News & Insights

Captivating Coins

6th June 2022. By Oliver Yarwood

Coins are tangible pieces of history that have exerted a powerful fascination for thousands of years. Collecting coins has spanned the centuries, from the first recorded collectors in Ancient Greece to diverse figures such as Louis XIV of France to Hollywood actor Jack Black all devoted to numismatics. Today there is a thriving market for coins at auctions, demonstrated by regular ‘white glove’ Coin Sales at Tennants, in which every lot sells – a rare occurrence in the art and antiques trade.

The span of human history from the 1st millennium B.C. to the present day can be told through coins. They tell the stories of key moments and people that changed the course of history and being highly valued and made of metal they are often some of the few surviving objects from early cultures. There is a vast and fascinating array of coins to be collected from across time periods and cultures, each with a direct link to a time and place. It is always a privilege to hold an ancient coin and imagine through whose hands it has passed, what it has paid for and where it has been since it was first minted. However, one of the joys of coin collecting is that it doesn’t have to be a costly hobby; more commonly found Ancient Roman coins for example, can be picked up very inexpensively.

At Tennants, we see a great variety of collections come through our doors for sale, which include banknotes and tokens, with many collections having been passed down from earlier generations. Whilst most are of interest but of modest value, once in a while a collection comes in with exceptional items, often without the vendor knowing what treasures they have in their possession; indeed, many don’t realise that a sovereign is quite literally worth its weight in gold. Coin collecting at the upper end of the market is a very specialist subject, and the difference between a coin worth £200 and £20,000 can be down to a subtle, tiny detail in the design that makes it very rare. Condition is of the utmost importance too, with the level of miniscule scratches and damages invisible to the untrained eye making all the difference in the desirability of a coin to collectors.

On several occasions at Tennants in recent years, the highest prices achieved in sales have been from family collections whose owners had no idea of their worth. One such collection resulted in the highest price ever achieved in a Coins, Tokens and Banknotes Sale at Tennants, when a set of six specimen banknotes from Burma sold for a hammer price of £64,000. After a fierce bidding war, the notes were purchased by a buyer who had flown over from New York specially for the sale. These exceptionally rare notes were all in mint condition and were issued during the war in 1943 and 1945 when the country was under military administration as emergency war-time currency with specimen serial numbers. The notes had been collected in Burma during the war by a British engineer, who kept them in pristine condition, and they were found amongst his possessions inherited by a family member who had little idea of their value before they were consigned for sale.

An exceptionally rare ‘proof like’ 1701 William III Guinea caused some excitement too, when it sold for a hammer price of £22,000 against an estimate of £4,000-6,000. Guineas are always in demand amongst collectors and dealers, but it was the coin’s combination of rarity and remarkably good condition that enticed bidders. The coin was part of a good private collection, having been collected by the vendor’s grandfather and then stored in a box in a garage for years; their value and rarity had long been forgotten and the entire collection sold for more than £50,000.

If you have a collection of coins lurking in the back of a drawer, be sure to keep them safe from scratches and knocks, and a our specialist will happily help illuminate you on the contents and the value of your collection.


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