Great Britain 1665 guinea

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Goldberg sale 59, lot 3094
photo courtesy Ira & Larry Goldberg
This specimen was lot 3094 in Goldberg sale 59 (Beverly Hills, June 2010), where it sold for $31,050. The catalog description[1] noted,

"Great Britain. Guinea, 1665. Charles II, 1660-1685. Third Laureate Bust. Laureate head right. Reverse: Crowned cruciform arms, with alternating scepters at angles, central interlocking C's. This wonderful and very special coin should be listed in the Wilson & Rasmussen Proofs book, for it is clearly out of the ordinary. Perhaps it is a Specimen strike, but unrecorded. Not only is this a very rare date, but it's also one of the finest known Charles II guineas of any style. Extremely rare, finely struck and prooflike, and of remarkable quality! Virtually as made, an awesome coin! NGC graded Specimen 62.

Even after the unremarkable interregnum of the Commonwealth, which lasted for 11 years, there were many Protestants in the country who were dismayed to see the throne revert back to the Catholic Stuarts. Undoubtedly some felt it was the just and divine wrath of God when in the fifth year of his reign Death, Black Death, came to stalk the streets of London. However, Black Death, or plague (most likely the bubonic variety), was no stranger to the city. It had been there before, on sporadic visits. The earliest, largest one of note was in 1258. Nearly a century later Black Death of holocaust proportions consumed Europe, stopping by England, and reaching London in November of 1348. On that occasion it is estimated that it wiped out well over half of London's population before petering out in the early 1350s. Subsequent outbreaks continued in the 1400 and 1500s, but all small scale. Recurrences were still to be seen in the first half of the 1600s, with those in 1603 and 1625 being particularly severe. There were still more outbreaks during the 1630s and 1640s, but then in 1664 the worst epidemic yet hit the capital. This outbreak of the plague became known as the Great Plague.

In 1663 plague ravaged Holland. Charles II wisely, in part, forbade any trade with the Dutch out of concern of contracting the contagion (and partly because England was engaged in a cut-throat trade war with Holland at the time). Whether the new outbreak originated via the Netherlands, or merely just as a cyclical recurrence, one can never say. Despite precautions, the first case of the disease was recognized during Christmas 1664, but the cold weather kept further casualties in check. April of 1665 saw the first victims of what was to be termed the Great Plague. Spring brought a quickening in the death rate but, as these were all in the poorer sections of London, the authorities chose to ignore it. However, as spring turned into one of the hottest summers in memory, the number of deaths began to soar and panic set in. For the next 18 months an estimated 100,000 people at the least were to die.

London of the time was still the medieval city, with narrow streets and lanes, tightly packed with timber houses, humans, and their refuse. London was a filthy city. The squalor of the slums was mythical in degree, and the perfect breeding place for the flea-infested rats that spread the disease. This is why the city was never wholly free of the plague. Attempts had been made over the decades at some degree of sanitation improvement, and similar interventions, but these were mostly unsuccessful because no one then knew that the rats and their burdensome fleas were the true culprits of this contagion. In fact, it was the popular belief then that the plague was caused by dogs and cats. The authorities hastened to eradicate all those found within city's limits. Author Daniel Defoe in his Journal of the Plague Years estimated that 40,000 dogs and 200,000 cats were killed. The result of these measures was that the disease-carrying rat population quickly mushroomed, and the plague spread even more rapidly.

The rich, many of the upper clergy, most of the physicians, and those who could afford to quickly fled London to distant residences. The king and his court relocated to Salisbury, and again to Oxford. Others less affluent moved onto boats on the Thames (the river population swelled to an estimated at 10,000). By June the roads were so clogged by escapees that the Lord Mayor ordered the city's gates shut to anyone who did not have a certificate of health. A thriving market in forged certificates quickly grew up. For many, though, now locked within the disease-ravaged city, all they could do was die. The numbers of corpses were so great that even with gravediggers working 24 hours a day they couldn't bury all the bodies within a day of the victim's death. As a result the streets were filled with corpses and the city was rank with the smell of death.

London's hot spell peaked in September and so did the death rate. With the change of weather and the advent of the cold season, the casualty rate began dropping, so that by February of 1666 Charles felt it safe enough to return to the city. While not gone, the epidemic did not have a chance to regain its momentum when the weather turned warmer, for another stroke of fate literally cleansed the city of the contagion: this would be the Great Fire of London in September. While decimating the physical city, it also eradicated many of the conditions and vermin that harbored the disease. The new, rebuilt London of subsequent years was more spacious and open. Never again would the city be affected so adversely by this disease.

How remarkable, then, that in this dire year someone thought to create, and strike, a new Guinea of specimen quality, with a medallic portrait of the new king! Ex Spink, private purchase. Ex Dr Jacob Y. Terner Collection. Ex Millennia, Lot 322."

This coin was valued at twenty to twenty-two shillings and is the ancestor of the gold sovereign. Four obverses and two reverses are recorded for the type, which was struck 1663-84.

Recorded mintage: unknown.

Specification: 8.4-8.5 g, 25 mm diameter.

Catalog reference: C2GNM-035; S-3342; Fr-287; KM-424.1.


  • Friedberg, Arthur L. and Ira S. Friedberg, Gold Coins of the World, From Ancient Times to the Present, 9th ed., Clifton, NJ: Coin and Currency Institute, 2017.
  • [1]Ira & Larry Goldberg, Goldberg sale 59: the pre-Long Beach Sale, Beverly Hills, 2010.
  • Cuhaj, George S., and Thomas Michael, Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1601-1700, 6th ed., Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2014.
  • Lobel, Richard, Mark Davidson, Allan Hailstone and Eleni Calligas, Coincraft's Standard Catalogue of English and UK Coins, 1066 to Date, London: Coincraft, 1995.

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