World Coins

Specially ordered silver shilling stars in auction

A rare silver shilling of 1798, made for an order placed by bankers, highlights Sovereign Rarities’ Sept. 25 auction in London.

Images courtesy of Sovereign Rarities.

The early decades of the reign of King George III saw little activity at the Royal Mint, especially in the way of silver coinage.  

In 1798, bankers presented silver to the mint to be melted and coined into new shillings. After a kerfuffle, most of these newly struck coins were melted and fewer than a dozen survive today.

One survivor highlights Sovereign Rarities’ first auction in conjunction with the Royal Mint. The auction, scheduled for Sept. 25, precedes the Coinex show in London. 

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The coin is one of the so-called Dorrien Magens shilling, key coins in the series of shillings issued as currency (as opposed to collector issues). 

During the Napoleonic Wars, a shortage of silver slowed coinage output. The Mint, however, allowed bankers and others to supply their own silver, paying 62 shillings for each pound (by weight, not denomination) of resulting coinage. 

A brief dip in the market price of silver in January and February of 1798, to 60 shillings per pound, made selling silver for new coinage appear profitable, so a consortium of bankers decided to exercise their right, and they presented 9,895 pounds, by weight, of silver to the Mint, in batches, over the next few months, enough to produce more than 600,000 shillings. 

Representing the group was Magens Dorrien-Magens, a partner of the banking firm Dorrien-Magens, Mello, Martin and Harrison.

In May, the Committee on Coin at the Mint halted the production, and the issue of coins was effectively embargoed, with nearly half of the silver by weight unassayed.

Payment for the metal was a few months in the offing, but issuance of the coins was dead. 

Perhaps as many as 34,000 shillings had been struck, but within 12 months, most were melted into bars and sent to the Bank of England. A reported 285 or so escaped the melting pot, with “perhaps just over 20 examples now known, eight being institutionalised in museums,” the firm said.

The example in the auction exhibits “attractive even toning, [a] light short scratch on cheek with hairlines, otherwise practically as struck,” and is graded Good Extremely Fine by the auction firm. It has an estimate of £15,000 to £20,000 ($19,287 to $25,716 U.S.). 

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