The US will host an upcoming inaugural exhibit of rarities from the Tyrant Collection of coins that will feature some of England’s most important numismatic treasures. Among the historic items will be one of the three known Edward III gold “Double Leopard” coins. The other two examples are in museums.
Veteran professional numismatist and English coinage specialist Bruce Lorich, on behalf of the Tyrant Collection’s anonymous owner, has cataloged the more than 500 “Tyrants of the Thames” coins to be displayed at the Long Beach Coin, Currency, Stamp & Sports Collectible Expo in Long Beach, California, February 22-24, 2018. This is the first in a series of several articles by him about the historical significance of some of the coins in that unprecedented exhibition.
King Edward III’s exceedingly rare gold Double Leopard
With only three known examples, the Edward III–Plantagenet king (1327 – 1377)–gold Double Leopard, S-1476, third coinage (1344 – 1351), is perhaps the most important English coin in The Tyrant Collection. The coin in The Tyrant Collection is graded PCGS MS-62.
Edward III was a knight, who was feared by his enemies as he was a bold military commander. Much of his reign took place during the Hundred Years War with France, and by 1340 Edward had declared himself as the King of France. This was outrageous to the French, and the war continued until it was ended in 1360 by treaty.
Meantime, Edward ruled over a rich country at a time when chivalry was at its height. He held jousting and other tournaments, and he founded the Order of the Garter in the same year this coin was minted, 1344. This chivalric order was officially instituted in 1348, its membership limited to the king and just 24 knights. Its inspiration was the mythical Round Table of King Arthur, at which 300 knights sat with their king, reigning over and protecting England.
Tagged as one of the earliest gold coins, the Edward III Double Leopard is made in England and till today, only three examples are known. Two are in museums in England, and the coin that will be displayed in Long Beach and in the United States for the first time is the only example in a private collection.
It is a large gold coin which was worth six shillings at issue. Twelve silver pennies equaled a shilling. Most people at the time worked for pennies. No gold coins had been minted in England since the seventh century, except for a pattern penny made for Henry III at the end of the 13th century. The renewed gold coinage of Edward III made only a brief appearance from January to August in 1344. It suddenly stopped because of a fiscal crisis, involving fluctuating values of silver versus gold, which caused hoarding and a consequent shortage of money in use, as well as melting of gold.
Edward III’s first gold coins consisted of three denominations: a half-florin, featuring a royal helmet with a crowned lion standing on it; a florin of twice that size, showing a crowned sideways-facing leopard holding the king’s royal shield on its back and a double-florin twice as large as the florin, depicting the king seated and crowned with two facing leopards at his sides.
These pieces of money had an enormous face value, especially the double-leopard, intended mainly for trade with countries on the continent of Europe.
The leopard was the king’s armorial animal and was placed on his arms or official shield, standing sideways. One paw raised and its head facing the viewer, growling, and it was also used on armor.
The effigy of the king’s famous son, Edward the Black Prince, entombed in Canterbury Cathedral, is depicted wearing armor, showing several leopards, and his head rests on a crowned leopard.
For many centuries, the silver coins were the only money used in England.
These three coins were minted in nearly pure gold, were made for only a few months in 1344. However, they failed in their intended use, and almost all known examples of all three denominations were melted during the 14th century. They were replaced beginning at the end of the same year they were made, 1344, with a new series called the Noble and its fractions.
These coins became the standard issues for many years and succeeded because their values equated with those of coins made in France and elsewhere in Europe.