The specialist British sale held by Spink (15% buyer’s premium) on May 5 consisted exclusively of the collection formed by Samuel King.
There was good reason to pray that this sale would do well.
And it did.
The reason for the unexpected unease which preceded the sale - and
which was confounded by the results - was that there seemed to be
too much of the same thing.
Mr King had attempted to collect an example of every English
five-guinea piece. This has never been achieved previously and the
catalogue is most instructive on this matter. The preface to the
catalogue, an example of staggering application, consists of a
detailed analysis of just how rare is each five-guinea piece.
This is worth a précis. There are 49 dates involved spread over 72
main varieties. The most complete series ever formed was sold at
Sotheby's as long ago as 1904, with 43 of the possible dates. The
Lady Duveen collection, sold at Glendinings in 1964, also had 43 of
the dates and 60 of the 72 varieties.
These dry numbers are enough to demonstrate that this sale was an
historic if homogeneous occasion. Hence the speculation; was this
sale offering too many of the same thing to be absorbed by the
market and was there the capital available for a narrow
To complete the picture it is worth noting that just over 3000
(3031) of these coins have been on the market since 1960. True
there will have been more offerings but Spink's analysis has gone
to great pains to try to avoid counting the same specimen twice by
comparing illustrations in catalogues. I wilt at the thought of the
In this recent sale there were 60 five-guinea pieces and the
specialised catalogue forms a permanent record of this area. It is
sometimes useful to have a general idea of rarity although it is
hazardous to use this information outside a very narrow
What happened to this remarkable group? The market indeed could
take it and there was the money available to absorb these coins. It
is my observation, with about 60 people in the room, that this is a
fragile market. There were two main buyers for these coins and it
appears that they are fairly new to the market. Of course, we do
not know what their future intentions are; they may continue to
dominate the market and so act as a magnet for more new buyers. If
this happens, this sale will have created a new price-hike which
should be reflected in the market as a whole. We must wait and
Most of the coins found a new owner at prices which hovered around
the top estimates; for the most part in the £4000-8000 bracket. The
sale went very well indeed but in a slightly different market
climate it could have been very different.
It is a tribute to the cataloguer and estimator that the sale was
such a triumph. In addition, this catalogue is particularly useful
in that many of the coins had old provenances which demonstrates
just what a fine investment they have been.
The highest price of the day was the £130,000 paid for the Queen
Anne 1703 five guineas struck from gold taken as a prize at the sea
battle of Vigo Bay, when a British/Dutch fleet thrashed a
Spanish/French treasure fleet on October 12, 1702. It is estimated
that some 15 or 20 at most have survived. Spink's catalogue of the
recent sale records five examples offered for sale since 1960. The
estimate here was a sensible £40,000-50,000.
With the catalogue of this coin's interesting history, I can add
the prices realised. It was sold at Sotheby's in 1974 for £26,000
and again at Spink in 1989 for £39,000.
There is a bit more price-history to this coin. Another example
was sold at Glendinings in 1992 for £40,000 and the same price was
paid at Dix Noonan Webb in 1998 for an example which could be
either or neither of these.
Likewise Spink had one in 1993 which did not sell at £40,000 and
one was offered at Glendinings in 2001 which also failed to find a
Of the 217 lots offered, only 15 failed to find buyers (6.9 per
cent), which is a very good failure rate, particularly for such
material. The hammer total for the day was £1.42m.
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