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.

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