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 South Africa.
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 reverse die.
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 usable state.”
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. Cullimore Allen.
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 U.S. then).
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 $104,700 U.S.).
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 $657,857 U.S.).
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.
Although 12 restrikes of the Adelaide £5 coin from the 1852 dies were produced in 1921, demand was so low that five examples were later melted. Of the seven that survived, only two are in private hands. This piece was graded Mint State 66 by NGC and has an estimate of £350,000 to £400,000 (about $575,625 to $657,857 U.S.).
The highlight of the George Collection is the legendary 1920-S sovereign. It is one of only three Sydney Mint examples to have been offered at auction, and has an estimate of £350,000 to £400,000 (about $575,625 to $657,857 U.S.).
This finest known example of the 1855-S sovereign was put away on the day it was struck. Now it is expected to sell for £80,000 to £100,000 ($131,550 to $164,437 U.S.).
In 2013 an unnamed dealer discovered the first Proof 1974 sovereign, which has been verified by the Royal Mint. At auction, it might sell for £10,000 to £15,000 (about $16,443 to $24,665 U.S.).