Half a million pound cent! A 764-year-old gold coin with the first ‘true’ portrait of an English king sparks a bidding war at auction in Texas
- The coin with the portrait of Henry III dates from 1257
- It marked the return of gold to Europe after a hiatus of almost 500 years
- It is believed that only 7 examples of the gold penny still exist, as most were melted down
An almost 800-year-old gold coin described as the first ‘true’ portrait of an English king has sold at auction for over half a million pounds.
The gold cent with Henry III, estimated at about 1257, went under the hammer at Heritage Auctions, in Dallas, Texas, after a two-day auction ending Thursday, with 17 bids received and sold for $ 720,000, or £ 526,000.
The coin was the best-selling lot at auction of more than 5,400 British and other coins, some dating back to the fifth century BC.
The coin features a crowned Henry III with a scepter in his right hand and a globe in his left hand. It is believed that there are only 7 in the area, 4 of which are in museums
The second best selling coin was also British, with a 2019 gold coin featuring Elizabeth II and a weight of two kilograms selling for $ 360,000 or £ 263,000.
But it was the coin with a much older monarch that clearly caught the attention of collectors.
The coin is believed to be one of only seven in existence, four of which can be found in museums.
Whoever went under the hammer was in a private collection for the past 25 years after it was bought at a Spink-Christie’s auction in 1996.
The gold medal depicts the crowned king with a scepter in his right hand and a globe in his left, with the words ‘Henric’ for Henry and ‘Rex III’, for the third king, written around the side.
The reverse of the coin features a ‘long cross’ and four five-petal roses, as well as the name of King Henry III’s goldsmith, William of Gloucester, around the rim
Henry took the throne at the age of nine after the death of his father, King John, and reigned from 1216 until his death in 1272.
Like his father, who was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, he was also hit by a revolt by English barons, while in 1245 he also began the construction of Westminster Abbey in its current form. He was also buried in the church on his death.
The coin was described by English archaeologist and numismatist Sir John Evans as the first ‘true’ portrait of an English king on a coin, while the auction house said it dates from a period when gold ‘began to trickle back into European trade after a shortage of almost 500 years. ‘
Henry III began construction of Westminster Abbey in its present state in 1245, while he was buried there after his death in 1272
The coin was struck by the king’s goldsmith, William of Gloucester, at twice the weight of a silver penny, worth 20 pence.
It was described by Heritage’s Cristiano Bierrenbach as ‘a beautiful portrait’ and ‘one of the most legendary coins in all British numismatics’.
The rarity and subsequent value is probably due to the fact that most of the minted coins were melted down because the gold was more valuable than the coin itself.
In fact, no more gold coins were struck for circulation until the reign of Edward III in 1344, a little less than 100 years later.