World Coins

Second known 1945 silver threepence is discovered

This 1945 silver threepence was authenticated and graded Mint State 63 by the third-party grading service Numismatic Guaranty Corp. The coin, depicting King George VI, is scheduled to be auctioned in March 2020. It has an estimate of £15,000 to £25,000 ($19,812 to $33,019).

The second known example of the “rarest British circulating coin in 200 years” is now certified as genuine by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation.

The tiny silver coin was found in an ordinary Whitman folder, the type of cardboard booklet that young coin enthusiasts have filled with coin collections since the 1930s.

After being removed from the Whitman folder, the coin was placed in a plastic envelope, or flip, and brought to Baldwin’s of St. James’s, managing director Stephen Fenton said.

Humble source of rarity

The coin caused an immediate sensation at the firm.

“It was a coin I’d looked for for 50 years,” Fenton said. “I regard this as the rarest British circulating coin for 200 years. 

“You see lots of rare coins, but this is something I’ve always hoped to see someday. It’s amazing proof that the rarest coins can emerge from the most humble of places.”

Though the Nazis showered London with V-2 rockets in 1945, it was a more mundane reason that led to the extreme rarity of the 1945 silver threepence.

The silver threepence had become unpopular because it was very small — a diameter of 16 millimeters (six-tenths of an inch) and a weight of 1.4 grams. 

A bigger, heavier, 12-sided nickel-brass threepence had been introduced in 1937 and was being minted every year.

The King George VI silver threepence was minted from 1937 to 1945, with a peak production of almost 8 million coins annually in 1940 and in 1941. But the wartime issues of 1942 to 1945 were all shipped to the British West Indies. 

The output of 1945, the coin’s final year, a mintage of 371,000 pieces, was apparently deemed redundant because of public acceptance of the nickel-brass version and was ordered to be melted down, its silver to be used in other mint products.

Most were melted

Every 1945 silver threepence was supposed to have been reduced to ingots, their inscriptions and profile of the king on the obverse and a St. George’s cross over a Tudor rose on the reverse destroyed. 

But at least two coins escaped the crucible, and more of them might be sitting in jars or Whitman folders, waiting to be recognized for the rarities they are.

One survivor came up for auction in April 1970 at a Glendining & Co. of London sale. 

Its condition was described in the catalog as About Very Fine, and it realized £260 (about £4,000, or $5,283 U.S. in today’s money). Its buyer is unknown, and the coin has not resurfaced publicly since.

According to NGC, that first-known example is thought to grade Very Fine 20 to VF-35. 
The newly found coin was certified by NGC and graded Mint State 63. 

“I had no doubt that this coin was genuine,” Fenton said. “But NGC certification will ensure that everyone has the same confidence.” 

The new example is being offered at a Baldwin’s of St. James’s auction scheduled for March 2020, with an estimate of £15,000 to £25,000 ($19,812 to $33,019 U.S.), Fenton said.

How did it survive?

The owners, who Fenton declines to name, said they received the Whitman folder containing the coin from a relative who worked at the Royal Mint.

Though Whitman no longer makes folders for British coins, older examples (often with coins intact) can still be found.

Connect with Coin World:  

Sign up for our free eNewsletter
Access our Dealer Directory  
Like us on Facebook  
Follow us on Twitter

Community Comments