Baldwin's of St. James's   |   Auction 35   |   9 February 2016
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Lot 73





Estimate: 300'000 GBP   |   Starting price: 240'000 GBP Price realized: 275'000 GBP
BRITISH COINS, Anne , five guineas, 1703, SECVNDO , VIGO below bust, dr. bust l., rev. crowned cruciform shields with rose at centre, sceptres in angles (S.3561; Schneider 523 but here the VIGO is higher and close to the queen’s shoulder), in plastic holder, graded by PCGS as About Uncirculated 55, with delightful reddish gold toning and a bold, even strike, very rare The commercial focus of the Royal Mint at the turn of the eighteenth century was upon silver coins, those being most in demand both at home and for trade abroad. Various monetary indentures mainly concerned silver, but any shortage normally encountered had just been addressed during the previous decade by way of the temporary establishment of mints scattered about the kingdom for the purpose of melting old silver and striking fresh coins of good and consistent weight and fineness. Those ‘branch’ mints were now closed, and silver was being produced in modest quantity when Anne ascended the throne. In truth, at the time there was a dearth of silver mined within the realm. The output of fresh silver coins had again become ‘dependent on special circumstances such as the fortuitous arrival of foreign booty’ (Challis, A New History of the Royal Mint, page 433) ‘The most spectacular of these windfalls’, Challis continues, occurred almost by happenstance just as Anne became queen. The year 1702 marked the beginning of the War of Spanish Succession, which was a contest for dominance between two sets of allies, England and the Dutch Republic against France and Bourbon Spain. Old allies and old enemies they surely were. A fleet of Anglo-Dutch warships attempted to seize Cadiz but the attempt failed in mid-September. The commander of the fleet, Admiral Sir George Rooke, had begun his homeward journey and most certainly was dejected at the idea of returning to home port without success when he was informed by spies that a Spanish treasure fleet had recently anchored at Vigo Bay on the northwest shore of Spain What was at hand, he had learned, was an armada of Spanish ships carrying specie mined in Spanish Mexico. The fleet had sailed from Veracruz protected by a French squadron of fifteen warships. Three galleons were loaded with silver and gold. Frigates and attending ships added up to a fleet of 56 vessels, many carrying merchandise intended for sale in Spain, and all were moored in Vigo Bay. A furious naval battle was fought on 23 October and the victory was England’s despite a boom consisting of heavy chain and timber that stretched across the entrance to the bay, and a battery of cannons, meant to block and defeat any attack. The Dutch and English men o’ war crashed through the boom. The Spanish set a fireship alongside the Dutch admiral’s flagship, intending to burn it, but the Spanish ship was loaded with snuff from the Indies and it blew up! The Spanish guns were quickly silenced, the boom was gone, and the Anglo-Dutch warships sailed right into the heart of the harbour, destroying most of the enemy’s ships and capturing the others. In a day and a half, the Battle of Vigo Bay had been won, and the booty was up for grabs. At first, jubilation reigned, but then the English discovered that most of the treasure from the New World mines had been unloaded before they arrived at Vigo. Winning the battle was of great moment in the war. What remained of the specie was taken and delivered to the Royal Mint. It did not consist of Mexican silver but rather it amounted to 4,500 pounds of silver that had been ornaments and ‘plate’ belonging to the Spanish and French officers, as well as 7 pounds 8 ounces of gold (Challis, page 433). The Spanish king, Philip V, issued a decree claiming ownership of the precious metals. In response, Queen Anne caused to be issued a royal warrant, dated 10 February 1703, instructing Mint-master Isaac Newton to mark all coins made from captured specie to ‘Continue to Posterity the Remembrance of that Glorious Action’ at Vigo Bay. Today’s collectors often encounter silver sixpence, shillings, halfcrowns and crowns made from this treasure, but the gold produced few coins and today all are extremely rare. Least minted were the 5 guineas of 1703. Only a handful are known. Of them, the rarest variety (perhaps as few as two others known) is that showing the VIGO placed higher toward the queen’s shoulder, as seen on this wonderfully historic coin £300,000-350,000

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