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Baldwin's of St. James's
Auction 10  22 Sep 2017
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Lot 3084

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Estimate: 150 000 GBP
Price realized: 340 000 GBP

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G British Coins and Medals, Victoria, proof five pounds, 1839, 'Una and the lion', lettered edge, young head l., 9 leaves to rear fillet, rev. crowned figure of the queen as Una, wearing a long flowing gown, standing. to l. holding orb and sceptre, guiding a lion behind her, date in Roman numerals below, DIRIGE legend translating as 'May God Direct My Steps', small lettered TERTIO edge (S.3851; W&R.279; Fr.386; KM.742), certified and graded by NGC as Proof 65 Ultra Cameo, a magnificent Proof striking, one of the finest graded, and one of the finest in existence, a rare opportunity, second only to the proof 66 sold as part of a set in Baldwin's Auction 96, September 2015. Boldly detailed, beautifully frosted portrait as well as Una motif, with distinct orange-peel texture to the surfaces and light haziness attesting to the originality of this specimen, a few stray old contact marks restricted to the fields, and faint hairlines; very close to FDC, very rare, and one of the most-wanted of all British gold coins
The story is familiar, the mythical tale it is based on is ancient, but here we see a classic, exquisitely produced golden rarity whose origins and emblematic significance certainly bear repeating. In the Elizabethan epic poem by Edmund Spenser, the legend of The Faerie Queene was born. Ethereal Una, companion of the Redcrosse Knight in Book One of the allegorical poem, captivated readers' imaginations for generations: she was more of the spirit than of the flesh, a delicate lady whose knight protected her virtue and her being with undying loyalty. Una was young, untried, innocent but majestic. Two centuries after the poem appeared, a new age in England evolved, and to the poets and adventurers of the Romantic Age no image had more appeal or offered more inspiration than did the mythical Una, who seemed so much like the new Queen Victoria, for she, too, was young, untried, innocent and majestic.
At the Royal Mint, recently situated outside the ancient fortress on Tower Hill, the greatly talented engraver William Wyon sought to capture the public's imagination and its loyalty to the young Victoria by working to create an image that would endure the ages. By so doing, he also secured his own position, for who could doubt the mastery of the largest gold coin appearing in Victoria's coronation coin set of 1839? Not only was his sensitive portrait of the young queen lifelike and most beautiful, but his image of 'Una' leading the British lion across the Empire and across time itself truly captured the essential spirit of the last years of the Romantic Age, when adventuring ruled the British mind and when the world seemed Britain's for the taking. Victoria's 'little wars' around the globe were all yet to be played out, and Victoria herself faced the kinds of challenges that no teenager could ever imagine. Over the coming decades, both defeat and triumph would burn into Britain's collective body politic as the wild escapades of Lord Byron and his contemporaries of the first four decades of the nineteenth century metamorphosed into the realities of conquest and dominion, and as Great Britain reached the zenith of its imperial ambitions.
Victoria's most cherished coin occurs with two small variant reverse legends, based on Psalm 119:133 and translating to state, or perhaps to pray, 'May God Direct My Steps'. William Wyon in 1839 seemed to sense and express the untenable future of the Empire by the use of this legend, but his image of the queen guiding the British nation, engraved so beautifully on this coin, did foretell a future of unquenchable belief in Britain's right to be great. Drawing on inspiration from an earlier age, the engraver achieved something few artists ever have - an indelible image of his own times, the Victorian Age. (150000-200000 GBP)
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