the authority of the first Tudor king of England through its splendour and impressive weight and size. The online auction will take place on 4 March 2021 and those wishing to bid will need to pay a £20,000 deposit*. This is the first in a series of online auctions that will be held by The Royal Mint and there is no buyer’s premium. If you would like to take part in the auction as a bidder or observer, please take note of the following steps and register your interest by midnight

*Please note that the £20,000 deposit is fully refundable to bidders who are unsuccessful in acquiring the coin at auction.

How to register to bid?

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Step 1
Complete the account form to bid in the auction. After successfully submitting the form you will receive a welcome email and access to The Royal Mint’s auction site.

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Step 2
Register to bid for the Henry VII Sovereign coin auction; this will involve entering your bank account details in order for us to verify your details and make further financial checks.

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Step 3
Once all checks have been completed a member of our team will be in contact to take a deposit of £20,000 and confirm funding for the auction. The deposit will be refunded if you are not successful in the auction.

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Step 4
After your deposit is confirmed in the holding account, you are ready to bid. Bidding can be made ahead of live auction on the 4 March 2021 and will be registered on the day against live bids.

 

How can I follow the auction?

To watch this unique event, simply register for an account and log in to view the auction on 4 March 2021.

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Discover the coin

The Henry VII Sovereign Type 2

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  • This spectacular gold Sovereign was ordered by Henry VII and produced from 28 October 1489.
  • When this coin was struck it weighed approximately 15.3 grammes and had a diameter of approximately 40 millimetres.
  • The Sovereign was issued in gold of approximately 23 1/3 carat fineness (0.995 fine).
  • The chain of ownership of this coin can be traced back to the Victorian era through six, named collectors.
  • The coin has been assessed and graded by the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation as AU50.

 

The Earliest Example of a Gold Sovereign That Can be Privately Owned

Henry VII (1485-1509), fine gold Sovereign of Twenty Shillings, group two (1492-93), crowned King seated in robes on wooden throne, holding orb and sceptre, diapered background of fleur de lis in field, beaded circles and legend surrounding, cross on top of crown intrudes legend at top, hEnRICVSx DIx GRACIAx REXx AnGLIEx ETx FRAnCx DnS Ix BAR’, saltire stops with chevron barred As in Gothic lettering, reverse, quartered shield of arms upon Tudor rose, linear and beaded tressures of ten arcs surrounding, trefoils in cusps, alternate lion and lis in each spandrel, beaded circles and legend surrounding, mint mark cross fitchee at top (circa November 1492 to circa Spring 1493), legend reads †IhC AVTEm:.:. TRAnSCIEnS:. PER:. mEDIVm:.:. ILLORVm:.:. IBAT nE, weight 15.23g, diameter approx. 41mm, die axis approx. 280 degrees (Grierson class B, page 120, no.2 this coin; Schneider 548; PW I pl.X no.1 same dies; S.C.B.I. 23:-; BM E.4841; N.1689; S.2172). With a nice golden yellow tone, has been assessed and graded by N.G.C. as AU50, and of the highest rarity with no earlier Sovereign available to a collector.

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation certification 5749183-001. -  www.ngccoin.com

Provenance:

  • Ex Edward Wright Wigan (died 1871), collection purchased by dealer Rollin and Feuardent 1872.
  • Ex Sir John Evans, English collection purchased en bloc by J. P. Morgan of USA, 1908.
  • Ex John Pierpont Morgan (died 1913), portion sold by his son post-mortem to R. C. Lockett, 1915.
  • Ex Richard Cyril Lockett, English part two, Glendining, 11-17th October 1956, lot 1667, sold for £1,400 hammer price.
  • Ex R. Duncan Beresford-Jones Collection, Spink Coin Auction 29, 2nd June 1983, lot 22, featured on front and back cover, most valuable coin in the auction, sold for £26,250 including premium.
  • Ex Thos. H Law, Stacks Bowers, Worlds Fair of Money auction, Chicago, 13th August 2013, lot 20047, featured on front cover, most valuable coin in the auction, selling for $499,375 including premium.

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This is the earliest example of a gold Sovereign that can be privately owned by a collector.

There are only two examples of this coin in private ownership, the other is illustrated and published in the multi-generational Schneider Collection where it has been admired for 70 years.

This coin has been repatriated back to the UK for the first time since its sale in London in 1983 when American based collector Thomas H. Law bought it and would appear to be a fuller and slightly more sharply struck example than the Schneider piece.

Henry Tudor, having won the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22nd August 1485 became the first Tudor King of England. He married Elizabeth of York the following year and went on to become a very successful monarch on account of his accumulation of wealth rebuilding the fortunes of the Kingdom. This included the coinage which underwent a reformation in 1489, introducing a new series of gold coins including the largest yet struck - the fine gold Sovereign.

Having been influenced by one of the largest early gold coins in Europe, the Real D’Or of 1487 struck to a similar weight in the Netherlands by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian; the first step was a mandate of 28th March 1489 to the warden William Stafford, asking for the production of dies of the “sovereign” type for both gold and silver coins.

The subsequent order specifically for the gold sovereign was given in a commission to the joint master-workers Sir Giles Daubeney and Bartholomew Reed dated 28th October 1489, which provided the gold coins to be issued at Twenty Shillings at a weight of 240 grains (15.552g) with fineness at 23 ct 3 ½ gr. (0.995 fine). The commission also specified that two gold Sovereigns should be struck from every pound weight of gold struck, or £2 of Sovereigns for every £22/10/- of gold face value struck; there was however no instruction as to the mint charges.

This was an extraordinary time at the Mint as the master-workers had been granted a special allowance on the 1st March 1489, to receive five shillings for every pound of gold, and Sixpence for every pound of silver struck; and the warden had been excused from providing accounts of output for five years from Michaelmas (29th September) 1489 to Michaelmas 1494, meaning alas that no output figures for the gold denominations are known from this progressive time for coinage, when much change was being implemented.

As a coin the Sovereign introduced to England the concept of a heavy gold type as used on the continent embodying the Tudor claim to empire. On what is agreed by historians and numismatists to be the very first type of the gold Sovereign, Henry is depicted with an imperial crown with closed arches hooping over the head; jewelled and surmounted by a cross, which was adopted upon his coins from then onward.

An obviously conscious decision connecting the Tudor regalia of a King with his claims to dominion, the symbolism evidently cemented in place by the subsequent reign of his son in the contemporary thinking and writing of Cuthbert Tunstall to King Henry VIII, when the Emperor Maximilian was thinking of resigning in favour of Henry. Tunstall remarked in a letter “But the crown of England is an Empire of itself, much better than now the Empire of Rome: for which cause your Grace weareth a close crown” clearly showing the connection between imperial status and the closed arch crown the English Kings wore.

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The gold Sovereign coinage used its own set of mint marks and lettering fonts separate to the smaller gold and silver coins. Of the very first type of gold Sovereign, with the mint mark of cinquefoil (28th October 1489 – circa November 1492), only one example survives, currently housed in the national collection in the British Museum; not in the best of condition with cracks at centre, an illustration of this coin appears on the front dust jacket of the book “Royal Sovereign 1489-1989” edited by Graham Dyer then Curator of the Royal Mint.

The second group of Sovereigns issued is that as catalogued herewith, with the cross fitchee mint mark used only on the Sovereign and Ryal from circa November 1492 to Spring of 1493 and the earliest gold sovereign it is currently possible for a collector to privately own.

Two more types of Sovereign follow of differing designs and varying mint marks of which larger numbers survive; the third type with mint mark dragon is issued from circa Spring 1493 until circa Autumn 1495.

The fourth and final type is issued in three mint mark combinations all with a small lis at the start of the obverse legend. The first with mint mark dragon on the reverse is known to date to Michaelmas 1502-Spring 1504. The following issue has mint mark cross crosslet on reverse, and dates to Spring 1504 until as late as 20th November 1505. The final issue of the reign of this type has mint mark pheon on reverse, and dates from presumably 20th November 1505 until April of 1509.

The Sovereign as a denomination was a success and continued to be issued on demand through the Tudor reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary Tudor, Elizabeth I and Stuart King James I. The face value fluctuated and did rise as high as Thirty Shillings; but was back down to Twenty Shillings by the time of James. It had proven so popular as a gold coin in trade that James shortly changed the name of his Twenty Shilling piece to the “Unite” to symbolise bringing together the Kingdoms of Scotland and England for the first time. He then introduced a Thirty Shilling piece of the same physical stature of the earlier Sovereigns but named that a “Rose Ryal”. Twenty Shilling pieces as Unites continued to be struck until the advent of machine-made milled coins in the reign of Charles II from 1662; whereupon the Twenty Shilling piece became the smaller “Guinea” coin which was fixed eventually at its 21 Shilling face value from 1717 onward, by the then warden and master Sir Isaac Newton.

The Sovereign name was finally brought back into use with the more modern recoinage that began in 1816 utilising the then new steam powered industrial presses at the Mint. The Sovereign and Half-Sovereign first appearing in their modern incarnation dated 1817, from which point it gradually became the most recognised and widespread gold trade coin ever produced continuing to the present day, but all harking back to the earliest days of introduction in the reign of King Henry VII.

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The ownership history of this coin:

There are six named collections in which the coin catalogued herewith has been transacted over nearly 150 years of private ownership:

The first occasion on record of a transaction for this Henry VII Sovereign, was the sale of the collection of Edward Wright Wigan to the dealers Rollin and Feuardent in 1872. The English element of the Wigan cabinet was begun some decades before by Edward’s uncle John Alfred Wigan (b.1787) a hop merchant from East Malling, Kent; who had bought English coins that had emanated from such famed collectors as the Duke of Devonshire, Earl of Pembroke and Thomas Thomas.

Mr Thomas’ collection sold at Sotheby in February 1844 contained an example of one of these Sovereigns sold to the dealer Cureton, and it could even be the same coin. The Thomas Thomas coin was in turn provenanced in this sale to Thomas Dimsdale, though his Sotheby auction of 1824 did not contain an example of this rare Sovereign, so well may have been privately transacted to Mr Thomas.

What we do know is Edward Wigan, a member of the Numismatic Society of London since 1856, dies in 1871 and the French nationality dealers Rollin and Feuardent purchased the collection through their London office at 27 Haymarket in 1872, which was managed by Gaston Feuardent (1841-94) who later moved to New York from 1876.

The coin soon after found its way into the collection of Sir John Evans (1823-1908) archaeologist and numismatist, who came from a paper manufacturing background at Nash Mills in Hemel Hempstead. One of the leading lights of the Numismatic Society of London, which he had joined in 1849, he served on council (1850-54), as honorary secretary (1854-74), and as joint editor for their publication the Numismatic Chronicle (1861-1908). A Trustee from 1872 onward he became President from 1874 until his death in 1908 the longest serving President ever, and subsequently seeing the society obtain Royal patronage to become what is today the Royal Numismatic Society. His collections were large and varied, containing many great numismatic rarities in the English series, and he was the author of over one hundred essays in the Numismatic Chronicle. An auction sale of his principal English coins was intended after his death in 1908 with plates printed, but the sale was cancelled as Spink and Son Ltd arranged for the American banker J. P. Morgan to buy the whole collection en bloc. Sir John was also the Father of Sir Arthur Evans the eminent archaeologist who famously excavated the Palace of Knossos on Crete.

John Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) the eminent financier and banker of New York, USA was the next owner of this coin, no doubt keeping the Evans collection purchased en bloc at his London home at 14 Princes Gate, Kensington Gore, London, which today has a blue plaque affixed commemorating his ownership 1858-1913. In a career of multiple achievements, the year before he purchased the Evans collection, he had organised a coalition of financiers to save the American economy from collapse in the “Panic of 1907”. After five years of ownership J. P. Morgan passed away, in his sleep in Rome on 31st March 1913, whereupon his son “Jack” Morgan was left to sort out the estate and it was not till 1915 that the coin collection was dispersed. The British Museum had first choice of what it required for the National Collection, with majority of the subsequent coins left available being traded to the collector R. C. Lockett.

Richard Cyril Lockett (1873-1950) was the Chairman of the family company William and John Lockett Ltd, shipowners of Liverpool. He moved to London in 1922 to Cadogan Place whilst forming what was and still is one of the largest collections of British coins as well as superb ancient coins principally of the Greek series. He had joined the British Numismatic Society in 1905 when he commenced collecting coins, and after moving to London served on Council and as Vice-President a number of times. He bought English coins heavily at auction sales from 1909 onwards, with the ancients starting from 1920, as well as Continental. He first sold a milled collection of English in 1927, and by the time of his death his collection was of such magnitude that it took seven years of auctions sales to disperse the whole gamut; with the English sold in five tranches, the Scottish in two, the Ancient Greek in four parts, with separate parts for Roman with Byzantine, and the Continental. The Henry VII Sovereign was sold in part two of the English coins and fetched £1,400 in 1956 which was an enormously valuable sum at the time.

The coin next appears for auction some 27 years later in 1983 in the hammered gold coin collection of Richard Duncan Beresford-Jones (1903-2000) an accountant from Essex who formed important collections of Anglo-Gallic and English gold coins as well as a collection of Halfcrowns of Charles I. The sale of hammered English gold dating from 1422-1662, occurred in Mr Beresford-Jones 80th year in 1983 consisting of only 138 lots, of which this Henry VII Sovereign was the most valuable coin in the sale selling at £25,000 hammer where it was bought by the American collector Thomas H. Law of Texas.

Thomas H. Law was a keen member of the American Numismatic Association and would often exhibit his collection of English gold coins at the Summer World’s Fairs of Money held in varying locations around the USA by the Association over the years. His aim was unusually to try and collect two examples of every coin where possible, so when on physical exhibit an obverse and reverse could be shown together. Very rare coins like the Henry VII Sovereign were of course only available singly and such a coin was one of the early key pieces in the collection, and still today a virtual presentation of highlights in the collection is viewable online at the money.org website. After Mr Law passed away, his collection came up for sale appropriately in conjunction with a Worlds Fair of Money event in Chicago in 2013 where it was bought by a private owner for nearly $500,000 who kept the coin State-side until the coin was repatriated to the UK in late 2020.

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