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What comes as some slight surprise is that so comprehensive a collection could have been formed over what appears to be a comparatively short time. Most of the provenances given in Spink’s very comprehensive catalogue date from the 1990s. This is encouraging in a time when old timers complain of the lack of interesting goods for sale.

Among the most appealing English pennies are those (there are many varieties) struck at Matthew Boulton’s Soho mint in Birmingham. They are redolent of the Industrial Revolution and of a still magnificent city. They are, of course, the common so-called ‘cartwheel’ pennies. In worn condition they are common indeed. They are worth but a few pounds and are hard to sell. Not so those few which have survived in ‘arty’ condition. I was particularly drawn to a gilt pattern copper penny of 1797, the first year of issue, because it is so similar to the ormolu with which Boulton is more normally associated. Estimated at £600-800, it made £580. 

This very coin was sold at Spink in March 1999 when it fetched… well, whaddayaknow? – £580. The same coin, but struck in bronzed copper (it gives a lovely surface), was estimated at £400-500. It made £400. 

As interesting a subject as this is, it appears that the supply rather exceeded demand because, although most of the lots sold, the auctioneer was having to work hard. My guess is that this part of the sale was rather a lost opportunity because we shall surely not see such a sale for some time. So assiduous was Mr Adams in his collection that there can scarcely be much other material around.

One of the most appealing of the three (our present Queen is on her fourth) coinage heads of Queen Victoria, is the first ‘young’ head by William Wyon. There were examples in this sale aplenty. Not only is this an appealing coin but it has as fine a rendering of Britannia in all her jingoistic majesty as could be desired. A desirable example of the last year of issue (1860) of the copper as opposed to the bronze issue (familiar to those who remember pre-decimalisation in 1971), this was estimated at £1500-2000. It made £1550.   

The impecunious need not despair. An equally appealing example but dated 1858 and estimated at £40-60 made just £30. This demonstrates that there are clearly very many varieties and without specialist knowledge – now, thanks to Spink’s detailed catalogue, open to all – mistakes can be made.

It is essential to note that even moderately worn examples are worth comparatively little, so non-numismatic hopefuls may give their numismatic colleagues a break and try not to pester them too much.

Generally, the most famous recent penny is that of George V dated 1933. (No, other dates close to this will not do. Neither will commonwealth coins bearing this ‘magic’ date do either, so contain your potential excitement). Yes, there was a George V English 1933 penny in this collection. It was catalogued as being one of but four known. In my time I have heard twice that number bandied around, but in any case it is a very rare coin. This one was acquired from A.H. Baldwin by private treaty in 1999, so we cannot compare prices. Here, however, it was estimated at £8000-10,000 and made £8500.

I would suggest that this field is underpriced. This is because this accumulation probably represents the majority of what is available, so now we know (perhaps) we can make our own market. It is only a thought.

The sale as a whole, which included a general section of a further 425 lots, realised a useful £342,385 (hammer). It seems that when my annual tabulation for this present calendar year comes out Spink will have had a good year.