World Coins

British medal for commercial center depicts Gresham

A silver medal from 1844 depicts Sir Thomas Gresham, whose economic principle is known to this day. The medal marks the reopening of the Royal Exchange following a fire.

Medal images courtesy of A.H. Baldwin and Sons Ltd.

Collectors and financial historians are familiar with the maxim that “bad money drives out good money,” an economic principle often referred to as Gresham’s Law.

The concept is actually more lengthy, but the principle is this: “When a government overvalues one type of money and undervalues another, the undervalued money will leave the country or disappear from circulation into hoards, while the overvalued money will flood into circulation.”

Sir Thomas Gresham, the financial agent of the English crown in the Netherlands, the founder of the Royal Exchange and of Gresham College, London, is credited with putting into words the financial truism bearing his name.

Gresham — whose principle explains the existence of numismatic collectibles like Civil War tokens and the Holey dollar — also makes a brief numismatic appearance, on a 1844 silver medal for the opening of the Royal Exchange.

An Extremely Fine example of the medal realized £432 ($668 U.S.)  during a Sept. 23 auction by A.H. Baldwin & Sons Ltd. 

The price reflects the 20 percent buyer’s fee. 

The medal was issued to celebrate the new building for the Royal Exchange, a center of commerce in London. The current structure, completed in 1844, is the third built on the original site proposed by Gresham. The exchange was rebuilt twice, once following the Great London Fire in 1666 and again after another fire in 1838. 

William Wyon designed the medal, which shows Gresham on the obverse, paired with the statue of Queen Victoria before the new façade of the Royal Exchange on the reverse. 

The medal measures 74 millimeters in diameter and is cataloged as Eimer-1390 by Christopher Eimer in British Commemorative Medals and Their Values.

How important was the reopening of the Royal Exchange? According to Eimer, this medal was one of more than 20 issued to commemorate the opening of the Exchange. The building was a major work by architect Wiliam Tite. 

To see full auction results, visit the auction firm website.

Community Comments