A Beautiful Henry VIII SovereignHenry VIII (1509-47) gold Sovereign ND, S-2267, N-1782, Schneider-570/573 (rev.), very rare 2nd Coinage issue of 1526-44, portcullis below feet, Tower Mint London, Lis over Sunburst blundered obverse mm, Arrow (or crossbow bolt) reverse mm (struck 1537-42), AU50 NGC, a truly pleasing coin having residual luster, struck on a wonderful broad flan, the images perfectly centered and superbly detailed, Henry's small face sharp to the eye, and remarkably pleasing surfaces almost entirely free from abrasion. In fact, the only "fault" the cataloguer can find is a faint rim bruise at 3 o'clock obverse. How did such a large coin, made of nearly pure (23 ct, 3.5 gr, or .995 fine) soft gold, ever survive in such splendid condition? We sometimes see the comment "miracle of survival" used for modern milled coins, but this coin is four and a half centuries old, and the expression takes on much more significance. All in all, then, this is a great example of a really historic coin -- a very valuable piece of money worth 22 shillings and sixpence when it was created, a huge amount of buying power at the time, and the harbinger of centuries of coinage in gold called "the sovereign." We cannot find a comparable quality specimen having sold for some time, and we note that Spink sold an example (also S-2267) in 2010, described as "extremely fine" but seemingly not quite this coin's equal, for £62,000.
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. When young Henry Tudor was crowned in 1509, he inherited a wealthy realm. His very person represented a sunburst of opportunity for the English. He was a powerful man, physically and mentally. He was well schooled. He was also dangerous to any political opponent who dared to question his will. And he was a deeply troubled man. His early vigor declined as sport took its toll on his body. He could not sire the male heir(s) he so wished for, and blamed his failure on a succession of now-famous wives. His one son was born sickly and could never begin to measure up to his father. Edward died in his youth. Ironically, Henry's second daughter, by Anne Boleyn, the princess Elizabeth, was largely ignored in her youth by her ambitious father but she lived on to ultimately rescue the reputation of the Tudors and became arguably England's greatest queen. As she grew up, her father grew out -- became corpulent -- and his arrogance turned into vengeful meanness. His spending also became flagrantly abusive to the treasury, to the point that he caused lead to be taken from windows and church roofs all over his realm, causing many to collapse. His action has come to be known to history as the dissolution of the monasteries, in part an act of vengeance against a church he came to despise when it would not relent to his wishes for repeated divorce. He gave ever greater power to his own cardinals, some of whom gained his grant to allow them to make coinage partly in their own names. He spent his realm nearly into poverty. By 1542, he had gone through almost all the fortune from his father's treasury. He began to debase his money. The gold was less and less fine. The silver coinage finally was nothing but silver heavily laced with copper alloy, and his infamous Testoon of 1544-47 when slightly worn showed its base metal, causing both Henry and his coin to be disparagingly called Old Copper Nose. The previous glory of his nearly pure gold coins soon vanished, and so did many of the coins themselves, into the melting pot. The various issues of his Fine Sovereigns represent Henry Tudor's finest fiscal and spiritual years. In this rift lay Henry's greatest irony. Despite the fact that Henry would end up splitting from the Holy Catholic church at Rome, his massive gold sovereign boasts devoutness in its reverse legend, IhESUS AUTEM TRANSIENS PER MEDIUM ILLORUM IBAT, here on this coin written out in its entirety, boldly impressed, translating from Latin to mean "But Jesus, passing through the midst of them, went His way" (Luke 4:30). If Henry saw himself as godlike and of divine choice, and there is strong evidence to support this concept, then the quotation from the Scriptures used on his coins takes on another meaning entirely after he distanced himself from the Catholic pope and his numberless followers. The church aside, King Henry gained more and more enemies and quiet dissenters, all afraid of him, and justifiably so. The last powerful Tudor king had transformed his realm from the best of times in 1509 into the worst by 1547, when he died a despised and much-feared old man. Henry managed to distort himself, his money, and his kingdom into withered images of their former selves. His subjects, high and low, he inveigled with his debased money. Today, all of Henry VIII's early gold is fairly rare, and especially so his largest coin, the Sovereign. It offers its admirers a splendid image of a once powerful and vigorous monarch who commanded vast wealth and influence, as well as respect, when it dropped from the mint's dies centuries ago. Somehow, it survived Henry's greed. And it would be his rejected daughter's task to restore the English money to its former grandeur -- as represented by this magnificent coin.
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