The largest denomination from the fabled 1937 ‘abdication’ sets almost doubled the previous high for a British issue set just six months ago in Monaco.
Despite extensive preparations for an Edward VIII coinage (records at the Royal Mint suggest that more than 200 dies for coins, medals and seals were prepared), the plans for general circulation in January 1938 were cut short by the events of December 1937. Only a handful of trial proofs survive.
The exact number of Edward VIII coins in existence is unknown but it is perhaps just five or six 13-coin sets, of which four remain intact.
Thomas Humphrey Paget (1893-1974) provided the bust portrait, with Edward choosing to shun tradition by requesting a left-facing bust (according to the accepted sequence adopted since Charles II he should have faced right).
Famously Edward, then the Duke of Windsor, wrote to his brother George VI when some 1937 proofs were rediscovered in a safe at the Royal Mint in 1950. His request to receive a set for himself was turned down.
The gold £5 is the most desirable issue for its imposing size. Just two specimens are in private hands: this example and another that forms part of the proof set in the Tyrant collection, a US private collection that boasts every coin denomination issued by English monarchs since the early 7th century. Others are in the Royal Collection, the Royal Mint and the British Museum.
The coin offered for sale by Heritage Auctions as part of the so-called Paramount Collection was in fabulous condition, designated ‘ultra cameo’. A week before the auction closed, bids had already passed the $1m estimate.
While no Edward VIII £5 has come to auction in recent memory, the closest comparison is the 1937 pattern sovereign hammered for £430,000 in May 2014 at AH Baldwin. It was resold for £1m in a private deal brokered by the Royal Mint in January 2020. The total price including 20% buyer’s premium for the £5 coin at Heritage is $2.28m (£1.67m).
The previous auction high for a British coin was set by two issues sold by MDC in Monaco last October. Exceptional examples of the 1831 George IV five sovereign piece and the 1839 Una and the Lion £5 pattern – both the highest-graded examples of their type – took €820,000 (£745,000) each.
They in turn beat a 1703 Vigo five guineas sold in New York in 2019 for $900,000 (£703,000) by Baldwin’s of St James’s.