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Less than 10 specimens are believed to be extant, with one coming up at Dix Noonan Webb’s December 12-13 auction estimated at £7000-8000.

The coin was one of a limited number issued so that vending machines and public telephones in the Republic of Ireland could be re-calibrated before the introduction of the new denomination in October 1986. It was the first decimal coin produced by the Republic that was of a different size to the corresponding British one.

Before it was officially released, all those vending machines and public telephones had to be adapted to accept this new coin. Some 500 coins were produced for this purpose and were dated 1985 as it was against the law to provide coins with a future date. Most of these were given to engineers working for Telecom Éireann, which was responsible for the maintenance of telephone boxes.

The coins were supposed to be returned but about 50 were not handed back and those that have survived have become highly collectable as the first date on the publicly issued coins is 1986. Less than 10 of the coins are believed to be extant. The example to be auctioned at DNW, which has appeared on the market before, was originally given to a retired manager from Telecom Éireann.

Coin record

Talking of humble coins worth large amounts, in August, Antiques Trade Gazette reported how Dallas-based Heritage Auctions set a new record for any copper or bronze coin when a 1933 penny took $165,000 (£127,000). The buyer was a private collector.

The 1933 George V penny is perhaps the most famous of all British coins. At the time, the Royal Mint had a surplus of pennies, so only a handful were minted for ceremonial and record purposes.

Of the seven coins thought to exist, three are in private collections.

Edward VIII gold sovereign

Meanwhile, another extremely rare British coin from the 1930s is going on display in Wales.

The story of the coins created for King Edward VIII in 1936 has long been shrouded in secrecy. Just as The Royal Mint was gearing up to start striking the circulating coins featuring the effigy of the new king at 8am on January 1, 1937, production was halted by the announcement of his abdication on December 10, 1936. 

As the 80th anniversary of this momentous event in British history approaches, the gold sovereign coin featuring the ‘unseen’ effigy of King Edward VIII goes on show at The Royal Mint Experience, The Royal Mint’s new visitor attraction in Llantrisant, near Cardiff (The Royal Mint was established in the Tower of London but it has been based in Wales since 1968 when it was opened by the Queen).

Graham Dyer, senior research curator at The Royal Mint Museum, says: “There was such an air of mystery about the coinage of Edward VIII. In 1972 after the death of the Duke of Windsor, as a young curator, I was asked to go through the files and write an account of what had been done back in 1936.

“What I discovered was that The Royal Mint had actually made all the preparations to start production of the new coins on January 1, 1937, geared up to strike the first coins at 8am on that day.”

The story of ‘the coinage that never was’ took place during Edward VIII’s short time as king, before he turned down his right to rule in order to marry his true love, Wallis Simpson. Edward decided to marry a divorcée, which went against his title as Head of the Church of England. As a result, he signed an instrument of abdication on December 10, 1936, meaning he was king for less than a year.

At the time, unbeknown to many, a full set of newly designed coins had already been prepared by The Royal Mint before his surprise abdication. When the day of the abdication came, The Royal Mint had had no warning that all was not as it should be.

The reducing machines were still at work reducing the designs down to coin and medal size, and punches and dies for striking the coins were still being made. When the news was announced, production was halted. As a result, all that exists are some extremely rare patterns and trial pieces, among them the sovereign which is on display in The Royal Mint Experience today.

Much has been written of Edward’s headstrong personality. The tradition of the monarch’s head on a coin facing in the opposite direction to his predecessor dates back to King Charles II in the 17th century. Going against that tradition, Edward demanded to have his profile facing left on the coin, rather than to the right, so that the parting of his hair was visible. He thought that this was his better side, and that inclusion of the parting would break up what might otherwise look like a solid fringe of hair.

In his choice of designs, he insisted on something a little more modern, breaking with tradition, turning his back on everything his father George V had stood for to reflect his modern attitudes. As a result, two of Britain’s best-loved coin designs were developed – the wren and the ship – which were so well thought of that they later featured on the farthing and halfpenny coins of George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

Following his abdication, Edward VIII requested a set of the coins as a memento, but King George VI declined as they had never been issued, were not deemed to be official UK coinage and had not gone through the Royal Proclamation process.