Great Britain: William III gold 5 Guineas 1701,...
A Fabulous "Fine Work" 5 Guineas!William III gold 5 Guineas 1701, 2nd Laureate Bust of "Fine Work," S-3456, Schneider-480 (variety with plain scepters), Decimo Tertio edge, MS64 NGC, exceptionally choice and in fact the finest specimen this cataloguer can recall seeing, with the deeply engraved portrait of the king nothing less than exquisite and in high relief; the legends, date, and royal shield are all deeply struck; the edge beading is high and sharp except for a small area right above the king's head; only trivial contact ticks appear in the gold on the obverse, while the reverse is of staggering quality -- as fine as possible, nearly flawless. Kept from a higher technical grade because of some faint pin scratches mostly along the beading above part of the obverse legend extending from the king's name to above his head. Two of the beads below the king's long locks are flawed and serve to identify this specimen. The cartwheel luster simply glows. A delicate golden hue sheathes both sides. Above all this, the texture of the metal is awesome. Comparable to the Schneider plate coin. Clearly a candidate for finest known. We cannot locate an example of like quality sold in recent decades.
William, Prince of Orange, touched English soil on November 5, 1689, as the Catholic king James II (a convert from Protestantism) fled to France. James' new religious alliance with the church at Rome was cause for national unrest, and potential civil war. Instead what occurred was the Glorious Revolution, a bloodless affair. On January 28, 1690, Parliament declared to all that the throne had been vacated. What followed was a formal Declaration of Rights giving legal supremacy to Parliament, and acceptance of the terms of accession by the prince. On the death of Queen Mary at the very end of December 1694, William ruled alone for the first time. His silver coinage and small gold commenced in 1695, but the first large gold pieces were minted in 1699. The first 5 Guineas varied greatly on the reverse from the coins issued by him with Mary, essentially reverting to the cruciform style seen on the gold of Charles II. The king's portrait was shallowly engraved. And then Isaac Newton came to the mint in 1696. His scientific mind brought discipline to the book keeping and he attended to the coinage designs as few had before him. At the end of December 1699, Newton succeeded to the post of "master worker" or coining chief at the Royal Mint. Newton had no use for the ageing mint engravers, the Roettiers. He favored a young assistant named James Bull, and then the German engraver of great talent John Croker. At first set to simply re-engraving dies made by Roettiers, in 1698-99 he produced the famous "Flaming Hair" shillings. The king's portrait seen on those shillings bears an uncanny resemblance to the so-called "Fine Work" busts used on the 5 Guineas and 2 Guineas of 1701. The mint's own records are vague. James Bull may have contributed some effort to the creation of this portrait but the master engraver seems to have been Croker. Similar flourishes of engraving ingenuity are to be found on any number of medals of the period known to have been made by Croker, most of them signed by him. Newton's first indenture, or commission to produce coin, occurred on December 23, 1700. He had taken a particular interest in the fineness of English gold as compared to the French and Spanish gold commonly seen in commerce in England. No record exists specifying that Newton directed Croker to produce the dies used to mint this 5-Guinea coin, of superlative design and gold quality, but the dates of involvement at the mint by both men strongly suggest how this fabulous coin came to be.
From the collection of Donald E. Bently, sold for the benefit of the Bently Foundation
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