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    The Celebrated Una And The Lion Five Pounds

    Victoria gold Proof 'Una and the Lion' 5 Pounds 1839 PR61+ Ultra Cameo NGC, KM742, S-3851, W&R-278. By William Wyon, lettered edge. A truly majestic and iconic selection, one of the greatest pieces in the British numismatic series and widely regarded as one of the most beautiful coins ever produced.

    In 1839, shortly after the young Queen Victoria's 20th birthday, a limited number of proof sets were produced consisting of a full-run of currency coins and the present issue, a 5-Pound piece debuting a design of the young Queen beside a lion. The engraver, William Wyon, had made the bold artistic decision to represent the young Victoria as Una, the protagonist in the first volume of the Elizabethan poem "The Faerie Queen" by Edmund Spencer. Although recognized for his talent, Wyon had been somewhat in competition with Benedito Pistrucci, the engraver known for his celebrated depiction of St. George and the Dragon; a design whose dynamic and dramatic composition of man and beast has led to it still being displayed on English sovereigns today. The present coin represents Wyon's answer to Pistrucci, his magnum opus, consisting of the same basic ingredients yet creating a far gentler scene; the young Victoria as Una, only 20 years old but still radiating power and poise, leading the lion, the anthropomorphization of the British Empire. Wyon must have realised the quality of his work, the numismatic masterpiece he had just created, but he cannot possibly have fathomed just how long his design would remain in the hearts of all those who love British coinage.

    So beloved was this design that collectors were ordering examples from the mint for decades after first production, these types showing a plain edge as oppose to lettered and produced up until 1886. This widespread admiration for Wyon's engraving has been further demonstrated in the multiple proposals to incorporate the Una and the Lion reverse into circulating coinage; first in 1839 as a proposal for a Crown, then again in 1859 as a pattern for a decimal Penny, in 1961 on a decimal 50 Cents, and finally in its appearance on the reverses of commemorative sets issued in both 1989 and 2001. Unlike the majority of English Proofs, however, no reciprocal currency issue was ever created bearing this bold design. This was not a coin made to circulate; this was not a coin designed to exchange for items of value; it is the work of an artist, with gold as his canvas, who created something beautiful solely for beauty's own sake.

    The present specimen is stunning, particularly for its certified grade; its planchet a blend of canary and butter yellow-gold, its surfaces showing very little in the way of nicks, bumps or contact marks often seen on coins of this level. Definitively struck so as to do Wyon's engraving due justice, every ripple in Victoria's drapery is prominent and needle-sharp, every hair in the lion's mane crisply represented; the obverse portrait of the young Queen is similarly pronounced, a small scratch to her cheek and some rubbing in the field behind her bust the only marks bearing mention. Of the 400 or so specimens originally produced in 1839, many have been since impaired, cleaned, or improperly handled, and accordingly to find such a fine example as this with full Ultra Cameo frosting is rare and desirable indeed. Exquisitely preserved and conservatively graded as the photos reveal, a coin which requires, nay, deserves in-hand examination for a true appreciation of its quality. Simply a delight to behold, an outstanding specimen of this deeply loved issue and one certain to excite those collectors concerned solely with the finest of British coins.




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    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    August, 2018
    17th Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 8
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