British pattern penny from 1933 sets record

Rejected pattern for 1933 bronze penny sells for $126,495 in May 4 auction
By , Coin World
Published : 05/13/16
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A rare example of a British pattern coin from 1933 that was never adopted for circulation was sold in a London auction for a record price.

The pattern was created by the moneyer Andre Lavrillier for the proposed 1933 penny, a renowned rarity in its own right. 

One of four examples known, the pattern realized £86,400 ($126,495 U.S.) including the 20 percent buyer’s fee, during A.H. Baldwin & Sons’ May 4 auction. 

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The firm said the price is a record for a bronze or copper penny. 

After some intense bidding to start with, bidding was eventually whittled down to just two telephone bidders, who went toe-to-toe for a good five minutes before the hammer finally came down at more than double the coin’s estimate, according to the firm. The winning bidder has not been identified.

The history of the circulating version of the 1933 penny is well documented, but what is probably less-known (especially outside of numismatic circles) is the rarity of the pattern version. 

Six or seven examples of the circulating design are known altogether, and each time an example is offered at auction the rarity is a highlight of that sale.

However, only four examples of Lavrillier’s pattern were made and one of those is held in the Royal Mint Museum. The other three are in private hands, which makes this one of the rarest coins in British numismatics.

The Standing Committee on Coins Medals and Decorations rejected Lavrillier’s pattern in December 1932. 

In 1933, deep in a global depression, banks in England had enormous stocks of pennies — so much that there was no need to make any more. 

Three of the six or seven circulating examples (carrying the head of George V on the obverse and a seated Britannia ruling the sea on the reverse) are in private hands, according to the Royal Mint Museum. 

The circumstances surrounding the 1933 pattern differ from those of the circulating examples. 

“Ghosting” was ever more prevalent on Britain’s bronze coinage from 1911 forward. Any coin bearing on one face a bust or head in fairly-high relief and a lot of open area on the other face is subject to having the portrait show right through to the other side, a phenomenon known as ghosting.

The pattern was created as an experiment with the relief of the coin to combat ghosting, according to Michael J. Freeman, in The Bronze Coinage of Great Britain.

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