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Attentive followers of the coin business will remember the same collector’s sale of Charles I material, which Spink dispersed in 1989 – the catalogue for which is a useful reference work. The recent George III catalogue should also be destined to become well thumbed in a reference library, as this sale furnishes us with some interesting figures relating to the prices of these coins.

The Douglas-Morris sale at Sotheby’s in 1974 of high-priced British coins is still talked about and it was held at a time when coin prices, in ‘real’ terms, had perhaps never been higher. Fourteen gold coins from that event appeared again at this recent sale, where they collectively made a little over double their 1974 total. The highest price of the day was a mighty £155,000, against an estimate of £40,000-50,000, paid for the splendid William Wyon 1817 pattern Crown – made even more splendid by being struck in gold. The clothed three Graces (representing the United Kingdom) are reminiscent of the Woburn marble (undraped) Three Graces which are shared between the National Galleries of Scotland and the V&A and were the subject of such contention a few years ago. (I am told you can buy postcards and even fridge magnets depicting the Graceful derrières in Scotland, but I am assured nothing so tawdry exists at the V&A!)

This coin is a miniature monument to the neoclassical movement, so we can (just) understand this, er, monumental price. It has a long pedigree, which helps a price, having its first recorded outing at Sotheby’s in 1870. Its last was at Glendinings in 1972 when it made £3800. Furthermore, it raised £625 at Glendinings in 1949… and £200 at Sotheby’s in 1890. This last is the most interesting price, for in 1890 £200 would have bought you a house worth – you guessed it – £155,000 today. On the other hand, 200 gold soverigns of the same date would be worth just £10,000 today.

From this sale we can wring a few more historical statistics. These are interesting because they relate to a more recent time and to lower-priced coins. In November 1985, and again a year later, Spink dispersed the Norweb collection. In these two sales there were respectively 17 and 18 lots (a significant sample) which also turned up in this Selig sale. The two groups made respectively 1.85 and 1.77 times what they made in the Norweb sales – figures which are close enough for consistency.

Now back to aesthetics. This period produced some of the finest coins ever (and I include the marvels of ancient Greece) to be made without the benefit of lenses. Many of these were the product of the Industrial Revolution and particularly of Matthew Boulton’s Soho Mint in Birmingham. Readers’ attention should be drawn to a recent Spink publication: Richard Doty’s The Soho Mint, available at £45.

More affordable for Antiques Trade Gazette readers is the Soho Mint pattern gilt copper half-penny. A truly lovely item, estimated at £200-300, it made just £220. This shown that even in glamorous sales alert connoisseurship pays off. While Kuchler, who engraved the dies for the last mentioned coin, was toiling in Birmingham, the temperamental Benedetto Pistrucci laboured in London. To him we are indebted for the celebrated image of St George and the dragon (the latter is traditionally not accorded a capital letter – perhaps the Saint would have something to say on this). A particularly attractive example of this crown piece made the top estimate: £200. The total hammer price for the George III coins (447 lots) was £772,060. However, this was not all. The same and previous days saw a general sale at Spink.

The interest of this sale is that it contained some fine Continental medallic silver coins, which one usually associates with Germany and Switzerland. There was at least one coin which has a story with a message behind it, and a fine coin it is too. The Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (d.1519) was a martyr to ‘bank manager’s cramp’. He had struck a magnificent taler at Hall, near Innsbruck, and at a moment of financial crisis in the Low Countries, he sent to Hall for gold (they were thought to have a lot of it). The wily townsmen would have none of it, however, and sent the Emperor their dies, but first incorporated a tiny flower in front of the horse so that they would be able to distinguish their talers (known in gold and silver) from those to be struck at Antwerp. There was an Antwerp silver example in this sale – it made a bid over the low estimate at £6200. This is worth reporting not only because it is a good story but because the price was fairly typical of those achieved for most of the good quality Continental material. This generalisation paints a moderately clear picture.

It is fair to state that the George III material would perhaps not have done so well on the Continent. However, that said, the sale made for a useful hammer total of £314,590. Breaking the £1m barrier (actually £1,086,650) is no mean achievement and so London remains a good place to sell all coins.