George III, pattern crown, 1817, by W. Wyon, the ‘Incorrupta Crown’, laur. head r., date below, W. WYON below truncation, rev. crowned shield of arms, edge plain (ESC.229 [R4]; L&S.159), in plastic holder, graded by NGC as Proof 65, beautifully toned, extremely rare
Estimate: 30'000 GBP
Starting price: 24'000 GBP
Price realized: 42'000 GBP
*ex Willis II, Glendining’s, October 1991, lot 465
ex Ariagno, Goldbergs, June 1999 lot 1838 (back cover picture)
ex Kardatzke III, Goldbergs, June 2000, lot 4663 (front cover picture)
ex St James’s Auction 1, October 2004, lot 520
Only 18 silver and 7 gold proof examples struck.
This is one of the two 1817 pattern crowns designed and engraved by a young William Wyon as entries in a competition for the production of a new crown coinage for Great Britain to begin in 1818. This would be the first crown coinage struck by the new Tower Hill Mint’s steam presses which began striking other coins in 1816.
As all students and collectors of British coinage know, William Wyon went on to a very successful career as the chief engraver for the British Empire, but at this point in his life, having recently gained an assistantship at the Mint under his cousin, Chief Engraver Thomas Wyon, William was in a competitive battle with a foreigner, Italian gem engraver Benedetto Pistrucci, whose beautiful engravings had caught the eye of Sir Joseph Banks, an influential friend of the Master of the Mint.
After Thomas Wyon’s death in 1817, Banks determined to make Pistrucci his successor as chief engraver but ran into problems as the law prohibited a foreigner from holding the position. Since the government had decided to produce a new Crown coinage in 1818, both men, Wyon and Pistrucci, were tasked with producing samples for the new coinage. As is well known, Pistrucci ultimately won that competition with his design of St. George and the dragon which appeared on the new crown series of 1818-1820.
However, William Wyon’s design entries, the Incorrupta crown in this lot, as well as the 1817 Three Graces Pattern, show clearly the talents for design and engraving that would shortly put an end to Pistrucci’s coinage ambitions, catapult William to fame during the reigns of George IV and, most importantly, Queen Victoria, and establish him forever as one of the pre-eminent engravers in the history of coinage.
The popular name of this crown, ‘Incorrupta’, derives from the reverse legend, in Latin, which translates as ‘An Untarnished Faith’, or roughly ‘A Faith that is Beyond Corruption’ or incorruptible. A superb example of this famous rarity with its masterful bust of George III, it exhibits lovely bluish purplish toning acquired over centuries, and its fields and devices show very few distractions and no wear. NGC has graded it PF65, equivalent to gem proof in the American system, FDC in the British. It is the finest graded at NGC and tied for finest at PCGS, the two main US grading services. Its rarity and outstanding condition for a 200-year old coin combine to make this a prize for the advanced collector of British crowns. That this coin’s prior ownership traces to a set of very discriminating collectors also attests to its desirability as does its appearance on the back and front covers of two previous auctions. When bidding on this coin, remember that it is almost impossible to find early 19th century proof coins in such a state of preservation given the sensitivity of proof surfaces and the lack of concern about handling and surface marks that characterized the habits of past generations of collectors.