What many consider the most beautiful of all British coins, Queen Victoria’s 1839 Una and the Lion £5 coin, highlights Fritz Rudolph Künker’s July 3 auction No. 251.
The auction is one of four scheduled across five days, from June 30 to July 4.
The coin, in Proof, is one of approximately 400 pieces believed to have been struck as a pattern but that were ultimately rejected for circulation, although there was some limited public distribution.
Designed by William Wyon, the coin shows the young queen (she was 18 when she ascended), representing truth (Una), leading the nation (the lion) into what would become one of the greatest eras of British history. Queen Victoria reigned over a far-reaching empire undergoing expansion and industrialization.
The symbolism is borrowed from Edmund Spenser’s 16th-century allegorical poem The Faerie Queene. In the epic poem, written in 1590, Una, who personified Truth, was accompanied in her search for St. George by a lion who befriended and protected her. Wyon’s design is believed to be an expression of hope and trust on the good fortunes of the newly opened reign, but the “Faerie Queene" ends up with the lion dead and Una in a consummated relationship with St. George.
Howard W.A. Linecar and Alex G. Stone write in English Proof and Pattern Crown-Sized Pieces that, based on Spenser’s story, the reverse legend would have been viewed as “more of a cry for help than a pious wish,” and would therefore be “too much for an innocent young lady to have associated with her coins.”
The “Young Head” portrait of Queen Victoria, with Victoria facing left, appears on the obverse.
As Leonard Forrer wrote in his Biographical Dictionary of Medallists: “Wyon’s head of Queen Victoria for the coinage received universal approbation and still ranks as one of the noblest productions, combining beauty of design and perfect execution, in the British numismatic series.”
The D.G. and F.D. on the obverse indicate that the queen served “by the grace of god” (from the Latin “dei gratia”) and was the “defender of the faith” (from “fidei defensor”).
On the reverse, Victoria holds the orb of sovereignty in her left hand and wears a crown on her head. With the scepter of might in her right hand, she directs the steps of the British lion, guiding him forward.