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The 7 Pennies of 1933

It has been a fact of Numismatics for many years that one of the most famous coins is the 1933 Penny. The primary factor for this fame is, of course, its rarity within such a common denomination and the reasons for that rarity.  

In 1933 the Royal Mint decided to temporarily cease the production of pennies. This was due to the millions of Victorian and Edwardian pennies already in circulation. Despite the lack of necessity, it was still decided to strike a small number of pennies from that year, the main reason for this is that it was customary to place complete sets of dated coins beneath the foundations of buildings constructed in that year. 

Justifications for this particular tradition vary but superstition seems to be the most common explanation. The mint released 1933 pennies especially for this purpose, and packaged them in sets with other coins, to be buried beneath three buildings. One of these buildings, the Church of St Cross in Middleton, had its set of coins stolen from beneath the foundation stone. As a result of this crime a second set, which had been buried within the foundations of St Mary’s Church in Leeds, was removed on the instructions of the Bishop of Ripon and sold. As far as we know the third set is still in place beneath the Bloomsbury buildings of the University of London. 

As well as these three sets a handful of additional coins were kept by the Royal Mint. It is not known exactly how many were minted, but it is believed to be no more than seven, three of which reside, as popular exhibits, within the British Museum, Mint Museum and the University of London. These coins rarely come up for sale but when they do, it tends to cause quite a stir. 

In addition to the seven known 1933 British penny examples, and of even greater rarity and value, is a 1933 pattern penny, engraved for the Royal Mint by French artist Andre Lavillier who was bought in to solve the issue of ghosting caused by the portrait of George V. Only four of the 1933 pattern pennies are known to exist. The pattern differs from the “regular” 1933 penny in a few details, including a different set of designer’s initials. 

In 2016 a 1933 pattern penny was sold at auction for £86,400 (including buyer’s premium) by AH Baldwin & Sons. This was a monumental shift in value as our team explained at the time –  “No other bronze coin has ever come close, I think the last was in the region of £15,000”. The final hammer price was double that of the auction guide price and set a new world record for a penny. 

This coin is still of great interest to the general public today, as illustrated by the recent video created by popular YouTuber Tom Scott featuring our very own MD, Neil Paisley…

With no precise record of the number minted, and with the coin having been struck to ordinary circulation standard, it is entirely possible that one might turn up in everyday use. And to this day coin enthusiasts will eagerly search through change jars and boxes of old pennies searching for the elusive penny of 1933. 

ADDITIONAL LINKS 

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Christmas Gifts for Coin Collectors

Christmas presents and decorations with the words 'Gift Guide' and the Baldwins logo.

For the Christmas holidays, we would like to offer up some gifting ideas for the collector in your life. Coins are the perfect gifts for collectors – they are shiny, portable and they will fit perfectly into any Christmas stocking! They bring interesting stories to life and are perfect gifts for history lovers. They have a lasting value and can even be a fantastic asset for the future. This Christmas, why not choose a beautiful coin? You will find some inspiration below – and our dedicated team of hard-working numismatic elves will be happy to help with any queries you might have.

Gifts for Him  

Coins of Alexander The Great

Alexander the Great Silver Coin from Baldwins.
ALEXANDER THE GREAT, POSTHUMOUS TETRADRACHM

If you are looking for a truly classic gift for the man in your life, a gift that has wow-factor and amazing history, then look no further than the coins of Alexander the Great. From our ancient Greek selection, coins of Alexander the Great have been a long-time favourite, and they’re perfect if you’re looking for unique gifts for coin collectors.  

British & World Modern Gold Coins

QUEEN VICTORIA, 1880 GOLD SOVEREIGN
VICTORIA, 1880 SOVEREIGN
GREECE, GEORGE I (1864-1913), GOLD 20 DRACHMAS
GREECE, GEORGE I (1864-1913), GOLD 20 DRACHMAS

This is a gift that evokes eternity and is a wise investment as well – you can’t go wrong with modern gold coins. A simple, yet elegant gifting solution, proven successful by many centuries in which precious gold coins were given as presents, from ancient royal courts to modernity. We offer a fine selection of modern gold coins from the UK and the rest of the World, including Sovereigns, Francs and Dollars to name a few. 

For her

Roman Empresses on silver and gold coins 

FAUSTINA JUNIOR, GOLD AUREUS
FAUSTINA JUNIOR, GOLD AUREUS
JULIA DOMNA (WIFE OF SEPTIMUS SEVERUS): DENARIUS SMALL OLD DRAPED BUST REV DIANA LUCIFERA
JULIA DOMNA (WIFE OF SEPTIMUS SEVERUS): DENARIUS SMALL OLD DRAPED BUST REV DIANA LUCIFERA

In the ancient Roman Empire, the Empresses wielded substantial political power and had coins minted with their likeness, showcasing their virtues and hairstyles, setting trends. These coins often have amazing mythological symbolism and beautiful artistic execution. A stylish and thoughtful choice.

Coins of Elizabeth I

ELIZABETH I (1558-1603), POUND, SEVENTH ISSUE, MINTMARK 1
ELIZABETH I (1558-1603), POUND, SEVENTH ISSUE, MINTMARK 1

For the history enthusiasts in your life, especially ones that love the Tudor period, the ultimate gift are the coins of Elizabeth I. There are few other coins out there that convey such power and craftsmanship in numismatics, such as the ones of this distinguished monarch. A gift that is a powerful statement and a special piece.

KID’S CORNER 

Roman bronze coins

DIOCLETIAN, ANTONINIANUS
DIOCLETIAN, ANTONINIANUS

For young collectors that are just starting their numismatic journey, why not start from the beginning, with ancient coins! Roman bronze coins are the most popular choice of gift for young coin collectors, because they are sturdy to handle, affordable in price and infinitely interesting for enticing further research of history! Our experts will be happy to advise on how to start, develop and safely store your coin collection.

GRANDPARENTS

Military Medals

A GREAT WAR IMMEDIATE MSM GROUP OF THREE TO ACTING CORPORAL WILLIAM ROBERT BASKETT
A GREAT WAR IMMEDIATE MSM GROUP OF THREE TO ACTING CORPORAL WILLIAM ROBERT BASKETT
FRANCE, LEGION D’HONNEUR
FRANCE, LEGION D’HONNEUR

Grandparents are our connection to the past and previous generations. It is often difficult to find something meaningful to gift to them that will truly be a surprise. A sincere gift that they will deeply appreciate might be a military medal. Each medal is not simply a collectable object, it contains a life story of bravery and sacrifice. We provide all the accompanying paperwork and information with our military medals to help you gift that special story.

FRIENDS

TOKENS

NORFOLK, NORWICH, SKIDMORE’S GLOBE SERIES, BRONZED AE PENNY
NORFOLK, NORWICH, SKIDMORE’S GLOBE SERIES, BRONZED AE PENNY
LONDON, ST MARTINS LANE, PHILIP RATLEY, AE HALFPENNY, 1795
LONDON, ST MARTINS LANE, PHILIP RATLEY, AE HALFPENNY, 1795

Looking to give your friends a token of your appreciation this Christmas? Why not give them exactly that – a token! Our vast selection comprises tokens of most English counties and some very interesting international tokens. This unofficial currency from 17th, 18th and 19th century boasts a wide variety of designs, so there is something for everyone. Most of them have lovely architectural landmarks from different parts of Britain, heraldry and insignia of businesses of the past. Give your friends a meaningful token of your friendship!

Written by Ema Sikic (ema@baldwin.co.uk) 

For gift advice, write to us: coins@baldwin.co.uk 

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The Gold Coins of Naples and Sicily

Monument in Palmero, Sicily
The Cathedral of Monreale in Palermo, Sicily. One of the greatest existent examples of Norman architecture.

In this blog we will present gold Italian coins from Naples and Sicily from our collection. Starting from the Norman conquests of 10th century and culminating with the Renaissance coinage of Naples, this brief overview takes us through dynastic struggles, political intrigues and never-ending battles for the rule over some of the most beautiful places in Italy.

Norman gold from Sicily

Italy, Normans of Sicily, Ruggero I (1071–1101 AD), gold Tarì.

The Norman conquest of southern Italy lasted from 999 to 1139. Normans first arrived to South Italy as mercenaries in the service of Lombard and Byzantine forces. They saw the conquest opportunities in the Mediterranean and started their conquest with establishment of various fiefdoms. After approximately half a century, the Norman forces united and became one independent state. Unlike the Norman conquest of England (1066) which was sealed by one decisive battle, the Norman conquest of Italy was a slow-burn, gaining momentum over decades and with numerous battles. Much of the territory was conquered independently by overlords and only later unified into a single entity.

This coin dates from the reign of Ruggero I, nicknamed Ruggero The Great, who was a Norman nobleman who became the first Count of Sicily in 1062. He was born in Normandy and came to South Italy in 1057. Ruggero participated in several military expeditions against the Emirate of Sicily and was subsequently invested with a part of the island and the title by his brother Robert Guiscard, the Duke of Apulia. At the time, Sicily was ruled by a Muslim Emir and the population was predominantly Byzantine-Greek. Ruggero undertook many battles from 1061 onwards against Muslim forces, the most notable being Battle of Cerami (1063) and the taking of Palermo in 1072. The conquest was reaching completion when Syracuse surrendered in 1086; in 1091 when Noto yielded, it was complete. In 1091 he conquered Malta as well. The state he created was merged with the Duchy of Apulia (which his brother ruled) in 1127 AD and subsequently became the Kingdom of Sicily in 1130.

The interior of the Cathedral of Monreale in Palermo, Sicily.

The Aragon claim to Sicily

ITALY, SICILY, PIETRO & COSTANZA (1282-5), PIERREALE D’ORO – RARE, SUPERB
ITALY, SICILY, PIETRO & COSTANZA (1282-5), PIERREALE D’ORO – RARE, SUPERB

King Manfred was the last King of Sicily from the Hohenstaufen dynasty, reigning from 1258 until his death. He was the legitimized son of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and became regent over the kingdom of Sicily on behalf of his nephew Conradin. As regent, he subdued rebellions in the kingdom and eventually usurped Conradin’s throne. Because of his conflicts with papacy, the pope enlisted Charles of Anjou to assist against Manfred. Manfred was killed at the Battle of Benevento and Charles of Anjou took over the Kingdom of Sicily. However, the Hohenstaufen claim to the throne did not quite end there. In early 1282, a popular rebellion, known as the War of the Sicilian Vespers, broke out in reaction to the Anjou rule. Pietro III, King of Aragon, King of Valencia and Count of Barcelona came to Sicily at the invitation of Sicilian rebels from ranks of nobility who considered Costanza of Sicily their rightful queen. Pietro III was to married Costanza of Sicily, the only daughter of Sicilian King Manfred. This gave Pietro a claim to the Sicilian throne and he launched an invasion. He managed to claim the throne for himself, however he died only three years after. The Kingdom of Sicily thus remained an incessantly-pursued inheritance for the royal house of Aragon for the next five centuries.

This magnificent coin dates from the brief rule of Pietro and Costanza in Sicily. It depicts the symbols of both of their houses – the striped arms of Aragon and the Hohenstaufen eagle. This variety with an uncrowned eagle is believed to have been struck between June 1282 and April 1283, prior to the arrival of Constanza to Sicily to join her husband.

Battles for the throne of Naples

Gold coin of ITALY, NAPLES, FEDERICO III OF ARAGON (1496-1501), GOLD DUCATO – VERY RARE
Italy, Naples, Frederico III of Aragon (1496-1501), gold Ducato

Federico III of Aragon, also known as Federico of Naples, was the last King of Naples from the Neapolitan branch of the House of Trastámara, ruling from 1496 to 1501. Born in Naples to Ferdinand I and his first wife, Isabella of Clermont, he succeeded his childless nephew Ferdinand II after in 1496. However, King Charles VIII of France had claims to the throne as well and Federico was soon forced to defend his position. Charles died in 1498 and his successor Louis XII of France took upon himself to re-conquer the Neapolitan throne. Federico did not have the resources to defend against the French forces, so he called his cousin, Ferdinand II – King of Aragon, to help. Ferdinand, however, signed a secret treaty with the French in which they agreed to divide the Kingdom between themselves. Hence, Federico ended up stripped of his dominions. He died soon after in 1504.

This rare Ducato marks the short-lived reign of Federico of Aragon over Naples, that lasted somewhat less than five years. On its reverse, the coin bears the arms of Naples and Aragon, surmounted by a helmet with a winged dragon crest. A very rare example, especially in such a fine condition.

A photo of the Castel Nuovo Naples Italy
The view of Castel Nuovo in Naples. The castle was first erected in 1279 and it was a royal seat of Kings of Naples, Aragon and Spain until 1815.

Written by Ema Sikic (ema@baldwin.co.uk).

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The Man-Headed Bull

Of all the mythical beasts to appear on coins from the ancient world, the man-headed bull must rank among the most bizarre. These strange beasts were usually river-gods, the power of a raging bull equating to the relentless power of a fast-flowing river.

Achelous was the chief river-god of the Greek pantheon. Son of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys, he appears in various forms throughout ancient material culture, including a bearded man and a bull, and sometimes a combination of the two. The Achelous river, which formed the border between Akarnania and Aetolia, was the largest river in Greece, thus making the river god the most important in Greek mythology.

Akarnanian Confederacy, Leukas. Magistrate Lykourgos. Silver Stater, c. 250-200 BC, featuring the River-God Achelous. Fixed Price List #23. £4,750.

Coins from Akarnania depict the god in his man-headed bull form, including coin #23 from our Christmas Fixed Price List. This silver stater, minted in Leukas, which was a part of the Akarnanian Confederacy, features a close-up of Achelous’ head, clean-shaven and with horns. Behind his head is the name of the magistrate in ancient Greek – ΛYKOYPΓOΣ, or Lykourgos. This coin was minted around 250-200 BC. Its reverse depicts the god, Apollo, seated left on an ornately decorated throne, along with the name of the confederacy. It bears an impressive provenance dating back to 1948, when it was sold at a Swiss auction house in Basel.

The Greek colonies of Southern Italy, also known as Magna Graecia, adopted the use of these creatures for their coinages. The city of Neapolis, modern day Naples, issued large quantities of coins depicting man-headed bulls, as did many other cities in Campania. With a lack of evidence for the worship of streams and rivers in the area, historians have suggested these man-headed bulls may have a link to the cult of Dionysos, as they are often accompanied by emblems associated with the god. Gardner, writing in the late 19th century, suggested that the man-headed bull of Neapolis was in fact Dionysos in disguise.

Sicily, Gela. Silver Tetradrachm, c. 420-415 BC, featuring the River-God Gelas. Fixed Price List #7. £4,500.

The Sicilian city of Gela was named after its river, its name meaning ‘winter frost’. As with all rivers of the Greek world, it had its own river-god. A powerful city-state, Gela issued an extensive coinage in antiquity. The river-god Gelas appears as a primary motif on various denominations, as both a ferocious, bearded, man-headed bull, and an innocent looking male youth. The ability for divinities to adopt various forms was a key feature of ancient gods and goddesses. The impressive silver tetradrachm shown here is coin #7 in our Fixed Price List. Its reverse depicts a large, strongly struck forepart of the river-god Gelas, charging left at speed. The city’s name appears above, in Greek. The obverse features a biga of horses. Due to the strongly struck and high-relief river-god, the obverse has been somewhat less well-struck. Nonetheless, it presents a superb example of this popular type.

Sicily, Gela. Bronze Hexas depicting Gelas as a youth. Sold at the New York Sale in 2009.

Distinctive and intriguing, coins depicting river-gods remain very popular to this day. Do you have any coins featuring river-gods in your collection?

Some other river-gods from the ancient world, sold by Baldwin’s in the past:

Assinos appears as a youth on this silver hemidrachm from Naxos in Sicily, minted c. 413-404 BC.

Amenanos can be seen on this silver drachm from Katane, struck c. 405 BC, signed by the fames artist, Euenatos. Note the crayfish in front of his chin.

This silver didrachm from Kamarina depicts the river-god Hipparis, struck c. 415-405 BC.

The youthful Akragas appears on this bronze unit from the Sicilian city of the same name, struck c. 400-380 BC.

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A world record for a Victorian Penny

the ever elusive 1882 issue with a ‘No H Variety’

Baldwin’s recently resumed its Auctions under its own independent banner, auction 103 was held on the 6th of October in our fully refurbished auction room here at the Strand premises, picking up from auction 102, which had been held on the 4th October 2016. One, if not the main highlight was that of an 1882 Young head Bronze Penny without a ‘H’ mark in the exergue. The ‘H’ indicates the Heaton mint in Birmingham and is the commonly seen type across the dealing desk during group valuations. The ‘No H Variety’ is rarely seen, in more cases than others the ‘H’ has worn away or shows fade under closer inspection in good light. In the hugely rare instances when we are presented with a true example, they are mostly in circulated fair condition.

The ever evasive without ‘H’ type is excessively rare, part of Penny folklore, seldom appearing within auction timetables or in dealers trays, irrespective of grade. The R17 grade attached to it by Michael Freeman in his more or less definitive book ‘The Bronze coinage of Great Britain,’ (Spink, first published 1970, reprinted 2006) essentially translates to 16-50 examples known, of these, the examples in higher grades would number a proverbial handful and are difficult to quantify.

Baldwin’s were lucky enough to put forward a choice uncirculated specimen into our auction, which had further been corroborated by PCGS, scoring a Mint State 64 Brown [MS64BN]. The consensus, from the outset, from all who were in the office the day the coin arrived, was that Lot 175 was indeed an outstanding coin, uncharacteristically well struck for the issue. The Spink Coins of England guide only gives rough values for this exact type in fine (£1500) and very fine (4750), the higher grades are simply marked with a hyphen. Lot 175 had an estimate of £16,000 – 20,000 and quickly reached a lofty height of £30,000, without taking into account the buyer’s premium, which would equate to an astonishing £37,200, unprecedented for a Victorian Penny.

In more cases than others this exact type presents in fair condition to fine, with very fine examples hammering at £7,000 without the premium, even good fair examples having dazzling estimates of £2750-3250. In the Bronze Penny series of Victoria, the 1882 without Heaton mark is part of small select and exclusive group of rarities, often mentioned in the same breath as the 1863 Die number types (die number 2, 3, 4, 5) the 1877 narrow date (Dies 8 & H Freeman reference 90), the 1860 heavy flan and the 1862 with Halfpenny numerals


Further Reading:

References:

  • Freeman, Michael – ‘The Bronze Coinage of Great Britain’ p 46 : ref 112 – Obverse die 11/ Reverse die N
  • British Numismatic Journal 4, 1907 : ‘The Bronze Coinage of Queen Victoria’ A. E. Weightman, R. N.

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The Medal of The Inventor of Chitty Bang Bang

The Story of Count Zboroswki

This fascinating medal belonged to a remarkable man who had an interesting life. He inspired many with his magnificent mind and pulled off the unimaginable, but sadly it ended in tragedy when the very same thing that made his career also put an end to it.

Count Zborowski in Chitty Bang Bang
Count Zborowski in Chitty Bang Bang. Image: Brooklands Museum

A pioneer of motor racing in the early 20th Century, Louis Vorow Zboroswki was the son of a wealthy American aristocrat. A colourful figure, he would go on to design and build his own racing cars, the first of which was named ‘Chitty Bang Bang’. Throughout his career, he participated in many motor races across the world, as well as the legendary Indianapolis 500 in 1923.

The MeDAL

The Kent Automotive Club Speed Trials Medal, 1924.
The Kent Automotive Club Speed Trials Medal, 1924.

The silver medal dates to the following year, 1924, where Zborowski took part in speed trials organised by the Kent Automotive Club where they were held on a sunny Saturday on the Herne Bay seafront. While he didn’t win any of the classes – in his Mercedes he gave the favourite, Leon Cushman, a run for his money, finishing second in the unlimited racing-car class.

Count Zborowski had joined the Mercedes racing team that year and it was during the Italian Grand Prix at Monza that tragedy struck. On the 19th October 1924, mere months after this medal was awarded, the count’s Mercedes hit a tree on the Curve de Lesmo, killing him instantly.

Count Zborowski’s legacy would live on in an unusual way. Unbeknownst to Zborowski, he had inspired the esteemed writer, Ian Fleming, who would watch the driver race at Brooklands during his youth. Fleming’s children’s book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, featured the Count as a key character – the title car being directly based on those he had designed. The 1968 musical adaptation would go on to be an enormous hit, bringing joy to many through film and theatre.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Car from the 1968 film.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Car from the 1968 film. Image: National Motor Museum

The medal itself is one of excellent quality. Struck in silver, it depicts a prancing horse – likely inspired by the mascots or ‘hood ornaments’ of the early motorcars. The reverse is a simple wreath, with space for the awardee’s name in the centre. It is hallmarked Sterling Silver.

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Coins of the Olympic Games

Illustration of Mount Fuji

Olympic Games are always a historical occasion, however, the ones held in Tokyo, Japan, seem to have particular historical significance due to war, pandemic and political turmoil that followed them in 1964 and 2020. Despite being rescheduled for 2021, the event retained the Tokyo 2020 name for marketing and branding purposes. This is the first time that the Olympic Games have been postponed and rescheduled, rather than cancelled. Therefore, for the occasion, we have decided to show you some interesting items from our collection, relating to the history of the Olympic Games. 

THE OLYMPIC GAMES IN ANCIENT GREECE 

The Olympics were the most prestigious games of the Ancient Greek world. Held every four years, (a tradition which continues in today’s modern Olympics), cities from across the ancient world would send their finest athletes to compete in the various sporting competitions. The games varied across the centuries but included wrestling, boxing, javelin, discus and chariot races. King Philip II of Macedon (359-336 BC) was able to showcase his prowess, winning the prestigious chariot race on a number of occasions and helping to boost his kingdom’s image. So important were the ancient Olympic Games that huge efforts were made to keep them running, even during the many conflicts and numerous pandemics which plagued antiquity.  

The games were held at Olympia, in the Greek region of Elis, on the Peloponnese. The Sanctuary at Olympia was home to the great Statue of Zeus – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The huge ivory and gold statue stood in a colossal temple. The coins of Olympia are some of the most admired from the ancient world. They were struck each Olympiad, and bore designs relating to Zeus and his wife, Hera. The coins bear portraits of both deities, as well as eagles – the main animal associated with the king of the gods. Foreign currency was not accepted in Olympia during the games – visitors from across the Greek world were forced to exchange their currency for the special coinage, to be spent during the festivities. The authorities would make a profit using this method, and the guests would have been able to take their Olympian coins away to serve as portable memories of the games. Given the difficulties and expense of travel in the ancient world, a visit to the Olympic Games would have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for so many Greeks – it seems likely the beautiful Olympian coins would have been cherished. 

Olmpic medals

The designs of the iconic Olympic medals have varied greatly since the re-institution of the modern Olympic Games in 1896. Summer Games medals are thought to be more consistent in design and sizing and it was thought they should feature a building of more Greek ‘background’. The 2004 Games in Athens were followed by the controversy around the medal’s design due to the use of the somewhat irrelevant Roman Colosseum on the medals. The medals of the Winter Olympic Games never had a unified design, but regularly feature snowflakes and the event where the medal was won.  

At the first modern Olympics in 1896, gold medals were not awarded. Instead, the winners were given a silver medal and an olive branch, while runners-up received a laurel branch and a copper or bronze medal. In 1900, most winners received cups or trophies instead of medals. The custom of the sequence of gold, silver, and bronze for the first three places was instituted at the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, USA. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has retroactively issued gold, silver and bronze medals to the three best-placed athletes in each event of the 1896 and 1900 Games. 

London played host to the Olympic Games in 1948. It was a boon for Post-War Britain and an opportunity for friendly competition in the shadow of the most devastating conflict in human history. The design of the winner’s medals were much the same as those that had come before, struck from classically inspired dies designed by Prof. Cassiole. The commemorative medals for the event were produced by John Pinches ltd; a prominent London Medallist and, incidentally, a competitive rower. The participation medal featured a four-horse chariot, with a view of the Palace of Westminster on the reverse, and the inscription ‘XIV OLYMPIAD LONDON 1948’, with the Olympic Rings below.  

Prototype bronze participation medal.

The prototype bronze participation medal by Pinches, depicting the Houses of Parliament and with Lambeth Bridge in the foreground.

We currently have in our possession a rare prototype version of the commemorative medal by Pinches. Also struck in bronze, it measures 38mm in diameter, rather than the participation medal’s 51mm, and weighs a mere 21.19g. The design of the reverse is similar to that of the final piece, only with a different depiction of Westminster, this time looking north, with Lambeth Bridge in the foreground. The inscription is a simpler ‘OLYMPIC GAMES LONDON 1948’. The obverse, rather than featuring an elaborate design by Bertram Mackennal, bears a depiction of a discus thrower. It is unsigned and engraved in more of an ‘Art Deco’ style than the Neo-Classical style of Mackennal’s chariot. Both designs, unsurprisingly, pay tribute to the ancient origins of the Olympic Games.

Bronze medal. Obverse of the prototype bronze medal depicting the discus-thrower in art-deco style placed on top of a wood and green leather desk.
The obverse of the prototype bronze medal depicting the discus-thrower in art-deco style.

Olympic Commemoratives

Unsurprisingly, an event of such prestige and scale of the Olympic Games generally warrants the striking of commemorative coins from the host country. In the case of Great Britain, upon receiving the contract to host the 2012 Olympics (this was awarded in 2008), a special commemorative Two Pound coin was issued by the Royal Mint. It showed the end of the Beijing Olympics and the handover of a symbolic flag bearing the Olympic rings. One of the first objects to bear the controversial 2012 Olympics Logo, the coin’s reverse design was created by the Royal Mint Engraving Team.

The Royal Mint's 2008 Two Pound Coin. The reverse features the symbolic handover of the Olympic Games from China to Britain. This is the Proof Silver strike.
The Royal Mint’s 2008 Two Pound Coin. The reverse features the symbolic handover of the Olympic Games from China to Britain. This is the Proof Silver strike.

The London Olympics gave the Royal Mint an opportunity to release a commemorative coin set on a scale that hadn’t been seen before. The 50 Pence Piece had long been a coin of choice to commemorate events and anniversaries but never had an event seen so many British commemorative issues. A staggering 29 designs graced the 50 Pence Pieces celebrating the 2012 Olympics, each one depicting a different sport that took place at the games. Issued in 2011, the designs varied wildly, having each been designed by a member of the public. The result was a unique series of coins created by the nation. These coins turned out to be incredibly popular, creating new collectors, young and old, all looking to complete their set. Overall, each 50 Pence Piece had a relatively high mintage figure, though some carry higher premiums than others. 

Olympic Games in Tokyo

The 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo were innovative and pioneering in many ways. Tokyo had previously been awarded the organization of the 1940 Summer Olympics, however, this honour was revoked and passed to Helsinki due to Japan’s invasion of China, before ultimately being cancelled because of the Second World War. When the honour was bestowed again on Tokyo in 1964, it was the first time the Summer Games were held in Asia. It was also the first time South Africa was excluded due to its apartheid system in sports and the first time Games were telecast in colour (partially) using a new colour transmission system pioneered by Toshiba.  

Japan Showa commemorative coin for the 1964 summer Olympic games with toning. Mount fuji on the obverse, the olympic rings on the reverse.
Japan, Shōwa, silver 1000 Yen, 1964, year 39 of Shōwa, mount Fuji with cherry blossoms. Rev. Denomination and Olympic rings surrounded with cherry blossoms, 20g (KM Y80). Uncirculated, streaked toning on both sides. A commemorative coin for the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, 1964. View here.

The Japan Mint has issued official commemorative coins for the 2020 Olympics, with a value from 100 Yen to 10,000 Yen, the coins feature 37 different designs for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Taking inspiration from traditional Japanese patterns, each coin’s unique design features Olympic and Paralympic motifs. The five new Olympic sports will be featured on their own 100 Yen commemorative coin, as will the two Tokyo 2020 mascots, Miraitowa and Someity. The two 500 Yen commemorative coins will depict the wind and thunder deities, a design selected through votes by the public. 

The Newest British Commemorative

The Royal Mint recently issued a coin paying tribute to Team GB, which would have been released in 2020. Unsurprisingly, the coin was a 50 Pence Piece. Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, the coin, as well as the games, were postponed. Curiously, while the date on the obverse was updated to 2021 for the coin’s eventual release, the reverse, bearing symbols of each sport in the competition, still featured the original 2020 date in amongst the tennis rackets, footballs and bicycles. As of yet, it appears there has been no attempt to rectify this, so whether the coin will go down in history as another ‘error coin’, similar to the ‘undated’ 20 Pence Piece, is uncertain.  

Throughout their history, the Olympic Games have come accompanied by their own special coins. The prestige and pride associated with hosting the events have seen the vast majority of modern countries hold the games, issuing their own commemorative coins. Even the ancient Greeks had their own ‘Olympic Commemoratives’. As long as there are coin collectors, it doesn’t seem that commemorative Olympic coins will end anytime soon. 

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Coins of the Sacred Mountain

Silver Drachm of Tranquillina (the wife of Gorian III) coin with Mount Argaeus (Ericyes) from Kayseri, Turkey in the background.

Coins from the ancient world depict a variety of different imagery. It’s one of many reasons they’re so collectable. Animals, gods, goddesses, plants, weaponry and much more were chosen to represent the various cities that issued them, and the portraits of rulers to remind the public who was in charge. The city of Caesarea in Cappadocia, however, opted for a very different design for much of its coinage – that of a mountain. It is this subject that we’ll have a brief look at in this article.

Located close to Kayseri in modern-day Turkey, the strategically important city was built on the foothills of Mount Argaeus, a huge stratovolcano towering nearly 13,000 feet over the Anatolian plains. Ancient climbers supposedly reported that both the Mediterranean and Black seas could be seen from its summit. Geological studies have suggested that the volcano last erupted around 9000 years ago, though some coins from Caesarea appear to show the mountain smoking.

A few roman ancient coinage displayed on top of some ancient Turkish maps with a magnifying glass.

The mountain’s distinctive, craggy appearance is easily recognisable on the coinage of the nearby city. Its rugged summit and slopes resulting from millennia of erosion and collapse. Exactly why the inhabitants of Caesarea chose the mountain for their coinage is uncertain. Its first appearances begin during the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. Provincial coins were issued from countless cities in Asia Minor and across the Roman world. It is possible the local powers simply chose the mountain as a symbol for their city, to stand out from the plethora of other coin-issuing cities.

A modern day image of Mount Argaeus.
Mount Argaeus (Ericyes) from Kayseri, Turkey. Image: Pixabay.

In early depictions, the mountain is topped with a standing figure. The identity of this individual alludes us to this day, though theories have ranged from the Sun God, Helios, to the Genius of the city, to a hitherto unknown pagan god of the area.

A silver ancient coin featuring Mount Argaeus with the figure of a man standing on top of the mountain. The coin is laid on top of ancient maps featuring the mountain.
The standing figure atop Mount Argaeus on coins such as this one, struck during the reign of Tiberius (AD 14-37), has been the subject of some debate.

Over the next 200 years, the mountain appears in various styles. During the reign of Trajan, a lyre appears on its summit. It has been suggested that this instrument was used as a means of depicting the volcano’s crater. Later issues depict the mountain atop an altar, as well as being surrounded by gods and goddesses, starts and crescents, and even references to the cult of Mithras. The variety of designs, combined with the distinct use of the mountain on so many coins, has also led scholars to believe the mountain may have been the centre of a religious cult. The rich, fertile volcanic soils resulting from past eruptions would have given the local inhabitants something to be grateful for.

The obverse and reverse of ancient Silver Drachm coins of Tranquillina. Featuring the Draped bust of Tranquillina on the obverse and Mount Argaeus on the reverse,
Silver Drachm of Tranquillina (the wife of Gorian III). The Argaeus motif remained in use well into the Third Century AD. Tranquillina, Silver Drachm | Baldwin’s

The remarkable depiction of a mountain is a near-unique phenomenon in the ancient world. The only other example being the appearance of the enormous Mount Ararat on rare coins of the Armenian King Tigranes IV. Its distinctive double-summit making for an impressive coin type. Nevertheless, the coinage of Caesarea in Cappadocia feature some of the most perplexing depictions to grace coins of the ancient world, and area ripe with different varieties which will likely keep collectors of Roman Provincial Coinage busy for years to come.

For more coins of Caesarea depicting Mount Argaeus, we welcome you to visit our shop at 399 Strand, or check our website, where we have a selection of these coins available for viewing.

Further Reading

Sydenham, E. A. (1933) The Coinage of Caesarea in Cappadocia. London.

Composed by Dominic Chorney, Ancient Specialist.

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The Best Way To Store Your Coin Collection

Whether we’re in our store with customers or out at coin fairs, we are always asked “What’s the best way to store rare coins?”. Some say in zip lock bags, some opt for albums or folders, whilst others are looking for a storage solution that has the power to beautifully display their collection. But what really is the best way to let your collection shine?

We’ve previously put questions to our teams for their expert opinions, like should you slab your coins, or if it’s best to use gloves when handling coins, so we decided to go to them once again for their take on the best way to store your coins…

“There are a couple of ways. If you intend to simply store the coin away in a safe/safety deposit box, I would recommend an acid-free paper envelope, and in a box, ideally with other coins of the same metal, also in paper envelopes. If you intend to look at your coins frequently, a high quality mahogany cabinet will suffice. The coin would be stored in a tray within the cabinet. I’d also recommend the cabinet be small enough to be stored in a safe, and its contents fully insured. These should also be stored in a low-humidity environment at a consistent room temperature.”

DOMINIC CHORNEY, ANCIENT COIN SPECIALIST

“The safest way, now recognised as technically best practice by museums but not aesthetically pleasing, is on plastazote pads in metal trays, replacing the old mahogany or rosewood cabinets with felt linings. This is not everyone’s choice.”

JEREMY CHEEK, NUMISMATIC CONSULTANT


“The chemicals in the plastic cause the coins to “sweat”, they develop a damp greasy residue, that eventually will cause silver coins to develop a green film over the surface” – Neil Paisley


“A rare coin, or any coin really, is best stored in a velvet or flocked tray, within a coin cabinet. Try avoiding storing your coins in plastic pockets or paper envelopes that are not acid-free.”

EMA SIKIC, BALDWINS SALES EXECUTIVE

“The best way to store rare coins long term would be in paper envelopes. The common pvc envelopes are convenient but should only be used short term, the chemicals in the plastic cause the coins to “sweat”, they develop a damp greasy residue, that eventually will cause silver coins to develop a green film over the surface, copper coins will lose their lustre and verdigris will eventually ensue. A decent coin cabinet and also lindner trays are acceptable but when pulling the trays out it must be done slowly or the coin will keep moving and will eventually lead to cabinet friction. Proof coins whether in a tray or envelope should always be wrapped in a little cellophane packet in order to protect the proof fields.”

NEIL PAISLEY, MANAGING DIRECTOR

“Either in a non-acidic paper flip, in a coin cabinet or in a recognised holder via an accredited dealer, several reputable companies offer storage solutions.”

CHRIS TYRIMOS – BRITISH NUMISMATIST

So to conclude, there are many options on how to store your coins, and it can all be a personal preference depending on the size and type of collection you own. The main important takeaway is how not to store your coins. Avoid common envelopes for long term use, be wary of the temperature in the room and ensure that you always use acid-free materials.

How do you store your coins? Vote in our poll by clicking the button below or tell us on social!

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Italian Noble Families on Coins – Part 2

A landscape of Florence, Italy featuring architectural buildings including cathedrals and steeples.

In this blog series, we will explore the most famous Italian noble families of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and their coins. We will look at how did they rose to power, what are their heraldic symbols and some of the coins we have in our collection. In this part, we will be looking at the Medici and Farnese families, which are synonymous with Renaissance power and art patronage.

Medici of Florence

The Medici name is often a synonym for Renaissance in Italy and prolific art patronage. The House of Medici is known as a banking and political dynasty. They first came to prominence with Cosimo de’ Medici in the Republic of Florence during the first half of the 15th century. There are different origin stories of how Medici came to power and where their heraldry is derived from them. The Medici coat of arms has five red balls and one blue on a gold shield. It is prominently displayed on buildings across Tuscany that had been funded by the family. The family gave four Popes to the Catholic Church and were distinguished patrons of Brunelleschi, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Machiavelli and Galileo,  financing the construction of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. 

Medici family coat of arms.
Medici family coat of arms. 

The family originated in Mugello region of Tuscany. In 1532, the family acquired the hereditary title of Dukes of Florence. In 1569, the Duchy was elevated to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany after territorial expansion. The Medici ruled the Grand Duchy from its inception until 1737, with the death of Gian Gastone de Medici. The Grand Duchy witnessed degrees of economic growth under the early Grand Dukes, but was bankrupt by the time of Cosimo III de Medici (who reigned from 1670 to 1723).

Cosimo III de Medici was the sixth, penultimate Grand Duke of Tuscany. He had the longest reign in Tuscan history (53 years) and witnessed the economic decline of the family and the region. Upon the death of his son Gian Gastone, Tuscany passed into the hands of House of Lorraine, which was later joined the Habsburg royal family.

A silver Piastra of Cosimo III de Medici coin, with Christ being baptised by St. John the Baptist on the reverse.
A silver Piastra of Cosimo III de Medici, with Christ being baptised by St. John the Baptist on the reverse.

Farnese of parma

One of the most influential families of the Italian Renaissance is the Farnese family. Some of the most important architectural works and antiquities are associated with the Farnese family, including the Palazzo Farnese in Rome and the Villa Farnese at Caprarola. Farnese marbles are one of the most famous and historically important collections of ancient sculpture ever known – and they are held in museums within Naples and London. Some of the most famous pieces are Hercules Farnese, Farnese Bull and Apollo Farnese.  

Hercules Farnese, in the Archaeological Museum of Naples. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons. 

Farnese family traces its origins back to the 10th century and it is named after the Castrum Farneti, one of its oldest feudal possessions. In the 12th century, Farnese are recorded as feudatories in the areas of Tuscania and Orvieto, with several family members holding political positions. The Farnese coat of arms is a gold shield with six blue fleur-de-lis, it adorns their Palazzi in Rome and Caprarola. The Farnese held the titles of Dukes of Parma and Piacenza and Dukes of Castro at the height of their power. Some of the most important family members included Pope Paul III, Alessandro Farnese (a cardinal), Alessandro Farnese (a military commander and Governor of the Spanish Netherlands), and Elisabetta Farnese, the Queen of Spain. 

Farnese family coat of arms on Palazzo Farnese in Rome.
Farnese family coat of arms on Palazzo Farnese in Rome, co-joined with Papal coat of arms. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.  

The political success of Farnese family reached its peak in the 16th century when Giulia Farnese, a mistress of Pope Alexander VI, expanded the influence and fortune of her family in Rome by persuading the Pope to give her brother Alessandro the title of a cardinal. In 1534, Alessandro was elected Pope and took the name of Paul III. His reign was (in)famous for the unprecedented nepotism. In the mid-16th century he handed some territories of the Papal States to his son with the title of Duke of Parma, establishing them as the ducal dynasty. His grandson Ottavio was given the additional title of the Duke of Piacenza where he held his court initially, eventually moving to Parma. 

A silver Cavallotto of Alessandro Farnese coin.
A silver Cavallotto of Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma, Piacenza and Castro from 1586 to 1592, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands from 1578 to 1592.

The Duchy of Parma and Piacenza continued to be ruled by the Farnese until the 17th century. Their subsequent conflict with the Barberini family (of Papal fame) in the eventually led to their decline and loss of influence, throughout 17th and 18th century. The last Duke of Parma and Piacenza, Francesco Farnese (1678–1727) saw Parma fall under the Duchy of Milan, which was an Austrian province in Italy at that time. He died without offspring, with his niece Elisabetta Farnese as the only heir – she became the Queen of Spain through her marriage with Philip V.

A silver Lira of Francesco Farnese coin.
A silver Lira of Francesco Farnese, minted in Parma.

Missed out on Part One? Find it here.