World Coins

Gold pattern fit for a king heads to London auction

An 1820 gold £5 pattern of King George III highlights St. James’s Auctions’ Sept. 30 sale in London. The pattern, never adopted, is extremely rare.

Images courtesy of St. James’s Auctions.

An artifact from an effort to issue a gold £5 coin in Industrial Age Britain highlights St. James’s Auctions’ Sept. 30 sale in London, in conjunction with the Coinex show. 

The 1820 £5 pattern created by famed engraver Benedetto Pistrucci was never issued, and according to the auction house the piece is one of the truly rare 19th century English gold coins.

“The appearance of one at auction, in any state of preservation, is a collecting opportunity,” the firm noted.

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The “major appeal” of this pattern is the presentation of the largest and sharpest image of the engraver’s motif of Saint George slaying the mythical dragon ever seen on a coin. 

The pattern is exceedingly rare, with very few in private hands, according to the auction house, explaining its £275,000 ($365,819 U.S.) estimate.

The obverse features the laureate head of King George III, for whom it was issued at the very end of his lengthy reign. 

Both sides are boldly signed with Pistrucci’s last name.

Assisting Pistrucci in the difficult and time-consuming engraving process was William Wellesley Pole, whose tiny initials appear on the ground-line of the reverse, just at the end of the dragon’s tail.

In 1820, it was near a century since a gold piece of this size and value had been minted for commerce and almost 50 years since production of the most recent pattern for a 5-guinea coin. 

Demand for high denominations was tempered by increased use of paper money, and only Proof versions of the £5 coin were issued until the Victoria Jubilee issues of 1887. Those £5 coins were struck for circulation in just three years — 1887, 1893 and 1902 — and even then, relatively few known examples of the three dates show much real wear, highlighting the impracticality of the denomination for most of the empire’s subjects.

The gold pattern is presented in a contemporary fitted case. 

The coin has hairlines across the fields and a short scuff on the king’s cheek, but is “otherwise brilliant with reflective fields, the portrait and St. George motifs in cameo contrast, practically as struck.” 

To see all lots in the sale, visit the firm’s website.

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