World Coins

British ‘inaugural’ medals in London sale

A huge collection of the British equivalent of American inaugural medals realized an auction total of £153,618 ($224,778 U.S.) during A.H. Baldwin & Sons Ltd.’s May 3 auction in London.

The Dr. Robert and Joshua Feldman Collection of Official British Coronation and Jubilee Medals featured 75 lots with 77 medals (including a small number of copies or imitations). 

The medals tell the history of royalty in Britain during the course of more than four centuries and reflect changing artistic values and abilities during that time. 

Some of the most famous British coin designers were commissioned to create these medals, and the rarity often far surpasses coins of the same monarch but at fractions of the cost. 

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A history of the series

The Royal Mint has issued British coronation medals since James I’s coronation in 1603 and the tradition continued for more than 300 years.

According to Robert Feldman, the medals “constitute a wonderful historic legacy for the United Kingdom; cultural artifacts rich in symbolism.”

Though initially only silver and gold versions were issued, copper editions were added beginning in 1685 for James II’s coronation. 

British coronations are held at Westminster Abbey and the medals were tossed to various groups depending on rank. Lords received gold medals, peers received silver medals, and the copper ones were strewn to those in the crowd outside the Abbey. 

That process continued until Queen Victoria in 1838 decided to personally hand out the precious metal versions (instead of throwing them), though the copper medals were still strewn to the outside throng.

Prior to the 1707 unification of Britain, monarchs were sometimes crowned several times, in separate ceremonies for England, Ireland and Scotland. 

One of the earliest medals in the collection is the 1633 Scottish Coronation medal of Charles II.

Struck in gold, the piece has a mintage of just 75 pieces. Graded Very Fine by the auction house, the medal realized £6,000 ($8,779 U.S.). All realized prices quoted reflect the 20 percent buyer’s fee.

The medal was designed by Nicholas Briot, who was appointed chief engraver at the Royal Mint in London after traveling to Edinburgh (where the coronation was held) to prepare dies for the coins and medal honoring the coronation.

The king appears on the obverse, with the Scottish thistle on the reverse. 

Medals in three metals

A study of George II medals reveals the varied price points possible for some medals marking the same coronation.

A gold 1727 coronation medal for George II realized £7,200 ($10,535 U.S.) and a silver medal notched £456 ($667). The copper version sold for £336 ($492).

The disparity between the prices for the gold and silver versions can be explained by mintage; the gold example has a mintage of 238 pieces, while the 800 silver examples made number more than three times the gold total. The silver and copper medals are much closer in price, and their mintage figures are also fairly close, with 1,000 copper examples made. 

John Croker designed the George II medals, which depict a large bust of the king on the obverse and Britannia crowning the king on the reverse. 

Famous coin designers

Benedetto Pistrucci, the Italian engraver enlisted to work at the Royal Mint following the 1817 death of Thomas Wyon, may be most well known for his St. George and the Dragon coin design. The famous design continues in production nearly 200 years after it debuted, in modern times appearing on the gold sovereign bullion coins.

Pistrucci’s work also includes the 1821 coronation medal for George IV.  The 1821 coronation medal shows a laureate bust of the king and the reverse features the coronation scene — images of allegorical Britannia, Hibernia and Scotia looking on as Victory crowns the new monarch. 

The medal, which is “as struck,” realized £6,000 ($8,779 U.S.).

The medal sold for a fraction of the price of a similar gold coin of the king that was commemorative in nature and not issued for circulation.

A Proof 64 Cameo 1826 gold £5 coin graded by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. realized $88,125, including the buyer’s fee, in Heritage Auctions’ Aug. 13, 2015, sale.

A Proof 61 NGC example of the same coin realized $36,425 in a Jan. 5, 2015, Heritage auction, still more than five times the price for the coronation medal. 

The differences in prices between coins and medals marking the same event is almost nonexistent when considering Queen Victoria’s 1887 Jubilee.

A gold medal graded Good Extremely Fine by the auction house realized £7,440 ($10,886). 

The medal apparently contains more gold than the £5 coin for the Jubilee, and provides a larger design area, measuring 58 millimeters compared to the £5 coin’s 35 millimeters.

An NGC-graded Mint State 64 Prooflike example of the 1887 gold coin realized $8,518.75 in the April 15, 2016, Heritage auction. In the same sale, an MS-63 example graded by NGC sold for $4,406.25, while an MS-62 NGC example realized $3,642.50.

For this monarch, the medal may be considered more desirable than the coin.

An end to tradition?

The auction concluded with only two lots representing the lengthy, historic reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

No official coronation medals were produced for Elizabeth II, but the Royal Mint did mark the event’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 with a pair of official medals in silver and gilt-silver.

A pair of these 1977 medals realized £132 ($193 U.S.) in the Baldwin’s auction.

The only other coronation- and jubilee-related issue for the modern monarchy (so far) depicts the man who is poised to be her successor, Prince Charles. He appears on a 1969 Investiture of the Prince of Wales medal. 

This gilt medal features a fantastic Welsh dragon on the reverse, perfect for the fan of heraldry and fantasy, regardless of the occupant of the obverse!

An example of the investiture medal was the final piece in the Feldman Collection, realizing £78 ($114). Its design may provide inspiration for a future coronation medal, if Charles indeed succeeds to the throne and if the Royal Mint decides to issue such a commemorative. 

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