United Kingdom

Henry III 1257 gold penny sells for £526k at Texas auction

A nearly 800-year-old gold coin described as showing the first 'true' portrait of an English king has sold for more than half a million pounds at auction.

The gold penny featuring Henry III, estimated to be from around 1257, went under the hammer at Heritage Auctions, in Dallas, Texas, after a two-day auction ending on Thursday that saw it receive 17 bids and sell for $720,000, or £526,000.

The coin was the highest-selling lot in an auction of more than 5,400 British and other coins, some of which dated as far back as the fifth century BC.

The coin features a crowned Henry III with a sceptre in his right hand and a globe in his left. Just 7 are believed to still be around, 4 of which are in museums

The second-highest selling coin was also British, with a 2019 gold coin featuring Elizabeth II and weighing two kilograms selling for $360,000, or £263,000.

But it was the coin featuring a far older monarch which clearly caught collectors' eyes the most. 

The coin is supposedly one of just seven still in existence, four of which are in museums. 

The one that went under the hammer had previously been in a private collection for the last 25 years after it was bought at a Spink-Christie's auction in 1996.

The gold penny features the crowned king holding a sceptre in his right hand and a globe in his left, with the words 'Henric', for Henry, and 'Rex I.I.I', for the third king, written around the side. 

The coin's reverse side features a 'long cross' and four five-petalled roses, as well as the name of King Henry III's goldsmith, William of Gloucester, around the edge

Henry took the throne at the age of nine after the death of his father, King John, and reigned from 1216 until his death in 1272.

Like his father, who was forced into signing the Magna Carta in 1215, he was also blighted with a revolt by English barons, while he also began the building of Westminster Abbey into its current form in 1245. He was also buried in the church upon his death.

The coin was described by the English archaeologist and numismatist Sir John Evans as the first 'true' portrait of an English king on a coin, while the auction house said it dated from a period when gold 'was beginning to trickle back into European commerce after a dearth of nearly 500 years.'

Henry III began the construction of Westminster Abbey into its current state in 1245, while he was buried there upon his death in 1272

The coin was struck by the king's goldsmith William of Gloucester at twice the weight of a silver penny, with a value of 20 pence. 

It was described by Heritage's Cristiano Bierrenbach as 'a wonderful portrait' and 'one of the most fabled coins in all of British numismatics.'

The rarity and subsequent value is likely due to the fact that most of the minted coins were melted down due to the gold being more valuable than the coin itself.

Indeed, no more gold coins were minted for circulation until the reign of Edward III in 1344, just under 100 years later.

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