The market for Britain’s 5-guinea gold pieces has run red hot for many a moon. All previous results, however, paled into insignificance with Lot 69 of Baldwins of St. James’s New York Premier Sale. It consisted of a rare 5 guineas of Queen Anne dated 1703 (SECVNDO) with the magic word VIGO below the monarch’s bust (KM-520.1; S-3561; cf. Schneider 523). In a superb PCGS-MS62 grading, it carried an estimate of $1,000,000-1,500,000.
Its appearance on the block on Jan. 13 opened a round of intense bidding from room, phone, and online. But the battle soon settled to an intense tussle between two phone bidders with the hammer making its final fall at $900,000. That in itself is a world record hammer price for a British coin. With buyer’s premium added the total was a staggering $1,080,000.
Several factors contributed to this extraordinary price. First and foremost is the history: the destruction of the French and Spanish fleets in the Battle of Vigo Bay by the combined British and Dutch navies along with the capture of 4,504 lb 2 oz of silver and 7 lb 8 oz 13 dwt of gold.
Secondly the decision taken to have this bullion struck into celebratory coins by Mint Master Isaac Newton. On the Royal Warrant authorizing the minting of these coins, Queen Anne ordered the placing of the “inscription, Vigo, In small letters under Our Effigies, which we Intent as a marke of distinction from the rest of our Gold and Silver Moneys, and to continue to posterity the remembrance of that glorious Action, And for so doing this shall be your Warrant.”
All VIGO coins are desirable, the gold particularly so given the small amount of metal involved. Just a handful of 5 guineas were produced, of which less than 20 are known to have survived, placing them among the rarest of British coins.
Despite what several catalogs say or indicate, three different obverse dies are known among these few surviving pieces. Why this should be so remains a historical mystery. The three can be distinguished by the position of VIGO below Anne’s bust. The variety seen on the present specimen with VIGO high and close to the queen’s shoulder appears the rarest.
Full details are available from the Baldwin’s of St. James’s website at https://bsjauctions.com/.
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