World Coins

Early experimental coin in Sincona sale

A rare palladium-hydrogen pattern from 1869 realized 12,000 Swiss francs ($12,870 U.S.) in Sincona’s Nov. 21 auction of British coins.

Images courtesy of Sincona.

The scientific search for metals and methods suitable for coining is centuries long. An 1869 pattern half sovereign of Queen Victoria, sold Nov. 21 in Sincona’s auction No. 72, is an artifact from its era’s efforts to bring change to Britain’s coinage.

The pattern is struck from palladium and hydrogenium (another word for hydrogen).

The finest of the four collectible pieces known, this example is graded Proof 64 Cameo by Numismatic Guaranty Co.

The pattern realized 12,000 Swiss francs ($12,870 U.S.), with the 20% buyer’s fee.

The young head of Queen Victoria faces left, alone on the obverse; on the reverse, the elements’ names circle the border, with the year of creation at bottom between two stars. GRAHAM (for Thomas Graham, Master of the Royal Mint) is centered, a simple decorative device above and below .

Graham, master of the Mint from 1855 until his death in 1869, was an eminent chemist, renowned for his pioneering work on dialysis and the diffusion of gases (Graham’s Law).

His interest in metallurgy prompted the striking of coins in various metals and establishing their reaction to gases, including the absorption of hydrogen gas by palladium. According to his calculations this piece is said to contain 900 times its volume in hydrogen, the auction house said.

According to a 2018 Facebook post from the Royal Mint, “Unlike his interest in copper alloys, which had a direct effect on the composition of the bronze coinage issued from 1860, it cannot be claimed that these more esoteric investigations had any impact at all on the British coinage. Having carried out the experiments, Graham is known to have given a number of the pieces to friends.”

Four examples sold

In the last 15 years, four examples have been offered at auction, Sincona said.

This piece (in the Sincona auction) was previously sold in 2006 by Spink, and has a provenance dated back to 1890 and the famed Hyman Montagu Collection.

A second example, sold in September 2010 in a Dix Noonan Webb auction, was once part of the King Farouk Collection.

Heritage Auctions sold a third example in its January 2018 auction, and the fourth in a January 2016 auction.

The Royal Mint Museum’s example of the pattern was donated by Sir William Pope, a chemist, after his death.

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