When collector and exhibitor Thos. H. Law decided to sell part of
his world coin collection in 2001, he just couldn’t bear to let some
Law, an aficionado of English gold coins, amassed a collection of
that specialty that was described by fellow hobbyists as one of the
most extensive and complete in the Western Hemisphere, rating only
behind the holdings of the British Museum and a collection in Belgium.
(The Millennia Collection sold in 2008 may now outrank Law’s group.)
So one can understand Law’s reluctance to say goodbye to those 450
or so coins when he stopped exhibiting his coins in 2001 after a
record-setting run that saw him earn an unprecedented five
best-in-show awards at American Numismatic Association conventions
over an 11-year period.
Nearly seven years after he died at the age of 88, his collection
of British gold coins is scheduled to be auctioned at the ANA World’s
Fair of Money convention, in the official auction from Stack’s Bowers
Galleries in August.
Law of the land
The collection, bearing coins dating from the 14th century to the
late 20th century, provides a tangible perspective into the 700-year
history of British gold coins. It is a pictorial history of English
gold coins by denomination and includes many great rarities.
Acquired over four decades, the coins in the specialized group
served as the basis for 10 first-place exhibits at ANA shows, and a
museum exhibition at the ANA Money Museum in Colorado Springs, Colo.,
According to the ANA, Law began collecting coins as a youth,
pulling Indian Head cents from circulation. A native Texan, Law became
acquainted with noted Fort Worth coin dealer B. Max Mehl, from whom he
purchased many coins.
Law’s military service in the Pacific on an aircraft carrier
during World War II contributed to a lifelong interest in travel that
took him and his wife, Jo Ann, to more than 80 countries, where often
he was able to acquire genuine gold coins for his collection. Those
coins were sold in 2001 by Stack’s. While interesting, none were of
the quality, rarity or value of the British gold coins returning to
the market this August.
The collection encompasses an incredibly diverse variety of coin
types, from hammered pieces emitted by Edward III (1327 to 1377) —
which are the first unified British gold coins — to modern-day coins
of Elizabeth II (1952 to the present).
Richard III angel
The denomination whose name comes from an element on the design,
the gold angel of Richard III was worth the equivalent of 6 shillings
and 8 pence when it circulated.
St. Michael appears on the obverse, with a ship sailing across the
reverse. Richard III rose to power in 1483 after having his
predecessor, Edward V (the Boy King, his nephew), deposed and, legend
has it, locked in the Tower of London.
Richard III’s reign was cut short when he died in 1485 at the
Battle of Bosworth Field. Consequently his coinage issues are rare,
the angel exceedingly so.
The example in the Law collection grades Extremely Fine and has a
presale estimate of $8,000 to $10,000.
Henry VII sovereign
The coinage of Henry VII marked the transition from medieval to
modern coinage. The Battle of Bosworth Field, where the House of
Lancaster defeated the House of York, ended the War of the Roses,
allowing the Tudor reign to the coin transition to begin.
In 1489 a new gold coin debuted — the sovereign. More than 500
years later, the coin (with a different design dating to 1817) remains
an integral part of British coinage.
The Law Collection features four of the five design types of Henry
VII, each with a slightly different design style. All show the king
seated on King Edward’s Chair (the Coronation throne) on the obverse
paired with the Tudor rose and arms on the reverse.
“These early sovereigns can boast of an artistic achievement never
before realized on an English coin, and perhaps never since,”
according to English Gold Coins Ancient to Modern Times, published by
the Cleveland Art Museum.
The Type I example in the auction is graded Very Fine Plus and has
an estimate of $125,000 to $175,000 U.S.
The English Civil War pitted pro-royalist forces against Oliver
Cromwell and the pro-parliamentary group, with Cromwell emerging
victorious to govern the Commonwealth as Lord Protectorate.
In 1656 the broad or 20-shilling pattern coin was created,
depicting Cromwell on the obverse. The use of his portrait
reinstituted an earlier tradition of placing the monarch’s image on
the coin obverse.
The dies were created by famed engraver Thomas Simon, and the
patterns struck, using a screw press, by Pierre Blondeau, the
Frenchman who jealously guarded the secret to adding edge lettering to
the coins. Experts debate whether these were true patterns, as
circulated examples exist, but the image of Cromwell apparently
rankled the citizenry and full-scale production was abandoned.
After Cromwell died in 1660, the monarchy was restored and
Cromwell coinage was recalled to be recoined. Little survived.
Law purchased the example in his collection in 1984 from Spink
& Son for £5,922. Graded Proof 63 Cameo by Numismatic Guaranty
Corp., it is one of three Cameo Proof examples graded by NGC and has
an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000.
1831 pattern crown
William IV’s reign lasted only from 1830 to 1837 but was the
subject of numerous gold patterns, one notably an 1831 pattern crown
struck in gold.
The obverse was designed by William Wyon; it features a bare head
of William IV facing right. The reverse was designed by Johann B.
Merlen; it shows the British arms within the collar of the Garter.
The crown denomination was worth 5 shillings and struck from
silver, so the issue in gold is unaccounted for — in addition, no
silver crowns were struck for circulation in 1831. However, collectors
have long referred to the gold patterns as £5 coins (because of their
size), though no coins of that denomination were issued during William
IV’s reign. One estimate suggests between six and 10 examples of the
pattern are known. Law purchased this example in 1984 from Spink &
Son for £39,000. It is currently graded Proof 63 Ultra Cameo by NGC,
and is the only example certified by that service.
It’s estimated value is $125,000 to $175,000.
How extensive is Law’s collection?
In addition to the cited highlights, it also features two examples
of the Una and the Lion £5 pattern, and two triple unite pieces of
Charles I, along with numerous other gems.
Multiple varieties of the Una and the Lion coin exist, all
engraved by William Wyon and showing Queen Victoria, on the obverse,
with the young queen on the reverse as the mythical Una who is
befriended by the lion, long a symbol of Britain.
Experts do not detail how many triple unites may still exist, but
the coin is one of the great rarities from the English Civil War. The
largest gold coins of England to that point, they were struck at two
provincial mints for use by the king, and most were melted after the war.
Lot descriptions and images will be available for viewing online
on www.StacksBowers.com, the firm’s website, beginning in July.
For more information or to bid or receive a catalog, email the
firm at email@example.com, or phone it at 800-458-4646. ■