Edward VIII sovereign pattern tops $3M, sets new record for British coin at auction

All realizations include buyer’s premium.

A rare Edward VIII £5 sovereign pattern has set a new record for the most expensive British coin sold at auction.

Certified as Proof-67 “Ultra Cameo” by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. (NGC), the coin realized €2.11 million (about $3 million Cdn.) as the top-selling lot in MDC Monaco’s latest numismatic auction, where it crossed the block as Lot 1050. It’s one of only two known privately owned examples; however, other specimens are held by the Royal Collection, the Royal Mint Museum and the British Museum.

“I am proud that once again a coin certified by NGC has achieved a new world record,” said Ben Wengel, the Florida-based firm’s senior grading finalizer for world coin.

The largest denomination from the fabled 1937 “abdication set,” the £5 sovereign pattern is one of four trial strikes planned by the Royal Mint a year earlier, when Edward ascended the throne. While £2 and £1 patterns were also struck, the planned half-sovereign denomination was never minted.

Traditionally, each monarch faces the opposite way to his or her predecessor whenever new currency is produced; however, King Edward VIII insisted on facing the same way as his father, King George V, because he preferred his left profile. Photo by the Royal Mint.

Edward VIII ascended the throne to start his reign as king soon after the death of his father George V. A non-traditionalist, Edward frequently broke customs, the most glaring of which caused a constitutional crisis and an eventual abdication. On Dec. 11, 1936, he abdicated the throne after a reign of only 326 days to marry U.S. divorcee Wallis Warfield Simpson, who he called “the woman I love.” The only British sovereign to voluntarily resign the crown, Edward then became the Duke of Windsor until his 1972 death.

Royal Mint reports from 1935-36 suggest more than 200 dies for coins, medals and seals were produced before Edward’s abdication, but most of this material was destroyed by the mint. The production of the 1937 sovereign set was cancelled, and no coins bearing his portrait entered circulation in the United Kingdom; however, the mint kept some patterns in its archives.

The coins coins “were never meant to exist and were hidden from the public for decades,” according to Matt Curtis, of the Royal Mint Collector Services. For many years after their production, they were “locked away and not treated as part of the museum collection,” added Graham Dyer, the Royal Mint Museum’s senior research curator and author of the 1973 book, The Proposed Coinage of King Edward VIII.

The £5 sovereign offered this October previously realized a record price of $2.28 million US at a Heritage Auctions sale in March.

The only other privately owned example forms part of the Tyrant Collection’s proof set. The private U.S. collection, whose owner wishes to remain anonymous, includes every denomination issued by English monarchs since the early seventh century.

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