One of the most famous and valuable British gold coins, a 1703 Vigo
gold 5-guinea piece, realized £296,160 (about $476,871 U.S.), in a
Dec. 6 auction in Lewes, England.
The coin, which was struck from gold seized after a victorious
naval battle at Vigo Bay off the coast of Spain, was a surprise find
in a handkerchief drawer
The coin, identified with VIGO beneath the bust of the queen, is
regarded as one of the most desirable coins in the entire English
milled gold series. It sold for double the top estimate from English
auction house Gorringes, astonishing the auction house officials, said
Gorringes’ Leslie Gillham.
“I don’t think any of us thought it would make that sort of
money,” he said.
Purchased by Knightsbridge
It was purchased by Knightsbridge Coins. Stephen Fenton, the
principal of Knightsbridge, said he bought the coin for an unnamed client.
Estimates vary, but sources indicate that 15, or fewer than 20
examples at the most perhaps, were extant before this latest discovery.
The newest example was discovered in early September when a
longtime customer of Gorringes contacted the firm seeking
identification of three coins, two of which were a “very worn George
IV silver crown and an even more worn Victorian silver crown,” along
with the rare gold coin. The anonymous customer, a widow of retirement
age, found the coins, said Gillham, in her late husband’s chest of
drawers in what may have been his handkerchief drawer. The story of
that discovery appears in Coin World’s Oct. 29 issue.
Earlier provenance unknown
The provenance of the coin is unknown, as the consignor’s deceased
husband had never mentioned it to the family.
Gillham called the discovery “simply amazing.”
Experts with Morton & Eden informally verified the coin’s
authenticity for Gorringes, who cataloged it as “Nearly Very Fine.”
The 1703 VIGO gold issues were intended for circulation and
comprised half guinea, guinea and 5-guinea pieces. In addition,
related silver coins were struck, in crown, half-crown, shillings and
sixpence denominations, in 1703. (Some 1702-dated shillings were also struck.)
Each of the coins has the usual obverse and reverse types
appropriate to their denomination but on the obverse of each
denomination, below Queen Anne’s bust, the word VIGO was added,
engraved into the die. The dies for the VIGO coins were the work of
the Mint’s chief engraver, Henry Harris, and his assistant, John Croker.
According to Michael Hodder, writing in the Jan. 10, 1994, issue
of Coin World, “The VIGO coins struck to commemorate the
victory also served as propaganda to persuade the well-to-do British
public that the war was both worthwhile and going well.”
The gold coins struck are all very scarce to very rare and would
be beyond the means of most collectors. The silver coins, however,
were struck in generally large numbers. ■