FRANCE: THE dispersal of the Paul Amos collection of French medals, under the auspices of expert Sabine Bourgey at Piasa (10.854 per cent buyer’s premium) in Paris on March 8 represents an event for which we have to go back some years to find anything comparable.

Certainly it hardly compares with some of the great sales early this century, but prices were set which will be useful as a guide for the foreseeable future. The firm of Bourgey was established in the 19th century and has been revered and held in affection by generations of collectors; for this reason a useful catalogue was to be expected and our expectations were justified. There were 274 lots and anything important (but not necessarily interesting) was illustrated. As for the prices achieved, they were invariably considerably above the estimates, which were on the prudent side. Amos died in 1988 so none of these medals has been on the market for quite some time. Clearly the intervening decades have helped the prices, and for this reason the catalogue should be used with some caution as a price guide.

Before we start, it is worth mentioning a couple of the highlights of the coins section (the whole sale totalled 470 lots). A “very rare”, 1839 maundy set (4d, 3d, 2d, penny, half-penny and farthing), in extremely fine/mint condition, plus a shilling, sixpence and groat, soared to Fr130,000 (£13,800).

Top price for a single coin was a mid-estimate Fr148,000 (£15,700) for an ‘extremely fine’ Phil-ippe VI couronne d’or (1328-50).

Now to the medals. One of the most popular Italian Renaissance medals is Matteo de Pasti’s bronze portrait of Isotta da Rimini – mainly, it seems, because it bears a fine image of an elephant. It seems this was a better-than-usual example and the estimate was a reasonable Fr30,000-35,000. It required a bid of Fr41,000 (£4360) to give it a new home.

Frederick III was the last Holy Roman Emperor to be crowned in the Eternal City. One of the best Renaissance portraits comes to us in the form of Bertoldo di Giovanni’s 1469 medal. The estimate (Fr3000-3500) took account of a hole (although this is not as important in a medal as in a coin), but it sold for Fr4800 (£510).

Of interest to British readers must be the silver example of the famous portrait medal of Mary Tudor, who has a Continental interest, being married to Philip II of Spain. This medal is relatively common, but rare in silver and the price realised – Fr29,000 (£3100), against a reasonable estimate of Fr14,000-16,000 – indicates that it was thought to be an original. These last three prices are enough to give a general indication of the ratio of estimate to achievement.

It seems that the surprise of the sale was also the highest price of the day. When Louis XII married Anne of Brittany there was great rejoicing when the king and his new royal bride passed through Lyons in March 1500 (not 1499 as on the medal). This piece is relatively common for early French medals and occurs in most comprehensive sales. However, it is one of the finest images of its time, designed by Jean Perréal and cast by Jean Lepère, and described by expert Sabine Bourgey as the first “large, high relief medal struck in France”. The cataloguer opined Fr50,000-60,000, but it raised Fr152,000 (£16,200).

This sale was not devoted only to French medals. We have to cross the Alps to Mantua for a typical portrait of the mid 15th century. Although of a (now) unknown youth, it was relentlessly chased. A diligent search of sale catalogues and other records only reveals one other in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and the one which was in the Rollin (a celebrated Paris dealer who died in 1853) collection. There is no mention of this in the catalogue, but it seems a good bet that the one in this sale was the Rollin example.

At least two bidders might have had some intimation of its rarity. It sold for Fr11,000 (£1170). It is worth noting that this late piece really falls into the ‘works of art’ category, where prices are far higher than in numismatics. Keep this catalogue!

£1 = Fr9.4