British Coins, George III, pattern five pounds, 1820LX, by B. Pistrucci, laur. head r., rev. St. George and the dragon (S.3783; W&R.177 [R4]; L&S.207; Montagu 176; Douglas-Morris 145; Selig 1158; KM.Pn84), showing faint hairlines, otherwise retaining its brilliant mirrored surfaces in contrast to the lovely cameo images of both the king’s portrait and St. George slaying the mythical dragon; a major rarity among rare large gold coins, always keenly sought for inclusion in some top-notch numismatic collection, certainly the finest to come on the market in decades, certified and graded by PCGS as Proof 64 Deep Cameo, the finest graded by both services
Today’s collectors call this magnificently engraved pattern a five-pound coin but in its day it was invariably called a five-sovereigns piece, doubtless because the term ‘sovereign’ had only been re-introduced as a piece of English money a mere three years previously, when the New Coinage gold was first minted. None was struck for release into commerce for several reasons, chief among which was the passing of George III on 29 January of this year, but it was also true that by 1820 it was nearly seventy years since a coin of this face value had been issued for commerce and thus the coin was simply unfamiliar and, many would argue, unneeded; the Bank of England’s paper bills had rendered coins of greater value than one pound essentially pointless, and resulting from the exigencies of the recent war against Napoleon the British public had come to accept paper money as being as good as gold, and a lot handier to carry.
Perhaps the major appeal of this coin is that it bears the largest and sharpest image of engraver Pistrucci’s motif of Saint George defeating evil, incarnate in the dragon. This symbolism could not have been lost on many British subjects, who had just endured years of war against what most surely considered the evil empire of Napoleon and his family. It was also a moment in time when both the facilities and the staff of the Royal Mint were undergoing great changes. This coin was struck in the new proofing room of the new Tower Hill Mint, using equipment obtained from Boulton and Watt’s Soho Mint. In many ways, in fact, this coin and the similar two-sovereigns pattern of the same date reflect these stark advancements in the minting process; never before (save a handful of patterns of recent years) had large gold coins looked so wonderful. The man behind this coin, Pistrucci, also sensed that his days at the mint were numbered, and his last truly great creation for a gold coin is the one we see here, the 1820 pattern for a gold five-pound coin that never came to be. In this, of course, lies much of its appeal. While other coins are rarer, few possess the panache of this coin as the largest and most elegant image of the new line of gold coins which had first appeared in the summer of 1817. Hundreds of collectors, if not thousands, aspire to own an example of this coin, yet most must end frustrated because of the tiny mintage.
As if he knew in advance that this was to be his ‘signature’ piece, the engraver spelled out his name in tiny capital letters on both the obverse and the reverse dies (whereas it was reduced to initials on the similar two-sovereigns patterns). As the dies were not quite finished upon the death of George III, it has been hypothesized that William Wyon, soon to take over the Italian’s function, may well have touched up the dies, in particular the reverse die holding the St. George image, in the days following the king’s passing. Two versions of this largest piece were produced, one with plain edge and one with a raised lettered edge featuring the legend DECUS ET TUTAMEN ∙ ANNO REGNI LX. The mintage figures were disclosed long ago by Hawkins as being a total of just 25 pieces of both edge varieties. The coin having a plain edge appears to be rarer, but the lettered edge offers the regnal year as LX, or 60. The ‘year’ consisted of 29 days in all. Of the 25 coins made, six went into museums, eight were awarded to Royal Mint officers and employees, and the rest were sold to some of the outstanding collectors of the day. A few were traded or sold soon afterward but most were retained for some decades until collections were dispersed. Each appearance of an example of this pattern over the years has been viewed as an opportunity. No matter what price is paid, nor how near to or far from perfection any specimen may be, this coin is spectacular in its beauty, it is one of only a few designs which bear no distracting legend on the reverse, and its execution by one of the finest of all numismatic engravers presents images which seem to float on golden fields. Few coins aspire to such heights!