Estimate: 20 000 GBPCurrent bid: 17 250 GBP
William III, five guineas, 1701 'fine work', D. TERTIO, plain sceptres, second laur. bust r., rev. crowned cruciform shields, angles in sceptres (S.3456), certified and graded by NGC as About Uncirculated 55
The first five guineas coins issued for William III varied greatly on the reverse from the coins issued by him with Mary, reverting to the cruciform style seen on the gold of Charles II. The king's portrait was shallowly engraved. But Isaac Newton, Master of the Mint, who had introduced scientific methods and organizational skills to the mint, had not finished making changes: next he attempted to complete the transition begun during the Renaissance of departing from the shallow style of portraiture of the monarch to one that demonstrated lifelike qualities. In 1701, he caused a portrait to be engraved that would not be equalled until the 1760s' patterns of George III. As Mintmaster, Newton's finest artistic achievement is, without argument, the deeply engraved five guineas of 1701, now known as the 'fine work' issue, and it has become one of the classics of British numismatics. Its conception arose from another propitious change at the Royal Mint. For about a third of a century, the job of engraving coin dies had been dominated by the Roettier family of Brussels. They were Catholics and fell out of favour after James II abdicated but continued in their employment. The elder of the family, John, had found favour with Charles II when Thomas Simon, as the former engraver of Cromwell's coins and seals, saw his own tenure decline. John and his brothers, Joseph and Philip, in the words of Challis, exercised the 'controlling influence over English engraving' during the last years of the seventeenth century (A New History of the Royal Mint, page 363) along with John's sons James and Norbert, who under his guidance completed much of the die-work during the reigns of James II and of William & Mary and then of William alone. But in 1689 the father's title was given to George Bowers, a Protestant, and the following year (after Bowers died) it passed to Henry Harris, engraver of the seals. Slowly, the Roettiers, despite doing the actual coin engraving, began to fade from the scene: John the master engraver suffered injury, Joseph moved to the Paris Mint, Philip returned to Brussels to work, Norbert left for France in 1695, and James came under suspicion of counterfeiting in 1697 and was dismissed. No one capable of doing the engraving, not just holding the title of chief engraver, was left, save for a young assistant named James Bull, who laboured more or less without acknowledgment. Then suddenly a German jeweller from Dresden named John Croker was brought to the Mint. He soon tired of re-engraving dies made by the Roettiers during 1698-1699, and he produced the now-famous 'flaming hair' shillings for William III. Newton and others took note and promoted him. His mark on English coinage and medals became indelible, and among his medals may be found exquisite images in high relief, but his greatest achievement was certainly the 'fine work' engraving of the king's portrait used in only one year, 1701, on the gold five guineas and two guineas coins. These are the ultimate numismatic images of the reign, magnificent gold money created more than three centuries ago and rarely equalled as works of art ever since.