World Coins

This Day in History: March 25

A gold example of a medal honoring the 1842 completion of the Thames Tunnel was once owned by the 4th Earl of Spencer.

Medal images courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group.

The Thames Tunnel in London opened on March 25, 1843.

The tunnel is underwater beneath the River Thames in London, connecting Rotherhithe and Wapping.

Designed by Sir Marc Isambard Brunel, it was the first tunnel known to have been constructed successfully underneath a navigable river.

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It was built between 1825 and 1843 using Brunel's and Thomas Cochrane’s newly invented tunneling shield technology, which was also created by Brunel’s son Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

The tunnel measures 35 feet wide by 20 feet high and is 1,300 feet long, running at a depth of 75 feet below the river surface measured at high tide.

Though originally designed for horse-drawn carriages, carriage traffic never traversed the tunnel. Today the tunnel forms part of the London Overground railway network under ownership of Transport for London.

More than 30 medals record the opening of the Thames Tunnel, according to  Christopher Eimer in British Commemorative Medals and Their Values

Artist W.J. Taylor designed a pair of medals honoring the tunnel, both depicting the twin openings of the tunnel on their reverses. 

An example was released in 1842 to mark the tunnel’s completion and a slightly different version of that design was released in 1843 when the tunnel opened.

The obverse of both medals feature a bust of Brunel ("Isambart" on the medal is a French spelling). 

The 1842 medal is classified as Eimer 1372. This version features a sailing ship plying the water of the Thames above the tunnel.

Though white metal and bronze examples are available for $150 or less, silver versions are scarcer, with gold editions the toughest to find.

Classical Numismatic Group offered an example Oct. 7, 2015, from the Dr. Lawrence A. Adams collection. The medal's provenance reaches back to its presentation to Frederick Spencer, the 4th Earl Spencer, a friend of Brunel and the second great-grandfather of Diana, Princess of Wales. The medal's edge inscription identifies him as the recipient. The example realized a hammer price of $3,250 U.S. (the buyer’s fee ranges from 19 to 21 percent, depending on bidding method).

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