Skip to main content

Rare gold penny in Heritage sale

 English super-rarity: the superbly struck 761-year-old gold penny of Henry III that will be offered by Heritage Auctions in January with a grade of MS-63 NGC. (Images courtesy

English super-rarity: the superbly struck 761-year-old gold penny of Henry III that will be offered by Heritage Auctions in January with a grade of MS-63 NGC. (Images courtesy

Few English coins are as desired as the gold pence of Henry III. Heritage Auctions will be offering an example as part of their NYINC sale in January. And it is not just any 761-year-old Henry III gold penny (S-1376). This one comes graded MS-63 by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation and with a superb provenance.

The penny of 1257 was the first English hammered gold coin struck since the Norman Conquest. It was produced at a time when Henry’s rule was becoming increasingly unpopular. Among other matters, a series of foreign adventures had ended in costly disasters.

One such adventure in 1254 had cost the king a hoard of 2,000 marks of gold. In 1257, accrued debts required him to cash in a second stash. Rather than selling quickly, which could have depressed the gold price, Henry opted to follow the lead of several Italian cities and convert his gold to pennies. London moneyer William of Gloucester was charged with production of these coins.

Unlike the current silver pennies, the obverse showed a full-length figure of King Henry crowned, robed, and seated on his throne. His right hand bears his scepter and his left an orb. About is the inscription HENRIC REX : I.I.I : This design is similar to that of a silver penny of Edward The Confessor (S-1181), who Henry took as his role model.

The reverse features the long cross style introduced by the king for his silver coinage in 1247. The pellets in each angle are reduced in size compared with the silver and a large rose placed between them. The legend gives the moneyer’s name and mint location as WILLEM : ON LVNDEN [William at London].

Each penny was struck on a 22 mm, .995 fine gold flan of 45.2 grains (2.929 grams), i.e. twice the weight of a silver penny. With an exchange rate of 10:1 between gold and silver, the new coins were to be current at 20 pence.

Records show William delivered 37,280 gold pennies valued at 466 marks on Aug. 27, 1257. A further 15,200 worth 190 marks were completed by October the following year.

However, the new coins did not find favor among London’s merchants. For starters, each represented a comparatively large sum of money and hence held little interest for the majority of the population. Secondly, there was concern that if gold became readily available throughout the kingdom, its price could be depressed. Thirdly, the gold coins were perceived as undervalued with respect to silver such they were worth more in the melting pot than the marketplace.

The merchants petitioned the king against having to accept them. Henry responded by issuing a proclamation on Nov. 24 stating no one was obliged to accept his gold pennies and any could be returned to the royal exchange where the bearer would receive the current rate in silver coin – less a halfpenny transaction fee.

This had little effect on the coins’ acceptability. The 2.5 percent fee was disincentive to any canny merchant thinking of cashing them in. Eventually they were recalled, with Henry even paying 24 pence apiece for late arrivals between 1265 and 1270.

A number of the returned coins were used by Henry as Church votive offerings. Two of the known examples surfaced in Italy and may well have been gifted to the Pope.

From 1270 on, the coins effectively dropped from sight for 500 years until recognized by British numismatists in the 18th century.

The number cited as extant has varied from six to eight. Most recently, Lord Stewartby in his 2009 work “English Coins 1180-1551,” states “Seven coins are recorded, from four pairs of dies.” Three of these are unique. Obvious differences are in the beading on the throne and in the arrangement and wording of the reverse legend. London may be given as LVND or LVNDE.

If a hammered gold rarity is not your coin of choice, the Heritage NYINC sale offers much much more. For the ancient collectors, there is one of two known gold staters of Pharnaces II of Pontus in NGC Choice AU 5/5 - 3/5. The Scots among us may be intrigued by a James VI (I of England) gold 20 pounds of 1575 struck in Edinburgh (S-5451), a nice coin in XF-40 NGC.

Or how about one of the very few Edward VIII nickel-brass pattern threepences of 1937 in MS-61 NGC (KM-849, S-4064B)? Perhaps a Napoleon franc l’an 13-A (1804) in MS-64 Professional Coin Grading Service (KM-656.1). Then there is an Alexander III gold 10 rubles of 1894 from St. Petersburg (KM-YA42) that comes in MS-64 NGC.

And that’s just the start. Full details, including estimates, are available at Heritage Auction’s website:

This article was originally printed in World Coin News. >> Subscribe today.

More Collecting Resources

• The Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1601-1700 is your guide to images, prices and information on coins from so long ago.

• More than 600 issuing locations are represented in the Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1701-1800 .