The most recent appearance at auction of a gold example of this beautiful pattern by William Wyon was in the Herman Selig sale, Spink auction 131, 2 March 1999, lot 1186. Considerably heavier than the present example at 52.45g., and struck with an inverted die axis, the Selig coin was in slightly inferior condition, having some scratches on the obverse. It was accordingly estimated conservatively, at £40,000-50,000, yet such was the interest in the piece that it eventually sold for £170,500, a record auction price for an English coin.
The earliest record of a 'Three Graces' pattern at auction that we have traced is a silver example in the Dimsdale collection at Sotheby, a fifteen day sale that commenced on 6 July 1824. Lot 1864 is described as 'Pattern for a Crown, by W Wyon, reverse three figures emblematical of England, Scotland and Ireland' and a footnote states 'Only fifty were taken off in silver and three in gold'. A further item of interest is the case in which some of these pieces were sold at the time. Lot 514 of the Grant R Francis sale at Glendining in March 1920 describes a silver 'Three Graces' as being in 'original red leather case, inscribed "PATTERN FOR A CROWN BY WILLIAM WYON OF HIS MAJESTY'S MINT", lined with red velvet.'
This gold example, though not in a contemporary case, has survived without any serious mishap. The flan has been very carefully burnished to give the fields a brilliance, and the dies have also been carefully prepared, to give a 'frosted' surface to the details. The result is a magnificent 'presentation' piece of great charm and beauty.
The provenance of the piece offered here is not certain. Indeed, the complete provenances of all the three examples in gold are shrouded in doubt. We can trace some of the history of two that were owned by Montagu, and know very little about the third.
The first (which we will call 'Montagu 1'), Montagu acquired from Addington, who had purchased it at the Sainthill sale at Sotheby in 1870, lot 344. That Richard Sainthill, the author of 'Olla Podrida' and champion of the Wyons, should have examples of William Wyon's best work is no surprise. This coin was offered in Montagu's sale of duplicates at Sotheby in 1883, lot 199. The fact that it was included in a sale of duplicates implies that Montagu had another, better, example. It was purchased at this sale by Moon, and at the Sotheby sale of the Moon collection in 1901 it was bought by Brunning. At the Brunning sale, at Sotheby in 1908 it was purchased by the dealer Edgar Lincoln. There the trail of 'Montagu 1' goes cold.
The second Montagu example (which we shall call 'Montagu 2') appears in the Spink catalogue of his English coins published in 1891. There, confusingly, the provenance is given as Sainthill and Addington. Now while the Addington sale was a private transaction, and so there could have been two examples, the Sainthill sale was a public auction, and clearly there is only one example listed in the catalogue. The Sainthill part of this provenance is therefore not correct. The catalogue also says the piece is probably unique, which is also clearly not correct. In the Spink library copy of the 1891 catalogue the cost price for this coin is £100, and the asking price is £200. It sold, and promptly turns up again, this time at Christie's, at the A D Clarke sale in June 1891, lot 492, with the provenance given as Addington and Montagu. It is interesting that the Sainthill name has now been dropped. In this sale the coin sold for £144, and when the 'Montagu 1' coin comes round again, in the Moon sale in 1901, the cataloguer notes this price.
It is the reappearance of 'Montagu 2' in the Murdoch sale at Sotheby in March 1904 that causes the real confusion. The catalogue lists the provenance for lot 201 as Sainthill, Addington and Montagu 1891, thus repeating the error made in the 1891 catalogue. In the library copy of the Murdoch catalogue at Spink there is a written note 'Query: "Sainthill and Addington" as the 1883 specimen had this pedigree given.' Also in this Murdoch catalogue the coin is once again incorrectly described as unique. Clearly someone was reading an old ticket and not doing his homework. Again, the Spink library copy has this corrected with a written note 'ex. rare'
The coin was purchased by Spink on behalf of Col. Leslie-Ellis, for the remarkable bargain price of £35. The Leslie-Ellis collection went back to Spink privately in 1919, and there the trail of 'Montagu 2' goes cold.
The third known example is noted in the catalogue of the Brunning collection in 1908. The Brunning example ('Montagu 1'), lot 61, is described as 'of the highest rarity, as probably not more than three in this metal are now known to exist'. Clearly the incorrect information in the Murdoch 1904 catalogue had given rise to discussions, and after a gap of eighty years since publication of the Dimsdale catalogue it was now once again general knowledge that there were three of these coins. Again it is a written note in the Spink library copy of the Murdoch catalogue that gives us the relevant information. 'W.J.W. states this: one more known. J Marshall sale 1875 sold to Whitehead but not in his sale.' W.J.W. was William John Webster, a coin dealer who worked for Spink from 1892 until his death in 1919. To date we have not traced any other definite mention of this coin.
It is a great pity that none of the catalogues referred to above gives the weight of the coin listed. Without that vital piece of information it is not possible to say for certain which of the three examples is the coin offered here. We do know however that two gold examples have been offered at auction in the second half of the last century. One, the Selig coin mentioned above, has almost certainly been traced through several sales to the D Mitchell sale at Glendining in 1949. The other was offered in the Herbert Lingford sale at Glendining, 24-26 October 1950, lot 459. Though the weight is not given, the coin is illustrated, and, as far as we can tell from the plate, it exactly matches the coin offered here. It is most likely therefore that this coin is the Lingford specimen, which sold for £250.