Wrapping up our look at the most expensive coins from Merry Old England, here’s a look at the top five, based on sales tracked in a 2015 article on JustCollecting.com, plus a little research of our own.
The 1642 Charles I Pattern Triple Unite - $407,362, A. H. Baldwin & Sons, 2006
This one-of-a-kind three-pound gold pattern coin is called Triple Unite because of the inscription "The religion of the Protestants, the laws of England and the liberty of Parliament,” a three-part plea for unity and peace during the English Civil War (1642-1651). It shows Charles I with both a sword and an olive branch, symbolizing his desire for peace, but readiness to fight to protect his crown.
Unfortunately for Charles, his side lost, and he was beheaded in 1649.
The 1703 Queen Anne “Vigo” Five Guinea - $498,991 at auction, 2012
England was sailing and fighting around the world in 1703, but it was expensive. Fortunately, the British Navy captured some Spanish galleons in the battle of Vigo Bay, and the cash-strapped Royal Mint used the gold they confiscated to make the Vigo commemorative coin from it. Fewer than 25 examples of this coin, considered one of the most exotic of British coins, are known to exist today.
So what’s a “guinea,” you may wonder. First, it refers to the source of the gold (Guinea) and was issued between 1663 and 1813. Before decimalization in 1971, the British pound was divided into 20 shillings. For some obscure reason, the guinea had a value of 21 shillings, or 1 pound, 1 shilling. Now you know.
The 1663 Charles II “Reddite” Silver Crown - $667,209, Spink & Son auction, 2014
Thomas Simon was nothing if not persistent. When his 1663 “Petition Crown” design (No. 7 on our list) was late to the party, Charles II, a fan of the coin, had it put into circulation later in the year. It takes its name from the inscription "Reddite quae Caesaris Caesari &ct" or "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's etcetera." Sort of sounds like the 17th century equivalent of “yada-yada,” doesn’t it? Otherwise, the design is the same as that submitted for the Petition Crown. Numismatists acclaim it as a masterpiece, and it holds the honor of the most expensive British silver coin ever sold at auction.
By now you want to know what a “crown” is, of course. Historically, it was a 5-shilling coin or a quarter pound (fries not included). The coin was originally gold until 1551. After decimalization, it became a 25-pence coin.
The 1344 Edward III “Double Leopard” Gold Florin - $850,000 at auction, 2006, resold in 2016, price undisclosed
Edward III wanted a gold English coin that would be universally accepted across Europe. The 108-grain Double Florin, known as a Double Leopard, so called because of its reverse design, was the largest of three denominations that included the Leopard and Half Leopard. They were denominated in florins to mimic the name of French coins. The Double had a value of six shillings. The coins were struck between January and July of 1344, when they were replaced by the gold noble and officially demonetized after merchants refused to accept the underweight Leopards. Only a few were made and were thought to be lost to time until two were found by schoolchildren in the Tyne River in 1857 and eventually delivered to the British Museum, where they remain.
The third example was unearthed by a metal detector in southern England in 2006 and sold at auction that same year at the highest price ever paid for a British coin. Since then, it has been resold for an undisclosed price, presumptively making it the most valuable of all British coins if the price ever becomes known.
The 1937 Edward VIII Gold Sovereign Proof - $874.587, A. H. Baldwin & Sons auction, 2014
The top spot is held (at least temporarily) by this never-issued commemorative coin. Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David Windsor (Eddie to his friends) was crowned King Edward VIII of England upon the death of his father, King George V in 1936. But bachelor Eddie was a notorious womanizer and was swept off his feet by his mistress, the twice-divorced American socialite Bessie Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson. The royal family and government disapproved, so in December 1936, less than a year after his coronation, Edward abdicated his throne “to marry the woman I love” and create one of the most misunderstood love stories of all time.
It also left the Royal Mint with a never-filled order and only two known proof coins, one of which set the record public price for a British coin struck inside the United Kingdom.
British or U.S. Coins?
In case you’re wondering, British coins don’t bring nearly as much as U.S. coins. According to Wikipedia, the most expensive coin in the world is a U.S. 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar, sold in 2013 for $10,016,875 by Stack’s Bowers Galleries, and American coins hold 8 of the 10 top places. That same list has the Edward III Florin (our #2) at No. 21, but with a value of only $680,000. So do your homework before plunking down a million or ten.