Excellent British Rarities In First Sale Of The Geoffrey Cope Collection

Sold by CNG, NAC, and NGSA, the Geoffrey Cope Collection contains a fantastic array of rare British coins.

by Greg Reynolds | Published on June 20, 2024

The Cope Collection will be remembered for fantastic British rarities. Geoffrey Cope (1942-2017) was a widely recognized and zealous collector in Europe. The Classical Numismatic Group (CNG) along with two European firms, NAC and NGSA, jointly presented the auction of a large part of the Cope Collection at a hotel in Zurich, Switzerland on May 8, 2024.

The full names of those two European firms are a little awkward for people who are accustomed to the English language. Two Cope Collection catalogues in English, one for ancients and one for British coins, are available for free online.

Geoffrey Cope purchased coins from many dealers and auction firms, not just the firms that are selling his collection. During the 1950s, while a young teenager in England, Cope frequented established antiques stores and also stores that sold old unusual items that were often very inexpensive. In one store, Cope found an 1887 Half-Crown, which contains a little more silver than a classic U.S. half dollar, and he became curious about coins.

By the time Cope was in his twenties, he was buying rare coins from major coin companies. Before he was forty, he became very interested in ancient coins, especially Roman bronzes. He personally attended auctions, and was widely known to numismatists in Europe.

Geoffrey Cope emphasized originality, striking detail and eye appeal and would not have been impressed by the attributes of many coins that merit Choice (MS63) to Gem (65 or higher) grades by U.S. standards. Among vintage British coins, he would have preferred an AU55 grade silver coin, by U.S. standards, with deep natural toning and sharp detail, to a technically outstanding MS66 grade coin that was not sharply detailed or became bright white via dipping. 

After viewing a fair number of British coins from his collection, I found that I could confidently theorize about the criteria that was in his mind. Also, I talked to people who knew Geoffrey Cope. Some coin professionals present at the January 2024 New York International Numismatic Convention (NYINC) knew him well.

Geoffrey Cope had a ‘better eye’ for silver coins than for gold coins, in my estimation. Even so, he acquired some very rare and appealing British gold coins.

Geoffrey Cope was not really interested in completing sets. He often selected coins based upon originality, rarity, artistic merit and historical importance. Cope probably acquired more than eight hundred British numismatic items.

There were 163 lots of Ancient Bronzes, and one Byzantine coin, in the Cope Collection auction event on May 8. These were listed in a separate catalogue (NAC #144) and were auctioned beginning at 2:00 PM. The session comprised of British coins (NAC #145) began at 4:00 PM local time. There were three hundred lots in the British session, including coins from Scotland, one mysterious ancient piece, and coins from outside the British Isles that were counterstamped by the British. I am focusing on three tremendously important British rarities, and briefly discussing another.

David Guest of CNG reveals that the second sale of the British material in the Cope Collection will be in November, not October as was previously reported. There will be an additional sale of British items from the Cope Collection sometime “in late 2024 or early 2025,” Guest adds. This additional sale is likely to be Internet-oriented rather than a live auction in a hotel.

Victor England, David Guest, and others at CNG made Geoffrey Cope’s Petition Crown  available for all to see at the NYINC in January 2024 in Manhattan. Petition Crowns are 1663 dated patterns that were directed to the attention of King Charles II by the most famous coin engraver of the 1600s, Thomas Simon, who worked at different times for both the royal and rebel regimes in England.

Please see a previous article on Greysheet.com for a discussion of Petition Crowns at the ANA Convention in August 2022 and my review of an auction on January 8 at the NYINC in which Heritage sold a Petition Crown. Geoffrey Cope’s Petition Crown and other selections from the Cope Collection at CNG’s tables were the main attraction in the bourse area of the NYINC.

In January, David Guest of CNG allowed me to very closely inspect the Cope Collection Petition Crown, for several minutes. Fortunately, the CNG tables were placed such that the lighting was much better than it usually is at coin shows. Overhead lights, especially high bright lights, impair examinations of coins. Only to a very limited extent were CNG tables subject to overhead lights.

Before convention centers were used in the coin business, shows were often in hotel ballrooms or corporate meeting rooms with the overhead lights turned off or very much dimmed. The appropriate lighting contributed to an effective analysis of coins.

1663 England Petition Crown NGC MS63+. Photos from NGC.

The Cope Collection 1663 Petition Crown scores amazingly high in the category of originality. While it is impossible to know all of the experiences over a period of centuries in the ‘life’ of a specific coin, pattern, or medal, it is indisputable that this piece is characterized by normal, gradually developed, natural toning and lacks the whiteness that stems from an acid-dipping. Moreover, there are no glaring hairlines, which are very common on coins that are more than one hundred years old. The modest number of mild lines and abrasions on the obverse are largely covered by toning, with minimal disruptions.

A dominant tone on the Cope Petition Crown is a mellow, gray-green of a hue that is common on old British silver coins, patterns and medals. There is an appropriate orange texture on the reverse in addition to gray-green tones. There are other colors on the coin, too, including tan streaks. This Petition Crown has toned rather evenly, and the colors are well balanced.

The Cope Collection Petition Crown is more than attractive. A few contact marks and some light abrasions from handling, plus a couple of gashes on the reverse, keep this Petition Crown from meriting a gem grade. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to examine it before it was encapsulated. Later, it was NGC graded MS63+, which is certainly fair.

On January 8, Heritage auctioned an NGC graded MS62 Petition Crown for $960,000. That was also an appealing Petition Crown. As much as I like that one, I agree that the Cope Collection Petition Crown merits a grade that is more than one increment higher.

For the Cope Petition Crown, the hammer price was 775,000 Swiss Francs. NAC handled the bidding, and the catalogue stated that a “commission of 22.5% will be levied on the hammer price” and “bidders using our [NAC] Live Internet facilities pay an additional charge of 1%.” As some participants bid by phone and others bid through agents in the auction room, there is a good chance that the lots mentioned here were purchased by people who paid the 22.5% buyer’s fee and not an “additional” 1% fee. Some buyers paid shipping charges, bank fees or sales taxes, though it makes sense to regard those as costs incurred later rather than parts of prices realized.

With a 22.5% buyer’s commission, the total price for the Petition Crown was 949,375 Swiss Francs. On the day of the auction, this result was equivalent to approximately 1,045,628 U.S. Dollars, according to xe.com. This result is an auction record for a British silver numismatic item. British gold coins constitute a different topic.

Henry VIII Testoon. Photos from biddr.com.

One of the most impressive silver coins in this auction was a Testoon of Henry VIII, who ruled England and territories from 1509 to his death in 1547. Henry VIII Testoons were struck after 1543. The Testoon was first minted under the reign of Henry’s father, Henry VII. The Testoon foreshadowed the English Shilling. Each was valued at twelve pence. Weights of Testoons varied, though were somewhat similar to that of a U.S. silver quarter.

In regards to originality, technical factors and striking detail, this Testoon scores highly in all three categories. Although it is true that it does not merit a gem grade by U.S. standards, this is an excellent coin and features one of the best numismatic portraits of King Henry VIII that survives.

It is widely believed that the portrait on this coin is indicative of the actual appearance of King Henry VIII, rather late in his life. Paintings of this king by famous artists tend to be characterized by facial features that are biased by the imagination of the respective artist or biased by the artistic styles of the time period. I disagree with writers who suggest that the portrait of Henry VIII on the Testoon stems heavily from a painting by Hans Holbein. I maintain that the portrait on the Testoon and that famous painting feature notably different representations of the head of this king.

The eyes, eyebrows and eye sockets in a multitude of Hans Holbein paintings from 1535 until his death tend to be remarkably similar and, to some extent, indicative of an artistic style rather than realism. Furthermore, given the personality of Henry VIII, it is unlikely that the engraver would have relied on a painting that was around a half-dozen years old. The engraver of a portrait of the king for a new coin issue was a fairly important person in the kingdom and probably a trusted artisan. It is likely that he would have been introduced to Henry VIII in person, or at least would have watched the king while Henry VIII was addressing subjects or presiding over an event. The king was probably expecting a realistic portrait.  

Before photography was invented, portraits of kings and queens on coins tended to be relatively more realistic than most oil paintings or professional drawings of the same respective monarchs. Before the 1800s, it was rare for a coin design to be intended to be glamorous. In many cases, surviving coins are the primary means by which historians and students learn about the actual appearances of monarchs and some other historical figures. 

This Henry VIII Testoon is mostly a brown-russet color, with tan and orange-russet areas. There are tints of other colors, as there often are on centuries old silver coins. The toning is clearly natural, is attractive, and serves an educational purpose. It is important for collectors and dealers to learn about natural toning, as artificial toning and environmental harm are serious problems.

Although the presently discussed Testoon has never been certified as far as I know, NGC reports certifying three of this Spink-2364 variety and fifteen Henry VIII Testoons in total, including three in details holders. If I am reading the PCGS pop report correctly, PCGS reports zero of this variety, and two Henry VIII Testoons in total. A majority of  surviving Henry VIII Testoons, however, are not in NGC or PCGS holders. 

Heritage has auctioned five Henry VIII Testoons, though they are all very much inferior to the Cope Collection coin. I found only one Henry VIII Testoon in the Stack’s Bowers auction archive, though at least a couple may have been sold by Stack’s of New York in the past. Moreover, the major coin auction houses in London have sold a significant number during the last quarter-century. It is difficult to estimate exactly how many. In some cases, the same coin will appear in more than one auction within a period of just a few years, and past appearances are not always mentioned. 

Most Henry VIII Testoons auctioned in the past realized less than U.S. $10,000 each, less than U.S. $4000 or the equivalent in some  instances. In January 2020, however, the Goldbergs auctioned a raw (uncertified) Henry VIII Testoon (S-2364) with an unusually sharp, though obviously worn, portrait, for $30,000.

On January 23, 2022, Spink auctioned a Henry VIII Testoon, which had an extremely sharp portrait, yet several blurry or almost blank letters. That Testoon was of the S-2365 variety. According to Spink, that Testoon realized 42,000 British Pounds, approximately 57,369 U.S. Dollars at the time, then an auction record. Historical rates at xe.com indicate that the U.S. Dollar equivalent of 42,000 British pounds on Jan. 23, 2022 was about $56,929. Was the rate much different on the settlement date? An immediate point is that the sharpness of the portrait is a large determinant of the value of an Henry VIII Testoon.

The vast majority of surviving Henry VIII Testoons were poorly struck, well worn and/or characterized by serious technical problems. The coin that the Goldbergs auctioned in 2020 for $30,000 and the just mentioned coin that Spink auctioned in 2022 featured portraits with far more detail than usual. Even so, the Cope Collection piece is unusually impressive, and my research suggests that it is superior to those two, though I would really have to see all these to draw a conclusion.

On May 8, 2024, the Cope Collection Henry VIII Testoon realized a hammer price of 95,000 Swiss Francs, 116,375 including the 22.5% buyer’s commission. This was equivalent to around U.S. $128,173 on May 8. Certainly, this was an extremely strong result. There is a need, however, to examine this coin in actuality and to view many other silver coins of Henry VIII to fully understand why collectors were very eager to bid on this specific coin. The detail of the portrait and the technical superiority of this coin were key factors.

Mary Stuart Testoon. Photos from biddr.com.

Collectors were also eager to bid on two silver coins that each depict Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, who should not be confused with Queen Mary I of England. Their reigns overlap a little. Mary Stuart became Queen of Scotland in 1542, even though she was less than one week old. Her paternal grandmother was the older sister of King Henry VIII, father of Mary I, so Mary Stuart and Mary I Tudor were related in a significant way.

Mary Stuart left Scotland for France in 1548. Ten years later, she married the crown prince of France, who became king in 1559 and then died unexpectedly in 1560, while a teenager.

Mary Stuart ruled Scotland in her own right after returning in 1561 until she was pressured into abdicating for political reasons in 1567. Although many coins struck under her reign survive, there are very few surviving coins that feature a sharply defined portrait of her. Most Mary Stuart coin types were designed without a portrait at all.

There were two well struck Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, portrait silver coins in this sale. The Queen Mary, Scottish Testoon that captured my attention was dated 1562, and was likely to have been struck when she was twenty years old. She was then an active and forceful queen.

It is likely that this coin issue depicts her as she really appeared. In addition, her facial features, along with her covered long neck, project aspects of her personality. The detail, planchet (prepared blank), and toning of this Queen Mary Stuart Testoon are all excellent. This coin’s surface quality is impressive, too.

It is of the S-5422 ‘variety,’ a code from the Spink series of standard references for coins from the British Isles. Although 1561 and 1562 are both dates of this S-5422 ‘variety’, the 1562 is notably rarer.

In September 2018, CNG sold a raw 1561 S-5422 Mary Stuart Testoon for $25,000 plus the buyer’s fee, probably $30,000 in total?  In August 2021, Stack’s Bowers auctioned a PCGS graded AU50 1561 S-5422 Mary Stuart Testoon for $16,800. That is the only coin of this S-5422 type that PCGS reports. Other Mary Stuart Testoons in the PCGS population report are of varieties that do not include portraits. NGC reports two 1561 S-5422 Testoons in the Good to VG range, and a 1562 that was graded MS62.

In March 2024, the firm of Davissons in Minnesota sold an uncertified S-5422 1562 Mary Stuart Testoon, reportedly for $24,000, in Auction #43, lot #237. The description raises the possibility that this could be one of the best Mary Stuart Portrait Testoons, though my guess is that it is inferior to the presently discussed Cope coin. In the description, Allan Davisson commented upon a different 1562 Testoon of this same issue, which was auctioned at an NYINC in January 2012 reportedly for $27,500 plus a commission. Davisson remarks that he saw that coin and it “has several pronounced digs in the obverse field.” I did not see the coin that Davissons offered in March 2024 or the coin that was auctioned by another firm at the NYINC in 2012, and I am not expressing opinions about them, though the prices realized are relevant to an analysis of the 1562 Mary Stuart Testoon in the Geoffrey Cope Collection.

On May 26, 2011, the firm of Munzen & Medaillen GmbH in their Auction #34, lot 1021,  sold an S-5422 Mary Stuart 1561 Testoon for 29,000 Euros, which this firm states was equal to 40,885 U.S. Dollars. Information on xe.com indicates that the value in U.S. Dollars was $40,858.16 on May 26, 2011. Either way, this result probably was an auction record for a Mary Stuart portrait Testoon of either the 1561 or 1562 dates. This coin was not certified and the short description was in German.

The Geoffrey Cope 1652 Mary Stuart portrait Testoon (S-5422) was also not certified. Although the cataloguer graded it as “Extremely Fine,” this is likely to be a European grade not a North American grade. According to U.S. standards, this Cope Collection coin would grade higher than Extremely Fine-45, for sure. I prefer to be vague about this coin’s grade.

Besides, this 1652 Testoon was probably better appreciated as a consequence of not being certified. Many U.S. collectors have been led to believe that, if two coins struck from the same pair of dies are graded MS64 and AU58 by the same grading service, the MS64 grade coin must be far more desirable than the AU55 grade coin. I disagree. An MS64 grade coin might not score well in the category of originality, may be weakly struck or may have annoying contact marks. An AU55 grade coin could plausibly be characterized by excellent natural toning, zero hairlines and minimal imperfections. It just does not make sense to assume that a true MS64 grade coin is necessarily superior to a true AU55 grade coin; there is a need for experts to examine the coins and for collectors to think about the importance of particular factors.

Also, some rare coins are modified by coin dealers. Fortunately, numerous British silver coins in the Cope Collection score very highly in the category of originality, and I hope that caused prospective buyers to value them more highly. This auction on May 8 was very successful.

In April 2024, I was thinking that the Geoffrey Cope S-5422 1562 Mary Stuart Testoon had a medium-wholesale value of around 40,000 U.S. Dollars and a retail value in the range of $48,000 to $68,000. The hammer price was 70,000 Swiss Francs.

The total works out to around U.S. $94,443, a super-strong price. Nonetheless, this 1652 Mary Stuart Testoon is extremely impressive. This coin is a wonderful link to one of the most interesting, illustrious and enigmatic monarchs in the history of the British Isles.

Rawlins Crown. Photos from biddr.com.

In New York, I ran out of time while examining some of the terrific coins in the Cope Collection. I did not inspect the Rawlins Crown, one of the most famous of all British silver coins. While many German coins from past centuries feature city views, the 1644 Rawlins Crown is very distinctive among vintage British coins, with a very well defined horse above a ‘city view’ of Oxford.

This specific Rawlins Crown was in many famous collections in the past. I have been intrigued by the auction by the firm of S. Leigh Sotheby of the Samuel Tyssen Collection in 1802. The same firm auctioned the collection of Lieutenant Colonel W. Durrant in 1847. A successor firm auctioned the Edward John Shepherd Collection in 1885. It is cool that this same Rawlins Crown and the already mentioned Henry VIII Testoon were both in these three epic collections.

The Tyssen-Durrant-Shepherd-Cope Rawlins Crown hammered for 360,000 Swiss Francs, 441,000 with the buyer’s fee, approximately 485,709 U.S. Dollars. It is hard to interpret this price, especially since I did not examine the coin. As a Rawlins Crown is so rare and noteworthy, however, quality may have been a secondary consideration for some bidders.

There were many very important and otherwise desirable British rarities in this auction. Various bidders had differing goals. “Some were certainly connoisseurs. Others collect one denomination or reign,” David Guest notes. “Two dominant buyers are building type sets for the British series,” David reveals.

Here, I covered three items that I carefully examined in New York, and I mentioned the Rawlins Crown because of its tremendous importance. A thorough analysis of the whole Geoffrey Cope Collection would require the writing of a long book. He was a sophisticated and enthusiastic collector who will be missed by coin communities in Europe.

Copyright ©2024 Greg Reynolds

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Source: Greg Reynolds

Greg Reynolds image More than 750 of Greg Reynolds’ articles about coins and related items have appeared in ten different publications. Reynolds has closely examined a tremendous number of rare, or conditionally rare, vintage U.S., British and Latin American coins. Furthermore, he has attended dozens of major coin auctions, including those of Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, Gardner and Pogue Family. From the NLG, Reynolds has shared or won outright the annual award for ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ a record seven times. Greg is available for private consultations and analyses, especially regarding rarities and auctions.

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