Rare 1937 Edward VIII sovereign sets record for British coin

Piece depicting abdicated king brings nearly $875,000 at auction
By , Coin World
Published : 05/09/14
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A Proof 1937 gold sovereign of Edward VIII established a new record price for a British coin in a May 8 auction, according to the auctioneer, A.H. Baldwin & Sons Ltd.

An anonymous floor bidder bought the coin, one of two examples known and the only one available individually, for £516,000 ($874,587.50 U.S.) including the 20 percent buyer’s fee. That is a record price for a British coin struck inside the United Kingdom, the auction house reports. The coin had an estimate of £250,000 to £300,000 (about $413,309 to $495,971 U.S.).

The coin was part of the Hemisphere Collection of Gold Sovereigns, the first complete monarchical collection of gold sovereigns ever to be offered at auction.  

The Hemisphere Collection spans 525 years and 15 monarchs and represents seven mints. It totaled 394 individual sovereign coins, from the earliest hammered examples to modern milled pieces.

Edward VIII sovereign

The Edward VIII sovereign’s rarity is related to the circumstances surrounding its creation and the short-lived reign of the monarch it depicts. 

In 1936, Edward VIII ascended to the throne following the death of his father, George V. However, Edward VIII famously abdicated his position just 326 days after his accession, so he could marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. He was the first monarch to step down voluntarily. Edward and Simpson married soon after and Edward’s brother George became the next king of England.

Edward VIII flouted tradition, both in his marriage plans and in his decision to abdicate the throne. He also flouted numismatic tradition, which called for coinage portraits to alternate in direction with the change of each reign, but Edward VIII would not have it. Edward preferred that a left-facing portrait be used, although it would mean his profile would face the same direction as his father’s face appears on George V coins.

Small numbers of coins and patterns designed in harmony with Edward VIII’s preference were created, but plans became moot days before circulation production could begin, as he abdicated Dec. 10, 1936.

A small number of examples of Edward VIII’s coins, both individual pieces and sets, are known today. Thanks to the controversy and limited mintage, the Proof 1937 gold sovereign of Edward VIII is a legendary coin of the highest rarity.

According to Baldwin’s, this is the sole example of the Edward VIII sovereign available individually. It was sold in 1981 by Spink in a private transaction. Spink sold it again in a 1984 auction of the Professor R.E. Gibson Collection, where it realized a hammer price of £40,000. It was later sold in a 2008 auction in Tokyo.

Its May 8 appearance is only the third time for this example to appear at public auction and its first time in 30 years to be for sale in the United Kingdom.

Steve Hill, director of British Coins at Baldwin’s said: “It has been a pleasure to be involved with partly forming, completely cataloguing and today selling this monumental collection. ... The Edward VIII gold proof sovereign that sold today, for a record breaking price, was a fitting celebration of the iconic British denomination, both the owner who formed the collection and Baldwin’s are thrilled with the result.”

Other highlights

Though a full results list was not available at press time, the auction house reported results for two other highlights.

A Proof Elizabeth II 1953 gold sovereign sold for £384,000 (about $650,107 U.S.), including the buyer’s fee. The coin was issued in very limited numbers for the coronation of the new queen.

It is the first example available to the market individually since 1985, according to the auction house. 

The other result disclosed was for the top lot among hammered (hand-struck) coins: a circa 1502 to 1504 Henry VII gold sovereign, which sold for £120,000 (about $203,158 in U.S. funds).

Auction catalogs are available (and full prices realized will soon be available) online at www.baldwin.co.uk.

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