Queen of British Gold is a Star of The Millennia
by Greg Reynolds for CoinLink
On May 26, Memorial Day, the firm of Ira & Larry Goldberg will auction an amazing collection of world coins, the Millennia collection. It will be forever remembered for both depth and quality, though particularly the latter. All Continents are represented, and a large number of nations. The coins in this collection span periods from ancient times until the 20th century. One important highlight is a large English gold coin featuring Queen Anne, who ruled from 1702 to 1714.
This Queen Anne Five Guineas is dated 1703, and it is the only Five Guineas issue with the word “Vigo” below Queen Anne’s Bust. Along with the Triple Unite of Charles I, which was minted in 1643 and ‘44, the Queen Anne Five Guineas is the most famous of English gold coins, and the 1703 date is a Great Rarity.
The gold coins of Queen Anne were minted, between 1702 and 1714, in denominations of Five Guineas, Two Guineas, One Guinea and Half Guinea. A Guinea weighs more than eight grams, and a Five Guineas piece weighs more than forty-one grams, about 1.4 ounces, and is more than 37 mm in diameter, nearly an inch and a half! So, a Five Guineas coin is more than 20% heavier and around 10% wider than a typical U.S. Double Eagle ($20 gold coin).
Five Guineas coins were first minted in 1688 and last minted in 1753. The ‘Guineas’ term was unofficial, and came about because some of the gold used to produce such English coins literally came from Guinea, in West Africa. Originally, a Guinea was equivalent to twenty shillings or one Pound (£1). In the 1600s, at least for a while, the coins that are in retrospect referred to as “Five Guineas” coins were called “Five Pounds” coins by the people who spent them. Over time, though, a Guinea came to be worth twenty-one shillings and thus more than a Pound, because the relative price of gold bullion in silver shillings changed. By the 1700s, a Five Guineas gold coin was worth 105 shillings, which was the same as five Pounds and five shillings.
Queen Anne Five Guineas are dated 1703, 1705, 1706, 1709, 1711, 1713 and 1714, when her reign ended. The 1705, 1711 and 1714 dates are all extremely rare, though not nearly as rare as the 1703. The 1703, 1705 and first major variety of 1706s are of a type different from those that were minted later. In 1706, the reverse (back) design of the Guineas was changed to indicate the union of England and Scotland. So, two 1706 coins, with different reverses, are needed to complete a set of Five Guineas gold pieces. Only those dated 1703, however, feature the word ‘Vigo’ and this has a great deal of historical significance.
In 1702, the English and the Dutch teamed against the Spanish and the French. The imperialist quests of French King Louis IV, and Spanish expansion in the Western Hemisphere, were pertinent factors. In a major naval victory for the British and the Dutch, the Spanish port city of Vigo was invaded and a substantial number of Spanish ships carrying gold and silver were captured in Vigo Bay.
Queen Anne issued a directive that the seized gold and silver be used for English coins. The Director of the London Mint was one of the great scientists of all time, Sir Isaac Newton, who personally attended to the delivery of the gold and silver that was seized from the Spanish. A large quantity of silver and less than eight pounds of gold were delivered. The battle at Vigo bay, however, was a major blow to both the Spanish and the French. The Royal Navy (of England and later the UK) was to be the leading force on the high seas for centuries, until World War II when the United States became the number one naval power in the world.
Most of the English coins that feature the name ‘Vigo’ were minted in silver. Most of the ‘Vigo’ gold coins were Half Guineas and One Guinea coins. Only a small number of Five Guineas coins were minted in 1703, and all 1703 Five Guineas coins feature the VIGO name.
The Eliasberg collection of world gold coins had a Queen Anne Five Guineas coin, but not one of the 1703 Vigo dates. The Eliasberg piece was dated 1706 and is graded AU-55 by the Numismatic Guaranty Corp. (NGC). It realized $18,400 at the ANR auction of the Eliasberg World Gold Coin Collection in New York City in April 2005.
Like the Eliasberg Five Guineas piece, the Eliasberg Two Guineas and One Guinea coins are NGC graded AU-55. The Eliasberg Two Guineas piece is dated 1711 and it sold for $4600; the One Guinea is dated 1712 and brought $2760.
In May 2006, the Goldbergs auctioned a 1706 Queen Anne Five Guineas, which is NGC graded AU-58, for a reported $20,700. In the same 2006 auction, a 1710 Half Guinea, NGC graded MS-62, went for $4887.50. These are much less rare than a 1703 Five Guineas coin.
In 1992, an expert at the firm of Glendining estimated that fewer than twenty 1703 Five Guineas coins exist. In March 2007, the staff at Spink declared that only six have been “offered at auction in Britain” during “the past forty-five years.” British cataloguers tend to imply that a few are held in museums or other institutions, though I never saw a detailed list of such institutional holdings of Queen Anne 1703 Five Guineas coins. In any case, I am not aware of evidence that more than a dozen exist, though I have only briefly researched this issue.
As it is extremely difficult to reconcile coin descriptions in Britain with U.S. grading criteria and standards, I will not hypothesize about condition rankings for 1702 Five Guineas coins. The Spink cataloguer described the one that was auctioned in March 2007 as having been “brushed” and as being characterized by “some tooling, particularly across neck following line of the drapery; otherwise nearly extremely fine.” Maybe in American terms, this piece would qualify for an NCS holder with an “EF Details” designation or would be ‘net graded’ as VF-20? Coins minted in 1703 are given more latitude, in terms of technical problems, than coins minted in 1903. Besides, it may be an attractive, well-struck coin. It realized £82,000 in March 2007, an amount which is now nearly $160,000.
The Vigo Five Guineas that Spink auctioned in May 2005, from the Samuel King collection, is clearly of higher quality than the piece Spink sold in March 2007. From the description, and assuming there are no undisclosed problems, it sounds like the coin could grade anywhere from EF-45 to MS-61. It seems likely, though, that the Samuel King coin and the Millennia coin are not the exact same piece.
The Goldbergs cataloguer states that the Millennia Vigo Five Guineas is from the J. G. Murdoch collection, which was auctioned 1903 and ‘04. It is one of the all-time greatest collections of English coins, and it is discussed, in relation to Five Guineas coins, in the auction catalogue of the Samuel King collection. It is almost certain that, if the Queen Anne 1703 Vigo Five Guineas in the Samuel King collection could be traced to the Murdoch collection, the cataloguers at Spink would have clearly so stated.
The Millennia collection Queen Anne Vigo Five Guineas is NGC certified ‘MS-61 Prooflike.’ I have not yet seen it. The cataloguer for the Goldbergs states that it “is reputedly the finest.” This claim is very plausible; the descriptions of others give the impression that these have wear and/or were significantly mistreated.
Oddly, the Goldbergs cataloguer declares that “Most numismatists believe the 1703 VIGO Five Guineas to be the rarest of all English gold coins.” Although I am not sure as to the beliefs of most collectors, there are a few English gold coins that are rarer than the 1703 Vigo Five Guineas. One of them brought the highest auction price.
The auction record for an English coin is £460,000, which, as of this writing, is almost $900,000! This amount was paid for a florin of 1344, known as the “Double Leopard” of Edward III, though it is a lion that is depicted.
This Double Leopard was auctioned by the firm of Spink in June 2006. The cataloguer states that only three are known to exist, and this is the only privately owned Double Leopard of the three. Furthermore, the Spink cataloguer points out that the “single Leopard” (Edward III half florin) and Half Leopard (“Helm”) are “equally rare.” The Spink cataloguer adds that only four Leopards are known, just one of which is privately owned.
Some gold issues from the Anglo-Saxon era, if they are true coins, may be the rarest English gold coins. It could be argued that the Queen Anne Vigo Five Guineas is the rarest English gold coin that was machine-struck, but that may not be true either. Perhaps it should be said that it is the most famous and historically important of all English gold coins?
The Samuel King collection Vigo Five Guineas realized £130,000 in May 2005, currently equivalent to more than $250,000. The Millennia collection Vigo Five Guineas may be of much higher quality than that one. Besides, markets for world coins are much stronger in 2008.
©2008 Greg Reynolds
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About the Author
Greg Reynolds is a numismatic writer, researcher and analyst. Greg has examined almost all of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest type coins and patterns, He has extensively researched the pedigrees of important numismatic properties, and he has written about and analyzed numerous auctions, private sales and collections.
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