‘World’s most beautiful’ gold coin minted for Queen Victoria’s 1837 coronation sells for £267,000 at auction

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The coronation coin depicting Queen Victoria as a fairy guiding a lion was the first to present a monarch as a fictional character and only 100 were made.

Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1837. The rare currency depicts the monarch, who was 18-years-old at the time, as a royal fairy guiding a lion.

Britain feared the prospect of a teenage girl becoming the figurehead of the emerging Empire in the 1830s. In response two years later, Royal Mint artist William Wyon stamped the £5 coin with the young Queen using a sceptre to guide a nervous British lion.

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The commemorative coronation piece was the first coin to present a monarch as a fictional character. Only 100 were made - and it was declared a political masterstroke.

Today the coin is widely considered one of the world’s “most beautiful”. Scientific analysis conducted prior to the sale confirmed the coin was unusually struck in almost pure gold - at the time the official standard for a British gold coin was 22 carat, around 91.6 percent gold, while pure gold measures 24 carat.

Queen Victoria’s ethereal dress references Tudor court writer Edmund Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queene, written as an ode to Queen Elizabeth in 1590 and spanning over 36,000 lines. Mr Wyon printed Queen Victoria as Spenser’s Lady Una who the poet often depicted with a lion.

The rare and sought after coin has since been dubbed ‘Una and the Lion,’ and beneath the monarch reads ‘Dirige deus gressus meos’ translated as ‘May God direct my steps.’  On the other side is inscribed ‘Victoria D. G. Britanniarum Regina F. D.’ meaning ‘Victoria by the Grace of God, Defender of the British Territories, Defender of the Faith.’

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Last month, the sale at Spink auctioneers saw intense interest from private collectors that lasted just minutes before it sold. Auctioneer Gregory Edmund declared it: "An historic result for a celebrated British rarity."

In 2019 the Royal Mint decided to produce re-strikings of the coin, updated to bear the portrait of the late Queen Elizabeth II. Writing in November 1841, the Art Union of London stated: "We have been enabled to examine a new five pound golden piece the production of William Wyon, which for chastity of design and beauty of execution far exceeds anything that has been hitherto issued from her Majesty’s Mint.

"The head of the royal lady is clear and carefully defined, and on the reverse Mr Wyon has happily identified the exquisite fable of Una guiding the Lion with our own Queen. When the coin comes into circulation, no cabinet of English coins can be without it.

"We sincerely congratulate Mr Wyon for this chef-d’oeuvre of his art: his pure and classic taste is of great value to the country, and everything within his influence takes a high moral tone worthy of his occupation.”

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