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Collection of rare medals goes on sale

By Kerry Rodgers

On Oct. 16 one the most comprehensive collections of 16th and 17th English commemorative medals ever assembled by an individual will be sold by the Salisbury auction house of Woolley and Wallis. The Christopher Foley collection is remarkably complete.

All told 600 lots will go on the block including 14 in gold. The sale of the collection has led one expert to observe, “The occurrence of a dispersal such as this is one that can almost be measured on a century by century basis.” All items in the sale are extraordinarily rare in private hands given that comparable examples reside permanently in museums and galleries.

Foley was and is a specialist in British portraiture. He came to medals when he was struck by the similarities between Tudor and Stuart court oil portraitsand their much reduced reproductions in precious metals. For the past quarter century he has painstakingly assembled his collection.

His first purchase was a rare oval uniface Naval Reward medal of 1588 bearing a portrait of Elizabeth I. It was enough to get him started. It led him to collect hammered and hand-made pieces with a preference for items related to England’s Civil War 1642-1649. When these became difficult to acquire Foley moved backwards toward the 16th century and the Tudors and, subsequently, forward to include some milled medals of the 17th century. Along the way, he picked up a number of choice coin rarities with excellent portraits.

Arguably the most sought after lot in the sale will be the gold 46 x 36mm Naval Reward for Captains gold medal of 1653 by Thomas Simon. This is popularly known as the Blake Medal, named for Robert Blake, General at Sea of the Commonwealth of England and one of the greatest of all naval commanders.

At the successful conclusion of the last naval battles of the First Dutch War under the Blake’s command, the Commonwealth struck three styles of gold medals for presentation to the senior officers involved: Trophy for Generals (Admirals) of the Fleet and flag officers (19), Laurel to senior ship captains (70), Plaine to lesser ship’s captains (80). Today 3, 2 and 7, respectively, are known to have survived.

That now available is a Plaine medal. The obverse displays the shields of England, Scotland and Ireland. On the reverse British and Dutch ships battle it out. The stern of the Dutch ship sinking in the foreground is signed SIMON. The lot carries an estimate of £35,000 – £40,000 ($58,450 to $66,800).

The excessively rare and desirable Naval Reward for Captains gold medal of 1653 by Thomas Simon, a.k.a.  Blake Medal, will be offered at auction by Woolley & Wallis on Oct. 16. Images courtesy Woolley & Wallis.

The excessively rare and desirable Naval Reward for Captains gold medal of 1653 by Thomas Simon, a.k.a. Blake Medal, will be offered at auction by Woolley & Wallis on Oct. 16. Images courtesy Woolley & Wallis.

The excessively rare and desirable Naval Reward for Captains gold medal of 1653 by Thomas Simon, a.k.a.  Blake Medal, will be offered at auction by Woolley & Wallis on Oct. 16. Images courtesy Woolley & Wallis.

The excessively rare and desirable Naval Reward for Captains gold medal of 1653 by Thomas Simon, a.k.a. Blake Medal, will be offered at auction by Woolley & Wallis on Oct. 16. Images courtesy Woolley & Wallis.

Among other properties are 10 oval portrait medals, by Simon de Passe. Although these appear engraved, they were produced by an unknown process. The cataloger comments, “That of Elizabeth I may be a posthumous portrait, but it is a staggering image. That of the Infanta of Spain is just a delight.”

Oval silver portrait medal by Simon de Passe of Elizabeth I c. 1616, after the miniature by Isaac Oliver; 61 x 49.5 mm and signed “Si: Pas: fe”. Along with the royal shield on the reverse is the epigram: QVI LEO DE IVDA EST ET FLOS DE IESSE LEONES  / TEGAT ET FLORES ELIZABETHA TVOS [May Juda’s lyon and the root of Jesse / Protect thy lyons and thy flowers, Sweet Bess]. It carries an estimate of £8,000-£12,000.

Oval silver portrait medal by Simon de Passe of Elizabeth I c. 1616, after the miniature by Isaac Oliver; 61 x 49.5 mm and signed “Si: Pas: fe”. Along with the royal shield on the reverse is the epigram: QVI LEO DE IVDA EST ET FLOS DE IESSE LEONES / TEGAT ET FLORES ELIZABETHA TVOS [May Juda’s lyon and the root of Jesse / Protect thy lyons and thy flowers, Sweet Bess]. It carries an estimate of £8,000-£12,000.

Among the coins, a Charles I pattern gold unite by Abraham Vanderdoort stands out. This pattern was one of several produced by Vanderdoort at the behest of Charles I who, like President Theodore Roosevelt 230 years down the track, was keen to improve the design quality of the nation’s coins. Regrettably, in a historical congruence, all Vanderdoort’s proposed designs possessed far too great a relief to be used in practice. All are rare and beautiful.

Extremely rare Charles I pattern gold unite, by Abraham Vanderdoort. The legend on the reverse, FLORENT CONCORDIA REGNA [United kingdoms flourish], appears on all of Charles’ Tower Mint-struck gold and refers to the unification of England, Ireland and Scotland under the Stuarts. However, the lis mintmark is unusual on a Tower coin. In VF the coin carries an estimate of  £8,000 – £10,000.

Extremely rare Charles I pattern gold unite, by Abraham Vanderdoort. The legend on the reverse, FLORENT CONCORDIA REGNA [United kingdoms flourish], appears on all of Charles’ Tower Mint-struck gold and refers to the unification of England, Ireland and Scotland under the Stuarts. However, the lis mintmark is unusual on a Tower coin. In VF the coin carries an estimate of £8,000 – £10,000.

A second remarkable coin is the 1494 silver jeton of Perkin Warbeck. The coin was probably struck in the Low Countries, possibly in the run up to Warbeck’s invasion of England in July 1495.

Perkin Warbeck claimed to be Richard, Duke of York, one of the princes in the tower and hence brother of Edward V. He tried to invade England three times before being captured and executed in 1499.  Some 15 examples of the Warbeck coin are known. Any is eagerly sought at auction.

For the numismatic bibliophiles among us, the catalog of this sale will be a worthwhile acquisition. It will certainly grace the shelves of my small library.

For further information please contact: lucychalmers@woolleyandwallis.co.uk. A dedicated web page is planned for the Woolley & Wallis website:

http://www.woolleyandwallis.co.uk/departments/silver/sv161014

And for anyone attending COINEX 2014 in the UK in late September, the collection will be available for viewing.

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