British Coins (16 & 17 September 2014)

Date of Auction: 16th & 17th September 2014

Sold for £13,000

Estimate: £4,000 - £6,000

George III (1760-1820), New coinage, A group of five trials of the unfinished obv. portrait for the second issue Halfcrown [1817+], by B. Pistrucci, in silver, each with incuse bust left, the hair adorned with a plain fillet on which the laureate wreath had yet to be worked, each flan numbered 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 in ink on the back, nos. 1-4 all 37mm, no. 5 33mm, 14.13g, 14.11g, 14.10g, 14.08g, 14.05g (BDM IV, 605, these pieces) [5]. Extremely fine with matching grey tone, as made, a UNIQUE group


Provenance: B. Pistrucci Collection; J.G. Murdoch Collection, Part III, Sotheby Auction, 15-19 March 1904, lot 283; Baron Philippe de Ferrari la Renotière Collection, Sotheby Auction, 27-31 March 1922, lot 88; An Important Collection of English Milled Silver Coins, Glendining Auction, 4 October 1962, lot 132.

Forrer (p.605), copying the Murdoch sale catalogue entry, states that originally there were six trials in the set, but the original document signed by Pistrucci that was sold with the trials in the 19th century stated that one (presumably numbered 6 on the back) had been sold ‘evidently many years ago.’ Forrer goes on to translate a portion of Pistrucci’s notes on the pieces:

‘To do this work (i.e. the Half Crowns) which was my second in steel I had from time to time incuse proofs made of the puncheon in order to verify the perfection of the flan before going on with the work. This I did with the permission of the Master of the Mint, because I did not want Mr Wyon to deceive me, as he had done previously in making me work on a false (uneven?) surface and I explained that I could not get along with the work which was quite lost, and that I was obliged to begin again three times, because I had been given a bad puncheon to work upon. At the end the mint master remonstrated with Mr Wyon, who was obliged to give me a good puncheon, which is the one with which I produced afterwards the Half Crowns of George III, showing the neck only.’

The background to the issue of a second type of halfcrown in the last coinage of George III, riven as it was by the internal Mint politics of the time, is amplified by Christopher Challis (
A New History of the Royal Mint, 1992, pp.472-89) and Kevin Clancy (’The Reducing Machine and the last coinage of George III’, BNJ 2000, pp.118-23). With Benedetto Pistrucci’s new portrait of the king for the halfcrown, copied by hand and transferred into steel coinage tools from a jasper model by the young Thomas Wyon (†22 September 1817), meeting hostility within the Mint from the likes of William Wellesley Pole, the Master, and other contemporaries, Pole ordered that the new ‘bull head’ halfcrowns, which first saw the light of day in March 1817, were to be sent to the most distant parts of the country so they were not seen to be circulating in the metropolis. Meanwhile, the Mint had employed Soho’s reducing machine to produce a new portrait and master tools for the obverse of what became the second type of halfcrown were available in February. Although it is undocumented as to exactly when the original halfcrown obverse gave way to the new type from the perspective of issued coin, it is known that royal approval of the new design was received on 26 April 1817