One of the finest collections of Australian
sovereigns ever sold in the United Kingdom, the George Collection, is
scheduled to be offered March 5 and 6 by St. James’s Auctions.
Highlighting the auction is the 1920-S
sovereign, the rarest coin in the Australian series.
In addition to the George Collection, the firm
plans to offer many English gold coin rarities during three sales over
48 hours, including a recently discovered unique Proof London Mint
1974 gold sovereign and the finest example of a Third Period Henry
VIII sovereign in private hands.
While not complete, the George Collection
offers the greatest quality of Australian sovereigns to be auctioned,
said Stephen Fenton of St. James’s Auctions.
The sovereign denomination is one of the most
long-lived, respected and widely distributed gold coins. It was struck
at mints in Great Britain as well as in colonial Australia, India and
The George Collection would have been
complete, but the consignor gave the few common-date examples to his
children, Fenton said. A single owner created the collection of coins,
dating from 1852 to 1930, across the past 20 years.
Fenton believes the George Collection is
comparable to or exceeds the Bentley Collection of British Milled
Sovereigns, which entered the market in 2012 and 2013 in three
auctions by A.H. Baldwin & Sons Ltd. The Bentley Collection
realized £3,994,638 (about $6,364,550 U.S.) and included a
comprehensive Australian section. So what makes the George Collection
London’s finest offering of Australian sovereigns?
Fenton said: “It is simply the general quality
of the coins.”
The George Collection auction emphasizes that,
although Australia’s numismatic history is relatively short, it has
produced some great rarities, like the 1920-S sovereign.
The coin was struck less than 100 years ago
and its rarity has only been understood in the past 50 years.
The 1920-S sovereign, the rarest date and Mint
mark combination for any sovereign in the British Empire series, is
the highlight of the George Collection.
Although records show 360,000 sovereigns were
struck at the Sydney Mint in 1920, how many were actually dated 1920
is a matter of conjecture.
Some researchers believe that many 1920-dated
coins must have been melted down; others think that 1919-dated coins
are included in this calendar mintage figure.
Sydney Mint records are scarce, so the coin is
wrapped in layers of intrigue.
What can be confirmed is that the coin in the
auction is one of four known circulation-strike examples (a Specimen
Proof piece also exists), three of which have been sold publicly.
All of the coins were struck from a rusty
Graham Dyer at the Royal Mint Museum searched
what remains of the Sydney Mint records in the United Kingdom and
discovered that in November 1919, the Royal Mint in London sent 22
Sydney Mint reverse dies to Australia. (The date and S Mint mark both
appear on the reverse of the coin.)
Only two of these reverse dies were used by
the Sydney Mint in 1920, and sovereigns were struck on only two dates
in January (a total of 220,000 coins) and again on two dates in June
(a total of 140,000 coins).
The Royal Mint in London would have sent dies
in a pristine state to a branch mint. One can therefore only surmise
that something happened to the dies during their sea voyage.
Research might be able to determine whether
some problem with the cargo hold en route perhaps resulted in the
original packing grease, intended to protect the surface of the dies,
becoming somehow encrusted on the face of the dies. Perhaps 20 of the
dies were so badly damaged that they could not be used, while a couple
were considered “just passable,” perhaps producing coins having the
appearance of being struck from a “rusted” die.
It would be reasonable to assume that a 1919
reverse die was used for the January strikings because, research
suggests, they were likely used for later strikes in 1920.
Stephen Hill, who cataloged the 1920-S
sovereign in the Bentley Collection catalog, suggested that the Sydney
Mint used the 1919 reverse die in the June 1920 strikings and that the
sovereigns dated 1920 were “struck to order for a special event in
1920 without the time available to restore the reverse die to a proper
The true timeline, however, is unknown.
As late as 1965, the coin was only listed as
“rare” and valued at £4 in Sovereigns of the British Empire by J.J.
When Australia abandoned the gold standard in
1929, the law mandated that all gold circulating coins held by
individuals be sold to the Reserve Bank of Australia. Most 20th
century sovereigns were generally regarded as bullion coins, and apart
from the then known rarities, were not subject to widespread collecting.
Even in the 1970s, the true rarity of the
1920-S sovereign was not fully appreciated.
Spink Australia offered an example described
as Nearly Extremely Fine in November 1978. Estimated at $3,000
Australian, it sold for a $3,600 Australian hammer price (then about
$4,050 in U.S. funds).
The same coin reappeared at Spink London in
March 1992. Now described as Good Extremely Fine, the cataloger noted
that it was “of the highest rarity, only a few specimens known.”
Estimated at £20,000 to £25,000, it sold for
£114,400 (about $195,200 U.S.). The buyer was Rothschild, the global
advisory financial group, for its collection. It is unlikely to appear
on the market again.
The 1920-S sovereign in the Bentley Collection
was first sold by Jaggard’s, the Sydney dealers, in 1979. It was
offered in that firm’s February retail list at $4,250 Australian (then
about $4,720 U.S.). It resurfaced at a Jaggard auction in April 2006
when it sold for a then record of $582,500 Australian (about $426,600
At the Bentley sale in September 2012, apart
from a tiny scratch on the face of St. George, a tiny reverse rim nick
and other light handling marks, it was described as “otherwise
practically as struck” and it sold for £780,000 with the buyer’s fee
(about $1,264,500 U.S.).
It was purchased by Robert Jaggard after a
battle with an Englishman. This result set auction records for an
Australian coin, for a British Imperial gold sovereign, for a British
Colonial coin and for a British 20th century coin.
The 1920-S sovereign to be sold by St. James's
Auctions in early March was auctioned by Noble Numismatics in Sydney
in March 1996, when it realized $135,000 Australian (then about
Graded by Stephen Fenton of St. James’s
Auctions as “Almost Uncirculated” (a similar grade to those previously
sold), it is now estimated at £350,000 to £400,000 (about $575,625 to
Fenton said: “Apart from the three currency
examples sold at auction, a fourth [currency] 1920 Sydney sovereign
does exist. This was handed into the Reserve Bank of Australia in 1931
and is now in the Royal Australian Mint Collection.”
The sale of the example in March will be an
opportunity to buy one of only two examples available to commerce, and
could be the last opportunity to acquire an example for a generation.
Adelaide gold £5
The other great rarity from the antipodes is
an 1852 Adelaide gold £5 coin, an early 20th century restrike, one of
seven examples extant today.
The Adelaide £5 coin is related to more
familiar £1 coins that were issued during Australia’s early numismatic history.
The George Collection counts three examples of
the £1 coin, including the rarer Type I.
The £1 coins were issued as the South
Australian government faced a crisis in 1852, as prospectors leaving
for the goldfields took most of the economy’s money with them. The
solution was gold pieces issued in half-pound, £1, £2, and £5
denominations from the Adelaide Assay Office, an illegal workaround
without London approval.
A total of 24,768 gold £1 “tokens” were issued
before the resounding “NO” from London arrived, bringing an end to the
program that had filled the demand for coinage.
After fewer than 50 pieces had been struck,
officials discovered that the die had cracked so a new die had to be
prepared. The die was replaced. The pieces struck with the first die
are designated Type 1.
As the £1 coin could be sold at a profit in
London, most were exported there and melted. Estimates as to how many
survived range from 200 to 250.
Although rumors suggest that six £5 trial
pieces were struck in 1852, none is known and there are no records.
However, the dies were cut and in 1921, the Melbourne Mint borrowed
the dies from Adelaide to strike 12 of the pieces. One was for its own
collection and the other for the Royal Mint collection in the United Kingdom.
Plans to sell the remaining pieces fizzled and
in 1929 five were melted as there were no buyers even at the bullion
price of gold.
Today, seven £5 restrikes are known and five
of these are in institutional collections, including the two
aforementioned mint collections.
A third £5 restrike is part of the A.M. Le
Souëf Collection at the Museum of Victoria. He was the deputy master
of the Melbourne Mint in 1921. A fourth example is in the Adelaide Art
Gallery and Museum and the fifth example resides in the William Dixson
Collection at the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney. Dixson
paid £10 for the coin.
The £5 restrike in another private collection
was sold by Spink Australia in October 1977 for $16,000 Australian
(then about $19,640 U.S.); resold by Spink Australia in June 1986 for
$43,500 Australian (then about $27,550 U.S.) and sold by Monetarium
for $150,000 Australian in 1996 (then about $140,715 U.S.)
The example in the St. James’s Auctions sale
comes from a private collection and has been in the same family since
it was purchased in 1971. It was purchased from Sotheby’s in February
1971 for £4,600 (then about $11,040 U.S.).
Numismatic Guaranty Corp. has graded this
example Mint State 66 and the auction firm estimates it at £350,000 to
£400,000 (about $575,625 to $657,857 U.S.).
Other highlights, in brief
Many other highlights are part of three
auctions being held across two days, including the finest known 1855-S
sovereign. This coin, grading Extremely Fine but with some marks and
burnishing, previously was offered in the Spink Australia sale in 1979
and Spink’s Sharps-Pixley auction in London during 1989.
“It had been put away on the day it was
struck,” Fenton said.
Part of the George Collection, it has an
estimate of £80,000 to £100,000 ($131,550 to $164,437 U.S.).
A unique Proof 1974 sovereign discovered in
2013 is among other properties offered in the sale.
While bullion examples are known, this is the
only Proof issue. It is accompanied by a letter from the Royal Mint
verifying its status, which was just determined last year when the
coin surfaced in a dealer purchase of “miscellaneous bits and pieces,”
according to Fenton.
It is estimated at £10,000 to £15,000 (about
$16,443 to $24,665 U.S.).
Also offered is a Henry VIII gold sovereign
from his Third Period coinage (1544 to 1547). In Good Very Fine state,
the coin shows a strong portrait of the famed ruler.
The finest example in private hands, the coin
was sold in 1811 in an auction of duplicates from the British Museum,
realizing £4. Since then, the coin has sold many times, adding several
prominent provenances before its most recent sale. It was again sold
in May 1994 by Sotheby’s for a hammer price of £24,000.
At the March 2014 sale, it has an estimate of
£130,000 to £140,000 ($213,810 to $230,257 U.S.).
The auctions will be held at the Cavendish
Hotel on the corner of Jermyn Street and Duke Street.
For more information about the auctions,
telephone the firm at (011) 44 20 7930 7597, email it at
email@example.com or visit www.stjauctions.com.