Irish pattern coins with 'ageless character and beauty' highlight Dix Noonan Webb auction

The patterns were submitted as entries in a contest to design early Irish Free State coinage
By , Coin World
Published : 07/06/16
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Two rare pattern coins that were submitted as entries in the competition to select the Irish Free State’s new money in 1927 excited bidders at Dix Noonan Webb's June 8-9 auction of coins, paper money, tokens and historical medals in London. 

A pattern halfcrown, estimated at £4,000 to £5,000, fetched more than twice that, selling for £13,200 including seller's fee, while a threepence expected to sell for £2,800 to £3,200 made £7,200 including seller's fee.

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The entire auction roster realized £774,072.

The two bronze Irish coins were designed by Italian sculptor Publio Morbiducci (1889 to 1963) as part of his successful entry in the competition to design the newly-independent nation’s currency. 

The great Irish coin collector and expert Gerard Brady described them as having “an ageless character and beauty” with a rearing horse on the halfcrown and a hare on the threepence.

They were bought by two different private collectors.

What is a pattern coin?

Pattern coins are not struck for regular circulation. Instead, they are meant to serve as test coins so that a particular design could be judged.  

The Irish coins that headlined the Dix Noonan Webb are indeed pattern coins, not approved for release and produced for the purposes of evaluating a proposed coin design.

How did they get into private hands?

The two coins were given by Morbiducci to the seller’s grandfather in Italy before World War II and passed down through the family.

It is not known how many of these coins, struck by the Milanese medallists Lorioli Castelli, have survived. 

In the 1970s Brady said that he knew of only one halfcrown, then in a private collection in Dublin, and four threepences. 

Dix Noonan Webb described both coins as being “of the highest rarity,” their attractiveness increased by the fact that the condition of both was “virtually as struck.”

Other auction highlights

Proof sets of British coins fetched strong prices at the auction with a Victorian 1887 set in an unofficial leather case selling for £31,200, in line with its £24,000 to £30,000 estimate. 

A 1911 set from the reign of George V fetched £16,800, against an estimate of £12,000 to £15,000. 

The two principal collections in the auctions were English hammered coins, the property of a Cambridge scholar, which sold for a total of £159,348, and British milled coins, the property of a gentleman, which made £68,916.

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