Auction preview: ‘First English gold coin’ to be offered at NYINC

Circa 1257 Henry III (1216-1272) gold penny of 20 pence expected to bring upwards of $500k USD

What’s being called the “first English gold coin” will be offered by Heritage Auctions at the New York International Numismatic Convention (NYINC) Auction early next month, when it’s expected to hammer down for upwards of $500,000 USD (about $631,870 Cdn.).

One of only a handful of known examples of the type and believed to be unique in this die pairing, this example will be offered as Lot 32241 of the Jan. 7-8 World Coins Signature Auction. The Henry III (1216-1272) gold penny of 20 pence belongs to the Penn Collection and is graded Mint State-63 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. It has a weight of 2.95 grams.

The coin was struck by the London mint with Willem (likely William of Gloucester, the King’s goldsmith) as moneyer. The obverse inscription reads “hЄNRIC’ | RЄX : I-I-I :” and depicts a bearded and crowned king, enthroned, with a scepter in his right hand and an orb in his left. The reverse reads “WILL | ЄM : O | N LVn | DЄN” and depicts a long cross with a rose and three pellets in each angle.

Described by auctioneers as “beautifully struck and wholly original, this spectacular piece exhibits stunning cabinet tone over lustrous surfaces leading out to traces of upset rims. The centering is careful and the flan, although not overly broad, is near fully round and bears no cracks or obvious flaws. Of great rarity, we have been able to locate only seven pieces remaining of this issue, three of which are in private collections. The remaining four are housed in museum collections: three in the British Museum and one in the Fitzwilliam Museum.”

The reverse (shown above) depicts a long cross with a rose and three pellets in each angle.



First described and cataloged by British numismatists of the 18th century, the gold pennies of Henry III belong to a period in Medieval numismatics in which gold was beginning to trickle back into European commerce after a dearth of nearly 500 years.

According to auctioneers, Islamic and Byzantine gold coins were reasonably common—particularly to the landed gentry and royalty—but the 12th and 13th centuries saw a “massive influx” of gold into Europe.

The first successful European gold issue to trade throughout the continent in the High Middle Ages was the Florentine Florin, which was first issued in 1252 and struck essentially unchanged in weight or purity until the mid-16th century.

“A flurry of imitations followed and, not to be outdone, King Henry III ordered the creation of a gold coin for his kingdom to be struck at twice the weight of a silver Penny and valued at 20 Pence. Although it was minted in at least a modest quantity as four die-pairings have been cataloged, the issue was ultimately unsuccessful and most of the coins were clearly melted down,” reads the auction catalogue.

“Treasury records in the decade or so following the issue of these gold Pennies mention purchases or deposits, the last record in 1270 noting that a single piece was purchased for two Shillings denoting a rise in the value of this coin to 24 Pence.”

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