Henry VII fine gold Sovereign - A true numismatic rarity

Henry VII fine gold Sovereign - A true numismatic rarity

A True Numismatic Rarity of King Henry VII

The Earliest Example of a fine Gold Sovereign that can be Privately Owned

A provenance that dates back to at least 1872

An Artistic Portrait of the King from life pre-dating the earliest surviving contemporary portrait painting



Henry VII (1485-1509), fine gold Sovereign of Twenty Shillings, type two (1492-93), crowned King seated in robes on wooden throne, holding orb and sceptre, diapered background of fleur de lis beyond, beaded circles and legend surrounding, cross on top of crown intrudes legend at top, hEnRICVSx DIx GRACIAx REXx AnGLIEx ETx FRAnCx DnS Ix BAR', saltire stops with chevron barred As in Gothic lettering, reverse, quartered shield of arms upon Tudor rose, linear and beaded tressures of ten arcs surrounding, trefoils in cusps, alternate lion and lis in each spandrel, beaded circles and legend surrounding, mint mark cross fitchee at top (issued circa November 1492 to circa Spring 1493), legend reads †IhC AVTEm:.:. TRAnSCIEnS:. PER:. mEDIVm:.:. ILLORVm:.:. IBAT nE, weight 15.23g, diameter approx. 41mm, die axis approx. 280 degrees (Grierson class B, page 120, no.2 this coin; Schneider 548; PW I pl.X no.1 same dies; S.C.B.I. 23:-; BM E.4841; N.1689 and footnote 61; S.2173). With a nice golden yellow tone, has been assessed and straight graded by N.G.C. as AU50, of the highest rarity with no earlier Sovereign available to a collector to own, and dating from the year Christopher Columbus discovered America, a true piece of miniature portrait artistry which pre-dates the surviving portrait painting in London's National Portrait Gallery, therefore of the utmost artistic significance.                 £950,000


Numismatic Guaranty Corporation certification 5749183-001 - the only example graded.


The legends on this coin translate as on the obverse "Henry by the grace of God, King of England and France, Lord of Ireland," and on the reverse as "But Jesus, passing through the midst of them, went His way" a Psalm from the Bible [Luke 4:30].



Ex Edward Wright Wigan (died 1871), collection purchased by dealer Rollin and Feuardent 1872.

Ex Sir John Evans, English collection purchased en bloc by J. P. Morgan of USA, 1908.

Ex John Pierpont Morgan (died 1913), portion sold by his son post-mortem to R. C. Lockett, 1915.

Ex Richard Cyril Lockett, English part two, Glendining, 11-17th October 1956, lot 1667, sold for £1,400 hammer price.

Ex R. Duncan Beresford-Jones Collection, Spink Coin Auction 29, 2nd June 1983, lot 22, featured on front and back cover, most valuable coin in the auction, sold for £37,800 including 5% premium.

Ex Thos. H Law, Stacks Bowers, Worlds Fair of Money auction, Chicago, 13th August 2013, lot 20047, featured on front cover, most valuable coin in the auction, selling for $499,375 including premium.


This is the earliest example of a gold Sovereign that can be privately owned by a collector dating to the second type issued from late 1492.


There are only two examples of this coin existing in private ownership, the other is illustrated and published in the multi-generational Schneider Collection where it has been admired for over 70 years (provenance Ex V J E Ryan 28th June 1950 lot 104 and previously British Museum Duplicates). This coin would appear to be a fuller and slightly more sharply struck example than the Schneider piece and has a longer confirmed provenance trail dating back to at least 1872.



The circumstances for the issue of the earliest gold Sovereigns


Henry Tudor, born 28th January 1457, having won the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22nd August 1485, became the first Tudor King of England, aged 28. He married Elizabeth of York the following year, a marriage that produced eight children, and went on to become a very successful monarch on account of his accumulation of wealth rebuilding the fortunes of the Kingdom. This included the coinage which underwent a reformation in 1489, introducing a new gold coin denomination, the largest yet struck, as the fine gold Sovereign, the survival rates of which to this day are absolutely minimal. This first emission, and this subsequent issue of 1492 we have herewith, are the earliest lifelike artful portraits in miniature on gold coinage of the reigning monarch.


The first Fine Gold Sovereign


Having been influenced by one of the largest early gold coins in Europe, the Real D'Or of 1487 – struck to a similar weight in the Netherlands by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian, the first step for an English Sovereign or "Double Ryal" was the mandate of 28th March 1489 to the warden William Stafford, for the production of dies of the "Sovereign" type for both gold and silver coins.


The subsequent order specifically for the gold Sovereign was given in a commission to the joint master-workers Sir Giles Daubeney and Bartholomew Reed dated 28th October 1489, which provided for the gold coins to be issued at Twenty Shillings, at a weight of 240 grains (15.552g) with fineness at 23 ct 3 ½ gr. (0.995 fine). The commission also specified that two gold Sovereigns should be struck from every pound weight of gold struck, or £2 of Sovereigns for every £22/10/- of gold face value struck; there was however no instruction as to the mint charges.


This was an extraordinary time at the Mint as the master-workers had been granted a special allowance on the 1st March 1489, to receive five shillings for every pound of gold, and sixpence for every pound of silver struck; and the warden had been excused from providing accounts of output for five years from Michaelmas (29th September) 1489 to Michaelmas 1494, meaning alas that no output figures for the gold denominations are known from this progressive time for coinage, when much change was being implemented and this gold Sovereign herewith would have been minted.


As a coin the gold Sovereign introduced to England the concept of a tangible heavy gold type of denomination, as used on the continent embodying the Tudor claim to empire. The portraiture is life-like and realistic, trying to truly depict the monarch from life with his prominent nose and facial expression, and most significantly, pre-dates surviving portrait paintings of King Henry VII, as the earliest in the National Portrait Gallery London dates from a sitting of 29th October 1505.


The first type of the fine gold Sovereign issued in late 1489 has Henry VII depicted with an imperial crown with closed arches hooping over the head; jewelled and surmounted by a cross, which was adopted upon his coinage from then onwards. The crown is also displayed prominently on the reverse over the quartered shield upon the Tudor rose.


Seemingly a conscious decision connecting the Tudor regalia of a King with his claims to dominion, the symbolism was evidently cemented in place by the time of the subsequent reign of his son Henry VIII, as demonstrated in the contemporary thinking and writing of diplomat and Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall, when the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian was considering resigning in favour of Henry VIII. Tunstall remarked in a surviving letter that he wrote to Henry VIII, "But the crown of England is an Empire of itself, much better than now the Empire of Rome: for which cause your Grace weareth a close crown", clearly showing the connection between imperial status and the closed arch crown the English Kings wore which was also depicted on coinage.


The fine gold Sovereign coinage of Henry VII used its own set of mint marks and elaborate lettering fonts and therefore separated from the smaller gold and silver coins. Of the very first type of gold Sovereign, with the mint mark of cinquefoil (28th October 1489 - circa November 1492), only one example survives, currently housed in the national collection in the British Museum; not in the best of condition with cracks at centre, an illustration of this unique coin appears on the front dust jacket of the book "Royal Sovereign 1489-1989" edited by Graham Dyer (then Curator of the Royal Mint). This first issue was possibly released for distribution to coincide with the infant Prince Arthur, eldest son of Henry VII, having been installed as Prince of Wales on 30th November 1489 aged 3; modern numismatists and historical researchers agree this is the earliest sovereign of all.


Second Design Type Fine Gold Sovereign


The second type of gold Sovereign issued is that as catalogued herewith, with the cross fitchee mint mark used only on the gold Sovereign and its new half denomination the Ryal, issued circa November 1492 until the Spring of 1493. This second type is the earliest gold sovereign currently possible for a collector to privately own, once theorised to have been released for distribution and to be concurrent with the Siege of Boulogne, where Henry VII led 12,000 troops to Calais from October 18th, 1492. However, it is more likely to have coincided with the subsequent Peace of Etaples signed and ratified on 3rd November 1492, where Henry withdrew his forces in return for substantial payment from France, which when consolidated amounted to some £150,000, to be paid at a rate of approximately 50,000 livres a year. All of this golden influx would have to be converted to English gold coins on receipt, no doubt resulting in the minting of coins like the fine Sovereigns and Ryals which prominently featured the fleur de lis, the badge of the Kings of France, in the diapered background of the obverse, as well as small lis alternating in the spandrels of the reverse tressure with the English lion. The contemporary Ryal struck for the first time as a new "half" denomination with the same mint mark went further in having a French shield of three fleur de lis upon the English rose on the reverse, perhaps further emphasising this agreement of peace with France.


Today there are only four surviving examples of the type two Sovereign – one in the British Museum, one in the Hunterian Museum, one aforementioned as part of the Schneider Collection, and this coin herewith.


Third Design Type


Three more designs of gold Sovereign follow in three later issues of this reign – all of varying mint marks and all of which survive in larger numbers. The third type of Sovereign with the King depicted more proportionally on a larger throne with mint mark dragon both sides is issued from circa Spring 1493 until circa Autumn 1495, of which 18-22 examples are thought to survive.


Fourth Design Type


The fourth type shows a slightly smaller King on a throne with a wider seat and more elaborate throne back extending towards the top of the coin. Issued with a small lis mint mark on obverse, and mint mark dragon on the reverse, it is known to date between Michaelmas 1502-Spring 1504. This is the most commonly encountered fine Sovereign of Henry VII with at least 20 examples in existence, perhaps as many as 25.


Fifth Design Type


The final design for the reign has a slightly taller depiction of the King on a closer fitting throne with front pillars immediately either side, with a portcullis shown below. These coins also have a small lis mint mark on the obverse coupled with a mint mark cross crosslet on reverse, which dates from Spring 1504 until as late as 20th November 1505 – of which certainly 10, probably a few more, survive until today. The final issue of the reign of this design type has the same obverse with mint mark pheon displayed on the reverse, and dates from presumably 20th November 1505 until April of 1509 with certainly 6 (and up to 10) survivors today. There are also some piedfort issues known of these last two mint mark combinations which were probably diplomatic presents at the time; double and treble weight pieces are known to survive in the British Museum Collection. This design also continues into the first issued coinage of King Henry VIII with only changes to the relevant mint marks.


Later History of the Sovereign


The gold Sovereign as a denomination was a success, and continued to be issued on demand through the Tudor reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, Elizabeth I, and the Stuart King James I. The face value fluctuated in subsequent decades and did rise as high as Thirty Shillings; this had retracted to Twenty Shillings and a lighter weight by the time of the commencement of James I’s reign. It had proven so popular as a gold coin in trade that James upon issue of his second coinage changed the name and fineness of his Twenty Shilling gold piece to the "Unite" at 22 carats to symbolise bringing together the Kingdoms of Scotland and England for the first time, as he was also King James VI of Scotland. At this same juncture a magnificent Thirty Shilling fine gold piece of the same physical stature of the earlier fine Sovereigns but now named a "Rose Ryal" was issued. Twenty Shilling pieces, as "crown" gold 22-carat Unites, continued to be struck through the following reign of King Charles I, the Commonwealth period and into the Restoration of King Charles II. The advent of machine-made milled coins in the reign of Charles II dating from 1662-63, marks the point of transition from which Twenty Shilling pieces became the smaller 22-carat gold "Guinea" coin as it was colloquially termed, and which was fixed eventually at its 21 Shilling face value from 1717 onward, by the then warden and master Sir Isaac Newton, the first to officially name it in Royal Mint documentation as a Guinea.


The Sovereign name was finally brought back into use with the more modern recoinage that replaced the Guinea coinage, which began in 1816 utilising the then new steam-powered industrial presses at the Mint. The 22-carat gold Sovereign and Half-Sovereign first appeared in their modern incarnation dated 1817, from which point it gradually became the most recognised and widespread gold trade coin ever produced, continuing to be struck until the present day, all harking back to the earliest days of its fine gold introduction during the reign of King Henry VII (1485-1509).


The ownership history of this coin:


There are six named collections in which the coin catalogued herewith has been transacted with certainty, over nearly 150 years of private ownership:


The first certain transaction on record for this Henry VII Sovereign was the sale of the collection of Edward Wright Wigan to the dealers Rollin and Feuardent, in 1872. The English element of the Wigan cabinet was commenced some decades before by Edward's uncle John Alfred Wigan (b.1787), a hop merchant from East Malling, Kent; he had bought English coins emanating from such famed collectors as the Duke of Devonshire, Earl of Pembroke and Thomas Thomas collections in the early 19th century.


We note Mr. Thomas' collection sold at Sotheby’s from 23rd February 1844 contained an example of one of these Sovereigns (lot 211), sold to the dealer Cureton for £15, and it could even be the same coin. Due to lack of line drawing or illustration it is impossible to connect to Wigan for sure, however. The Thomas Thomas coin was in turn provenanced in this sale back to Thomas Dimsdale, though his Sotheby’s auction from 6th July 1824 did not contain an example of this rare Sovereign, so it may well have been privately transacted to Mr. Thomas at an earlier date.


What we do know is that Edward Wigan, a member of the Numismatic Society of London since 1856, died in 1871 and the French-nationality dealers Rollin and Feuardent purchased the collection through their London office at 27 Haymarket in 1872, managed by Gaston Feuardent (1841-94), who later moved to New York in 1876.


The coin soon after found its way into the collection of Sir John Evans (1823-1908), archaeologist and numismatist, who came from a paper-manufacturing background at Nash Mills in Hemel Hempstead. One of the leading lights of the Numismatic Society of London, which he had joined in 1849, he served on council (1850-54), as honorary secretary (1854-74), and as joint editor for their publication the Numismatic Chronicle (1861-1908). A trustee from 1872 onward, he became President in 1874, a role he held until his death in 1908; the longest serving President in its history, overseeing the society obtain Royal patronage to become what is today the Royal Numismatic Society. Additionally, he was author of over one hundred essays on coinage in the Numismatic Chronicle. His collections were large and varied, containing many great numismatic rarities in the English series including the unique type I Henry VII Sovereign now in the British Museum, then owned alongside the type 2 coin offered herewith. An auction sale of his principal English coins was intended after his death in 1908 with plates with this coin featured printed, but the sale was cancelled as Spink and Son Ltd arranged for the American banker J. P. Morgan to buy the whole collection en bloc. Sir John was also the Father of Sir Arthur Evans, the eminent archaeologist, who famously excavated the Palace of Knossos on Crete.


John Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913), the eminent financier and banker of New York, USA, was the next owner of this coin, no doubt keeping the Evans collection purchased en bloc at his London home at 14 Princes Gate, Kensington Gore, London, which today has a blue plaque affixed commemorating his ownership from 1858-1913. In a career of multiple achievements, the year before he purchased the Evans collection, he had organised a coalition of financiers to save the American economy from collapse in the "Panic of 1907". After five years of ownership J. P. Morgan passed away in his sleep in Rome on 31st March 1913, whereupon his son "Jack" Morgan was left to sort out the estate and it was not until 1915 that the coin collection was dispersed. The British Museum had first choice of what it required for the National Collection including the type I Sovereign, with the majority of the subsequent coins left available being traded to the collector R. C. Lockett.


Richard Cyril Lockett (1873-1950) was the Chairman of the family company William and John Lockett Ltd., shipowners of Liverpool. He moved to London in 1922 to Cadogan Place whilst forming what was and still is one of the largest collections of British coins, as well as superb ancient coins, principally of the Greek series. He had joined the British Numismatic Society in 1905 when he commenced collecting coins, and after moving to London served on Council and as Vice-President a number of times. He bought English coins regularly at auction sales from 1909 onwards, with the ancients starting from 1920, as well as Continental. He first sold a milled collection of English in 1927, though by the time of his death his collection was of such magnitude and stature that it took seven years of auctions sales to disperse the whole gamut; the English was sold in five tranches, the Scottish in two, and the Ancient Greek in four, with separate parts for Roman with Byzantine, and the Continental. The type II Henry VII gold Sovereign was sold in part two of the English coins and fetched £1,400 in 1956 which was an enormously valuable sum at the time.


The coin next appeared for auction some 27 years later in 1983, in the hammered gold coin collection of Richard Duncan Beresford-Jones (1903-2000), an accountant from Essex, who formed important collections of Anglo-Gallic and English gold coins as well as a collection of Halfcrowns of Charles I. The stand-alone sale of hammered English gold dating from 1422-1662 occurred in Mr Beresford-Jones 80th year in 1983, consisting of only 138 lots, of which this type 2 Henry VII gold Sovereign was the most valuable coin in the sale, selling at £36,000 hammer, bought by the American collector Thomas H. Law of Texas.


Thomas H. Law was a keen member of the American Numismatic Association and would often exhibit his collection of English gold coins at the Summer World's Fairs of Money, held in varying locations around the USA by the Association over the years. His aim was unusually to try and collect two examples of every coin where possible, so that when on physical exhibit an obverse and reverse could be shown side by side together. Very rare coins like the Henry VII Sovereign were of course only available singly and such a coin was one of the early key pieces in the collection; even still today a virtual presentation of highlights in the collection is viewable online at the money.org website. After Mr Law passed away, his collection came up for sale appropriately in conjunction with a World’s Fair of Money event in Chicago in 2013, where it was bought by a private owner for nearly $500,000 who kept the coin State-side and had the piece assessed by N.G.C. who straight graded it as AU50 (Almost Uncirculated 50). The graded coin with a Royal Mint label featured most recently in a US auction and has now been repatriated to the UK for sale.




The rarity and importance of such a coin speaks volumes from all that is discussed above. One of the rarest fine gold Sovereigns, it is most poignant that this coin is the earliest gold sovereign a collector can currently own. The fact only a maximum of two are available to collectors immediately draws comparison with one of the most modern and striking rarities in the modern British gold series – the elusive and record-breaking King Edward VIII proof gold Five Sovereign piece dated 1937, of which (again) only two examples are available to collectors out of six survivors. With one privately held Edward VIII housed in a proof set in the Tyrant Collection in California, the other single piece is currently worth north of £2 million having sold in auction in 2021 for just over this figure. The Henry VII type 2 fine gold Sovereign is also one of two that can possibly be owned (one of those is closeted in a multi-generational collection for the last 70 years and still being actively added to for future generations) and only four examples survive in total, however it is not priced anywhere near that of the much more modern and valuable 1937 Edward VII Proof Five Sovereign piece of record-breaking reputation. This Henry VII fine gold Sovereign will also cost less than the price of the finest NGC graded Victoria Una and the Lion Five Sovereign of 1839 which recently sold for over £1.3 million. We hope that art aficionados and serious coin connoisseurs will be pleasantly surprised by how much less this masterpiece of early numismatic history will cost than these more modern headline-making pieces.




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