World Coins

VIGO gold 5 guineas sets record for any British coin

One of the rarest of British coins, a gold 5 guineas of Queen Anne struck with gold captured at Vigo Bay, realized $1,080,000 U.S. during a Jan. 13 auction in New York City.

Original images courtesy of Baldwin’s of St. James’s.

A rare British gold coin of Queen Anne established a new record price during a New York City auction.

The 1703 gold 5-guinea coin, struck from gold captured at Vigo Bay, realized $1,080,000 including the 20 percent buyer’s fee, against an estimate of $1 million in the Jan. 13 auction. The price realized was more than expected and a new world record for any British coin under the hammer, said Stephen Fenton of Baldwin’s of St. James’s.

After early, intense bidding, the battle for the coin came down to two phone bidders.

1936 Lincoln, Doubled Die Obverse centInside Coin World: 1917 and 1936 Lincoln, Doubled Die Obverse cents: Among the columns and features exclusive to the Feb. 11 issue of Coin World is “Coin Values Spotlight,” which this week focuses on two Lincoln, Doubled Die cents.

The VIGO gold 5-guinea coin is graded Mint State 62 by Professional Coin Grading Service. 

The auction firm highlighted the rarity of the hallmark position — the already rare coin is known in three different varieties, and the example presented in this sale “appears to be the rarest” variety, according to the firm. “As the coin was struck in extremely limited numbers, according to all historical accounts, this represents quite an opportunity for research to explain how three obverse dies were created.” 

A need for gold early in her reign

Just as Anne assumed the throne, the War of Spanish Succession broke out, in 1702; it was a battle for dominance in much of Europe between two sets of allies (and old enemies), England and the Dutch Republic, against the hated French and the Bourbon Spanish. 

A furious naval battle was fought on Oct. 23 and the victory this time was England’s, despite a forbidding boom consisting of heavy chain and timber that stretched across the entrance to the bay, as well as a battery of cannons, meant to block and defeat any attack. But the allies’ men o’ war crashed through the boom with little difficulty. 

With all resistance gone, the Anglo-Dutch warships sailed right toward the docked Spanish ships, easily destroying or capturing the remaining enemy ships. In a day and a half, the Battle of Vigo Bay was won, and the booty was ready to be seized. It was a tremendous victory.

Seizing treasure, making coinage

Jubilation reigned, until the English discovered that most of the ships’ holds were nearly empty, that the treasure from the New World mines had been unloaded and carted away before the Anglo-Dutch warships arrived at Vigo. 

Nevertheless, winning the battle was a significant moment in the war, and what remained of the specie was taken and delivered to the Royal Mint. It fell far short of expectations and was not in the form of New World cobs; most of the booty was a hefty 4,500 pounds of silver that had been ornaments and “plate” belonging to the Spanish and French officers. Chroniclers of Royal Mint history note that the captured gold specie weighed just 7 pounds, 8 ounces. 

It has long been believed that from this small amount all British gold coins given the boasting hallmark VIGO were minted: a mere handful of large 5-guinea coins, as well as a small number of the two other denominations, guineas and half-guineas. 

The coins’ celebrity has only intensified through the centuries. Just as they were about to be minted, Queen Anne issued a royal warrant authorizing their creation in which she stated that the VIGO hallmark would be applied to all the coins so as to “Continue to Posterity the Remembrance of that Glorious Action” at Vigo Bay. 

Thanks to that act of foresight, the VIGO coins remain some of the most desirable of all British coins.  

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