World Coins

Top 10 of 2016: Toy box find tops $348K at auction

An example of one of the rarest English gold coins, the 1705 Vigo gold 5-guinea coin, was discovered among toys and sold at auction in 2016.

Coin images courtesy of Bonington’s.

Many dream of finding treasure in unexpected places, but that dream became reality for a United Kingdom resident in 2016. 

A 1703 Vigo Bay gold 5-guinea coin — one of the rarest English gold coins ever — was discovered in the inherited belongings of a family, according to the London auction house Boningtons Auc­tioneers, which sold the coin in its Nov. 16 auction. 

The family had no idea the coin was valuable until a specialist at Boningtons appraised it. Their discovery was announced almost exactly 314 years after seizure of the gold that became the coin issue, during the reign of Queen Anne. Fewer than 20 examples of the coin were made from gold the British captured from a Spanish treasure ship in 1702 at Vigo Bay, northern Spain.

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The coin was reportedly passed down through four generations of the same family, kept in a little boy’s treasure box. From what the consignors told the auction house, their little boy liked to play “pirate” with the coin, and other coins, that originally belonged to the child’s great-grandfather.

Boningtons spokesman Luke Bodalbhai said: “The coin was consigned to us by a gentleman from Hertfordshire whose grandfather had given it to him many years ago, when he was a young boy. However, he had no idea what it was worth until recently, when he showed it to our coin specialist, Gregory Tong, [who] immediately recognized the coin and informed the consignor of its value.”

According to a press release from the auction house, the consignor said, “My granddad travelled all over the world during his working life and collected many coins from the various countries where he had been. As a boy, I was into pirate treasure, so he gave me bags of coins to play with. As time passed, these coins went back into bags and boxes and were forgotten about. Then, after my granddad passed away, I rediscovered the coins and recalled how much I had enjoyed them as a boy. So I gave them to my own son to play with, including the Queen Anne Vigo 5-guinea. He kept it in his treasure box and has been playing ‘pirate’ with it just as I did, all those years ago.”

The story of the coin’s discovery is worthy of great literature, but then, the story of its creation is also a romantic masterpiece. 

The VIGO emblazoned coins were struck from treasure the British fleet seized in 1702 from Franco-Spanish ships returning from America, during the War of Spanish Succession. The 1703 Vigo gold issues were intended for circulation and comprised half guinea, guinea and 5-guinea pieces. In addition, related silver coins were struck in crown, half-crown, shillings and sixpence denominations, in 1703. (Some 1702-dated shillings were also struck.)

Each of the coins has the usual obverse and reverse design types appropriate to the denomination but on the obverse of each denomination, below Queen Anne’s bust, the word VIGO was added, engraved into the die. 

The gold coins struck are all very scarce to very rare and would be beyond the means of most collectors. The silver coins, however, were struck in generally large numbers.  

The coin realized £280,000 ($348,810) with the buyer’s fee. 

Read all of our Coin World Top 10 of 2016 series:

U.S. Mint issues gold Centennial coins
Pogue IV auction tops $16 million
Rare English gold coin found in toy box
Boutique bullion trend catches on worldwide
Langbord 1933 double eagle case rolls on
1974-D aluminum cent returned to U.S. Mint
Treasury announces new Federal Reserve note designs
1964 Morgan dollar tooling uncovered
American Liberty silver medal released
U.S. Mint plans yearlong 225th anniversary party

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