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High-grade Elizabeth I Ship Ryal

The end of October saw the release of our Winter Fixed Price List which has quite possibly been our best catalogue yet, in terms of variety and high-quality material. Most notably it features a superb 12 Ceasars set and the impressive Broadstairs Collection. As is typical in the current market, we could have sold some of the higher quality pieces four or five times over, such as the Slaney Collection James I Unite (#146), the 1648 Pontefract Shilling from the Farquar Collection (#174) and many others. This is particularly promising and should eliminate any doubts about a slow-down in the market – as always quality seems to be the most desirable factor, with new records being set regularly.

Saturday 2nd November saw the final London Coin Fair of the year and what should have been a quiet show due to the rugby final (the less said about this the better) turned out to be a worthwhile and busy show. Our next fair will be the New York International Numismatic Convention, held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, from the 16th to the 19th January.

One particular highlight from our latest catalogue is a high-grade Elizabeth I Ship Ryal, a highly sought after and appealing coin (#140). The Ryal has an anachronistic, mediaeval appearance about it – showing the queen in the style and pose of her Plantagenet forebears. Yet 250 years after the Battle of Sluys, the naval theme is strangely appropriate to the decade which saw the momentous events of the Spanish Armada. One of England’s most iconic gold coins and the single greatest numismatic rarity of the celebrated Elizabethan era. Only a few specimens were made, they are generally encountered in low grade, and this is certainly up there with the finest of the surviving pieces.

Interestingly high-grade ship ryals have increased in value greatly over the years; the following graph shows three similar high-grade examples selling over a 10 year period – 2005, 2010 and 2015. This seemingly makes our example exceptional value for money, at a figure quite below the 100K mark.


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The coins that mark Guy Fawkes Night

Without a doubt, one of the most famous dates in British history, the 5th of November is celebrated every year and has been since the 17th Century.  On the 4th of November, in 1605, plotters (including the notorious Guy Fawkes), conspired to destroy the House of Lords and with it, King James I. The Gunpowder Treason Plot failed. Guy Fawkes was caught in the vaults beneath the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder. The conspirators were of course captured, tried and executed in the months following the event.

Guy Fawkes night festivities at Windsor Castle, c. 1776

On the 5th of November (the day after the plot was uncovered), church bells were rung across the country, and Parliament later enshrined this date in law as a public day of celebration. This remained until 1859. Today, fireworks and bonfires are still used to celebrate the day the plot was uncovered, as they were three centuries earlier.

Dutch Jetton celebrating the discovery and failure of the Gunpowder Plot. Dated 1605

Coin collectors need not look far for numismatic objects to mark this eventful year. Coins of James I can be obtained with relative ease, at all price points, depending on the condition of course. Dates written in Arabic Numerals have featured on English coins since the reign of King Edward VI (1547-1553), but by the reign of James I (1603-1625), few pieces actually included a date. For those seeking a coin bearing the date itself, silver sixpences bearing ‘1605’ on their reverses are scarce but can be acquired for around £150 in fair condition.

For coins which do not feature dates, we must look to the mint marks for clues as to their time of manufacture. Mint marks were utilised in English coins from the Medieval period onwards, for administrative purposes, denoting mints, and ascertaining dates. Using this method, we cannot pin undated coins down to the nearest year, but the nearest two years. In the ‘First Coinage’ of James I, the mint mark of a Lis ⚜ denotes the dates of 1604 to 1605.

James I gold Spur Ryal, Tower Mint, mint mark rose, 1605-1605

In the ‘Second Coinage’ for a coin possibly dating to 1605, we must look for the Lis ⚜ again (1604-5), and the Rose ❀(1605-6). These mint marks appear again during the much later ‘Third Coinage’ of James I, and it is important not to confuse the two coinages. The yearly catalogue ‘Coins of England & the United Kingdom’ will demonstrate the three coinages and various bust types of James I, including mint marks.

If you have any questions regarding the coins from this period, please feel free to contact us by e-mail or phone. From all of us here at Baldwin’s, we hope you have a fantastic Bonfire Night.

Explore our stock of James I coins

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A “hectic but fruitful” month at Baldwin’s

An overview of our achievements this September from Managing Director Neil Paisley. Sign up to our newsletter for regular updates.

It has been a couple of months since the last newsletter – the last couple of months have been a hectic but fruitful period for us at Baldwin’s.

August saw us travelling to the USA in order to attend the Chicago ANA coin show, a four-day event which was well attended by collectors and dealers from around world. Sales were strong but buying was rather difficult due to the weak pound against the dollar.

No sooner had we returned, our latest Fixed Price list was released, which similar to our previous list was thoroughly well received and kept us extremely busy on the telephones. The majority of the highest quality items sold within the first seven days – giving confidence that the coin market is still rather buoyant, particularly for the rarer and higher grade examples. Lending credence to this has been the London auctions held in the last seven days in conjunction with the International CoinEx show being held here in London this Friday and Saturday, the 27th and 28th.

Most notable of these sales was the Waterbird Collection held here in London, offering only 65 lots but each coin being of the highest rarity or finest quality. The highlight of this sale was without a doubt the 1937 Edward VIII Proof penny, which sold for £137,640 inclusive of premium.

In recent weeks we have continued to add a good variety of high quality ancient, British and world coins onto the website. 

The highlight of these is high-grade Henry VII Sovereign. Always very popular (it was the first sovereign ever issued) and extremely rare, only a handful of specimens remain and it stands as an absolute classic of British numismatics. The example we are offering is one of the strongest available to commerce.  It has a natural striking flaw which is reflected in the price but is still a very aesthetically pleasing coin.

A similar grade example without a striking flaw, sold in a London sale in 2010 for £198,400 inclusive of premium. Therefore I feel that this example at £75,000 is exceptionally good value and provides an opportunity to acquire a high-grade Henry VII Sovereign for a price considerably below £100,000.

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The romance of names: A lesson in rarities

One of the pleasures of numismatics lies in the romance of names, the more obscure, perhaps, the more enchanting. Mervyn Peake, himself could not have invented any more gorgeous and euphonious verbal arabesques than the names of the emperor Didius Julianus, his consort: Manlia Scantilla and their daughter, Didia Clara. These names are today familiar only to the coin collector in pursuit of rarities and to a few surviving ancient historians.

We are fortunate in having three more or less reliable commentaries on the fleeting reign of Julianus. There is an account in Greek by Cassius Dio, who was a consul in the reign of Severus Alexander (222-235). Unfortunately, however, the section of his vast history relating the events of this period survives only in fragments and a later abridgement. Herodian of Syria, writing also in Greek, probably in the reign of Philip the Arab (244-49), also witnessed the events of the reign as a boy, and his account survives intact.

However, the most coherent narrative is that preserved in Latin in the miscellaneous Scriptores Historia Augusta, compiled two centuries later, apparently in the reign of Theodosius I (379-95). This work is a peculiar compendium, claiming to be written by six different fictional historians and full of bogus inventions. However, in the case of this particular reign, it seems to preserve an early, first-hand source and gives details absent from the accounts of Cassius Dio and Herodian.

Julianus’s nine-week reign was brief but momentous. He came to prominence during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, entering public life early when he became a quaestor a year before the legal age. The Historia Augusta tells us that he was appointed to a consulship on the recommendation of the emperor when, as governor of Belgica, he repelled a surprise invasion by the Chauci, shrewdly expending auxiliary troops rather than risking his Roman soldiers. Pure luck, it seems, preserved him during the bloody tyranny of Commodus. He was accused of conspiracy; but for once Commodus chose not to believe the accuser, who was crucified for his pains.

After Commodus’s assassination at the end of 192, Julianus found favour with his successor, the popular reformer, Pertinax. The Historia Augusta records that, as Julianus was presenting Sextus Cornelius Repentinus to Pertinax on the occasion of the young man’s betrothal to his daughter, Didia Clara, the emperor declared ‘Honour my colleague and successor’ seeming to designate Julianus his heir.

On 28 March 193 the Praetorian Guards, angered by Pertinax’s attempts to end the license to plunder and terrorise which Commodus had allowed them, shamefully murdered him, after a reign of a mere three months.

According to Herodian, the soldiers, fearing the anger of the people, immediately barricaded themselves in their camp. But, after a couple of days, discovering ‘that all was quiet and no one was brave enough to prosecute them’ they issued an announcement from the top of the wall, promising to entrust the power to the highest bidder’.

The Prefect of Rome, Titus Flavius Claudius Sulpicianus, whose daughter was Pertinax’s widow, immediately offered them 20,000 sesterces each.

Herodian writes that Julianus received the news of the auction while he was in a drunken stupor at a feast. His wife and daughter and a number of clients persuaded him to get up quickly from his couch and run to the camp wall to find out what was happening. All the way there they advised him to seize possession of the empire while it lay abandoned, and by sparing no expense to outbid all possible rivals by the size of his bribe.

The Historia Augusta adds that he was accompanied by his son-in-law, Repentinus, whose father had been the commander of the Praetorians. Herodian paints a vivid picture of the Guards letting down a ladder so that Julianus could climb on to the wall to address them.

He warned them against choosing someone like Sulpicianus, who might decide to avenge Pertinax and then upped the bid to 25,000 sesterces. According to the Historia Augusta, he ‘wrote on tablets a statement that he would restore the good name of Commodus’, and ‘as a result, he was not only let in but was named emperor’. Herodian records that the soldiers gave him the cognomen Commodus, though this does not appear on his coins. Shrewdly, perhaps, he ‘pardoned’ his rival, Sulpicianus, though he replaced him as Prefect of Rome with Repentinus.

On her husband’s elevation, Manlia Scantilla was named ‘Augusta’, and since Julianus had no son and heir, his daughter was given the same title. This gesture towards female equality is unique in Roman history, though the ambitions of Repentinus were presumably the main motive in Clara’s elevation.

It will remain forever uncertain whether Julianus was, as Herodian says, ‘addicted to luxurious and indecent living’, or as the Historia Augusta has it, ‘so frugal that he shared out a sucking-pig over a three-day period, likewise, a hare, if anyone happened to send him one’.

The portraits on his coins give the impression of a man with patrician dignity, but lacking the charisma of an Aurelius or a Pertinax. Ambiguous also are the characters of his wife and daughter. Though Herodian implies that the women urged him on in his foolish bid for power, the Historia Augusta relates that they moved into the palace ‘nervously and unwillingly, as though they already foresaw imminent catastrophe.’

Scintilla’s image on coins varies markedly with the die-cutter, but the sestertius and denarius illustrated here give the impression of a sensible, intelligent woman. Did she and Clara perhaps shrug helplessly as they approached the palace, at this fine mess their husband and father had gotten them into? Or did they indeed, true to the instincts of their class, naïvely revel in the glamour of their elevation?

Any apprehension they may have felt was fully justified. Julianus’s sole support came from the Praetorians and, according to Herodian, he did not in reality, own enough private wealth to pay them what he had promised.

Moreover, the public treasury was virtually bankrupt following the excesses of Commodus, and the new emperor was forced immediately to decrease both the purity and the weight of the silver denarius. It is an indication of the underlying stability and efficiency of the Roman state, however, that, despite this political and financial turmoil, coins struck in Julianus’s name found their way in substantial quantities to every corner of the empire.

At the circus games, a large faction took to chanting the name of Pescennius Niger, an ex-consul and Governor of Syria, ‘who was said to be already emperor’. According to Herodian, hearing the news from Rome, Niger sought support among the legionary commanders and military tribunes.

Popular because of his benign administration, and his sponsorship of frequent circus shows, he was readily proclaimed emperor in his own province. But, according to Herodian, instead of marching on Rome, ‘he turned to a life of idle luxury and enjoyment with the people of Antioch, devoting his attention to festivals and spectacles.’ Julianus sent out a former chief centurion with instructions to murder him.

But Julianus’ nemesis was to come from a different quarter. The governor of Pannonia, Septimius Severus, had a dream in which the emperor Pertinax rode on a fine horse down the Via Sacra in Rome. When he reached the entrance to the Forum he was thrown off, and the horse inserted itself under Severus instead. (It was Severus’s later appreciation of a short book by Cassius Dio on his prophetic dreams that launched the historian on his literary career.) Like Niger, Severus had little difficulty in gaining the acclaim of the officials and troops of his province.

But unlike Niger he then acted decisively, adopting the name Pertinax, and marching on Rome at speed. The desperate emperor sent Aquilius, ‘a centurion well known for murders of senators’, to kill him, and also prevailed upon the Senate to have him declared a public enemy. But, in no time, soldiers loyal to Severus had infiltrated the city in plain clothes, and Julianus’s cause was lost.

There was little he could do. Whatever funds he could gather from his dwindling circle of friends and supporters he gave to the Praetorian Guards. But, Herodian relates, since he had not paid them everything he had promised earlier, they merely took the money as their due. In despair, Julianus made no attempt to guard the Alpine passes, as his advisers told him he must. Instead, he collected together all the elephants in Rome, hoping to intimidate Severus’s naïve provincial troops. According to the Historia, he also ‘had the insane idea of performing a great many acts through magicians’.

Severus seized the fleet at Ravenna and those envoys of the Senate who were in his camp at the time prudently defected. Julianus resorted to diplomacy, sending out ‘the Vestal Virgins and the other priests, together with the Senate, to meet Severus’s army to entreat them with outstretched fillets.’ He proposed a division of power; he pleaded to be allowed to abdicate. But in vain.

The Senate submitted to Severus and sent a military tribune, in Herodian’s words, ‘to kill the cowardly, wretched, old man who had purchased this sorry end with his own money.’ The Historia Augusta is less moralistic:

In a short time, indeed, Julianus was deserted by everyone and remained in the palace with […] his son-in-law Repentinus. Finally, it was proposed that Julianus’s imperial power should be revoked; and revoked it was, and Severus was at once named emperor, while it was pretended that Julianus had taken his own life by poison. Nevertheless, some people were sent from the Senate, by whose efforts he was killed in the palace by a common soldier, imploring the protection of Caesar, that is, of Severus.

Cassius Dio claims that Julianus’s last pathetic words were: ‘But what evil have I done? Whom have I killed?’ The Historia Augusta makes one last mention of his family: He had emancipated his daughter when he gained the empire, and she had been given her inheritance; and this was at once taken from her, as well as the name Augusta. His body was given back by Severus to his wife Manlia Scantilla and his daughter and was moved to the tomb of his great-grandfather at the fifth milestone on the Via Labicana.

According to the Historia, he had lived ‘fifty-six years and four months, and reigned for two months and five days’. Cassius Dio gives slightly different figures.

Repentinus was either killed in the palace along with Julianus or was tidied away subsequently by murder. Sulpicianus was executed four years later, in 197, for plotting against Severus. Were Manlia Scantilla and Didia Clara perhaps, spared to live out a sad old age on an estate in the Campania? We are not told.

This article by James Booth is an excerpt from the Fixed Price List: Summer 2019.

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Roman coin studies: A brief history

Modern interest in the study of coins arose with the desire to visualise the rulers and deities of historical texts. Since the wake of the 16th-century renaissance, the study of Roman coinage is influenced by three main disciplines. The answer to why these disciplines vary in approach to what is ultimately one of the most familiar artefacts in our daily lives is down to the origin of the studies of coins themselves and the various influences of archaeology and economics as our understanding of sociology and anthropology has developed.

Art History

In the lens of the ancient historian, coins are seen as an alternate medium of aesthetic historical expression. The importance of coins in this sense was to identify the issuer or deity on the obverse, interpret the imagery on the reverse, and match them to known statues or historical events.

Silver denarius of Caligula (AD 37-41) beside a marble bust of the emperor.

Reliance on inscriptions in the foundation of numismatics as a component of ancient history led to one of the principle reference texts of the 19th century, Cohen’s 8 Volumes written between 1857 and 1892 to be ordered alphabetically to aid in further identification. It was, however, the chronological-metallist way of structuring coin collections that still persists and separates numismatics from other historic disciplines.

Any collector of Roman coins will instantly recognise The Roman Imperial Coinage text by the great numismatists Mattingly and Sydenham that is littered through the many thousands of coin journals, auction catalogues and websites. The text followed earlier traditions by listing by metal, taking note of both size and weight and recording then of type by inscription. It also marks a new facet of coin studies by separating coins geographically by mint with a strong focus on ancient history.

Economic History

The next major influence on numismatics would be that of economic history. Formalist economic thought became a growing influence on numismatics in the late 19th and early 20th century based on the idea that the value of the metals in the Roman monetary system was intrinsic and that the decisions of the Roman government and where they placed their mints could be rationalised within modern economic theory. Entire sections of publications could be dedicated to exploring the metal content and economic policies of the empire.

The empires of 18th to 20th century Europe had found an analogue that they could relate to in the form of the Roman and Greek civilisations. The influence ran deep and it is apparent in not only the architecture of the time on a large scale but also down to the minutiae of coinage. The currency system was very overtly based on the Roman system. For example, British currency values: pounds (l); shillings (s) and pence (d) related directly to the Roman pound, solidus and denarius; and had done for centuries.

The modern British currency system mirrored that of ancient Rome.


How we find and acquire coins using principles of archaeology came into focus in the 1960s. The book Coins and the Archaeologist argued that highlighted how the importance of coins varied across vastly different provinces of an empire, citing sources such as the Satyricon and the New Testament of the Bible.

The most recent emphasis in numismatics in the last decade has shifted towards the social or anthropological role of coinage. The Social Lives of Things by Appadurai outlines the idea that objects themselves have a kind of life story and taking a view that delves deeper into who actually owned the coins.

There are many stakeholders in the world of numismatics. While numismatists may think of a coin as an individual specimen, they are seen as historical documents, artefacts and as a greater whole of the monetary supply.

This blog is an abridged version of an article by Alex Fallows MA, published in Baldwin’s Fixed Price List, Summer 2018, p. 4-7.