Starting Price: 75000 USD
Price realized: 120000 USD
Great Britain. Crown, 1551. S-2478; N-1933; Lingford dies E10; Dav-8245. Edward VI, 1547-1553. Third period. Fine-silver issue. Initial or mint mark Y. Obverse: King crowned wearing armor holding a sword over his shoulder and galloping right on a richly caparisoned horse, date 1551 below. Reverse: Long cross fourchée over royal shield. England's first dated silver crown, boldly and evenly struck, apparently multiple times, on a wonderful, broad flan, with choice surfaces featuring splendid old-cabinet toning. Believed to be the finest known example, with a fabulous provenance. NGC graded MS-63. WINGS. Estimate Value $75,000 - 100,000
Ex: Bartlett-Gerard (1787), Southgate-Tyssen (1802), Edmonds (1834), Durrant (1847), Sparkes (1880), Brice (1887, as "matchless in any collection"), Montagu (1896 (quote from the Montagu Sale, Second Portion, in brilliant condition, "This coin has been considered to be the finest specimen known."), Murdoch (1903), Lingford (1950), and Slaney (2003).
Growing up in the shadow of his famous father, Henry VIII, young Edward Tudor faced a daunting, uncertain future. He was the only male heir to the throne of England, the son of Henry's third wife, Jane Seymour, who herself died while giving birth to him in October 1537. His grandfather had founded the family dynasty. His boisterous father had split with the Church of Rome for the sole purpose of creating a son to take the throne, and in so doing had exploited and executed women who had not managed to produce a son, the next Tudor king. All eyes were upon him, and many were not admiring eyes. Of perilous intrigue at Court, Shakespeare would explain it succinctly, writing of Henry as King Lear thus: "Who loses and who wins; who's in, who's out; and take upon us the mystery of things, as if we were God's spies: and we'll wear out, in a walled prison." But the boy had been sickly most of his life, and was already worn out when he became king in 1547, at the age of nine. His rule of England was a guise. He was ruled by covetous counselors, and so was his kingdom.
The nobles who controlled him used their positions in order to weaken the Crown, and increase their own authorities. His uncle, the Earl of Hertford, got the king's Council to declare himself to be Protector of the Realm; he then declared himself to be the Duke of Somerset. He rewarded his treasonous comrades with estates and elevated titles. They had set the stage to take away the Crown. They wanted the boy-king dead, but little Edward, while pale and thin, was highly intelligent. Inflation was now wracking the kingdom, thanks to his father's ruinous spending. The Scots were difficult to handle. Religious squabbling was always a trap, and Somerset erred. Edward watched as his Council made poor decisions in war and at Court. By the fall of 1551, they fell from grace and were judged treasonous, a capital offense. In January 1552, Edward coolly recorded in his diary of the man who had tried to seize his kingdom: "Today the Duke of Somerset had his head cut off on Tower Hill."
The king's new advisor was John Dudley, Earl of Warwick. He aligned himself with the fiercely Protestant young king, who elevated his title to Duke of Northumberland. The age-old Catholic faith was gradually falling across the country. The new Council supported and wanted Edward to thrive, at least for a while. Nobody wanted his sister, Princess Mary, a Catholic, and next in line of succession, to become queen. When another noble's daughter, Lady Jane Grey, married Northumberland's available son in May 1553, the outlines of a plot became clear, but the plot would not hatch. It needed time. King Edward VI was now sixteen years old, and very ill with tuberculosis. Six weeks after, he died, leaving his kingdom to his sister Mary.
While Edward VI had insufficient time to make much of a mark upon history, his royal mint's officials were hard at work restoring the quality of the gold and silver money of the realm which had been left in such a debased state, of poor intrinsic worth, at the end of his father Henry's monarchy. During the third and last period of the coinage, commencing in 1550, confidence had been restored in the king's money. Previously, the largest silver coin had been the shilling, called a Testone in the mid-1540s. It was of such poor quality that it had acquired a nickname, as had its issuer, "Old Copper-nose," as it showed Henry VIII facing, and the silver easily wore off to expose the base metal beneath. Those coins perished within a decade, and by 1551 the silver content was of such high quality that a brand-new denomination was issued, for the first time ever in England, a silver Crown. It depicted an armored sovereign on an armored war horse, with the date 1551 boldly placed beneath the image of power. Its silver content was nearly four times the quality of the previous silver coins, and it was intended to be accepted as good, hard money both at home and in foreign trade. Judging by the worn appearance of most surviving examples, Edward's silver crowns succeeded in their intended purpose.
In the exquisite specimen presented in this lot, we see perhaps the finest possible image of this first silver crown. This large coin represented 5-shillings' worth of value; it offered a bold image of authority. This coin clearly never entered circulation. When it was last described for auction in the Slaney Collection sold in London on May 15, 2003, as Lot 20, the normally reticent British cataloguer opined that other well-preserved examples of 1551 crowns "do not exhibit the almost medallic quality of this specimen, which would have required several precise blows of the hammer to achieve," going on even to suggest that "it might be tempting to regard this coin as a proof striking" except that both obverse and reverse dies are normal currency dies. It was further called "a perfect specimen, deeply toned, beautifully struck and in exceptionally high relief, believed to be the finest known." So, somehow it was spared from commercial use, probably kept by a wealthy admirer of the Tudors, possibly by a friend of the ill-fated, young king. But was it an especially minted piece, meant to be saved for posterity? The Slaney sale cataloguer concluded that "It is probable that this example is a currency piece which has been struck with unusual care for presentation purposes." We have no historical document to support its presentation status, but the coin is a testament to its own importance.