World Coins

Rare Elizabethan gold coin highlights upcoming sale

A rare gold 15-shilling ryal struck to finance a military expedition highlights St. James’s Auctions’ Nov. 30 sale in London.

Images courtesy of St. James’s Auctions.

A rare 16th century English gold coin with ties to a military expedition stars in St. James’s Auctions’ Nov. 30 sale in London.

The circa 1585 to 1587 gold 15-shilling ship ryal of Elizabeth I was issued, along with gold 30-shilling coins, to finance the expedition of the Earl of Leicester to the Netherlands in 1585. English gold coins had long been accepted as a standard currency in the Netherlands, so they provided the natural medium for financing the British expedition, according to the firm.

The example in the auction features a strong portrait of the monarch above the ship. 

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On April 20, 1584, an indenture was signed with Sir Richard Martin, warden and master worker, and Andrew Palmer, comptroller at the Tower Mint in London, to strike gold 30-shilling double nobles and 15-shilling ryals to finance the expedition. These coins were struck from the ancient gold standard of 23 cts. 3½ grs. 

Between May 3, 1584, and Jan. 31, 1587, a total of £27,936 was struck in these two denominations — a very small issue consisting of about 15,000 double nobles and fewer than 3,000 ryals. Most of the ryals (including the example offered for sale) bear the Mint mark representing London, an escallop, on the reverse. 

Already scarce, surviving examples are usually somewhat worn and clipped. The auction house grades this example, which is of full weight, as Good Very Fine. “This is a highly desirable piece as it is one of the best examples available,” according to the catalog.

The coin has an estimate of £40,000 to £50,000 ($49,698 to $62,112 U.S.).

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