By Kerry Rodgers
On May 6 Baldwin’s London auction room was witness to one of the more remarkable numismatic events of the year. Up on the block was one of just four Lavrillier 1933 British pattern pennies.
Bids had arrived pre-sale from all over the world including Australia, the United States and New Zealand. Potential bidders flew in from across the globe. A steady flow of telephone and online bids continued during the sale until just two telephone bidders were left. They went toe to toe for over five minutes before the hammer came down at £72,000 [$104,126]. Baldwin’s staff believes this is a world record price for any British copper or bronze coin sold at auction.
The 1933 penny is the pearl-of-great-price in the British series. Its rarity stems from a decision taken by the Royal Mint not to produce any 1933 pennies for circulation owing to a surplus in 1932. Subsequently, just seven 1933 pennies were struck for ceremonial and record purposes.
Meanwhile, back in 1931, Britain’s Standing Committee on Coins, Medals and Decorations had decided to redesign the penny, in particular they wished to see the portrait of George V enhanced. In large part the committee was anxious to eliminate the “ghosting” frequently seen on earlier pennies of King George. Unusually for a proud and imperial Britain they recruited a Frenchman to do the job, Andre Lavrillier.
His resulting design is distinctive for the detail given the king’s hair, beard and moustache. It was engraved and struck as four patterns that were presented to the committee in December 1932.
Despite Lavrillier’s work yielding a more dramatic and lifelike image of the king than that on the existing coins, the patterns were not received with any great favor.
The committee considered them by no means superior to the existing product. They were resoundingly dismissed.
Of the four, one pattern is held in the Royal Mint Museum. All others are presently in private hands.
One of these, ex-Norweb Collection, was sold by Heritage Auctions in 2009 for $29,900.
This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
>> Subscribe today or get your >> Digital Subscription
More Collecting Resources
• Subscribe to our monthly Coins magazine - a great resource for any collector!
• The Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1801-1900, 8th Edition is your guide to images, prices and information on the century's coins.