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Auction: 23006 - The Official COINEX Auction at Spink
Lot: 341

Victoria (1837-1901), 'Old Head' Crown, 1897 LXI, veiled bust left, rev. St George and Dragon, upwards lettered edge, 28.37g, 12h (ESC 313; Bull 2603; Spink 3937), some very faint contact marking, otherwise darkly toned and the reverse with a pleasing residual lustre, extremely fine


Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood, Sporting and Collectors' Sale, 21 March 2023, lot 762

The obverse of this 1897 Queen Victoria Crown bears the 'Old Head' portrait, sometimes referred to as the 'Veiled Head' or 'Widowed Head', and was engraved by Sir Thomas Brock. This likeness adorned all gold and silver coinage between 1893 and 1901, followed in 1895 by the Copper. Brock's design shows the seventy-eight-year-old queen in mourning attire for her late husband Albert, which given he had died more than thirty years prior appears somewhat belated. Brock's design was one of seven submissions for the updated coinage, chosen for its 'dignified and distinctive' image by the evaluating committee. Initially, Brock had shown the Queen wearing a small crown, however, at the request of the committee he altered his composition, replacing this with a tiara and a veil, supposedly to reinforce the monarch's continued and renowned grief and respect for the Prince Consort. Brock was evidently kept in favour within royal circles, as it was also he that sculpted the Queen Victoria memorial that can be found outside the gates of Buckingham Palace in London.

The reverse harks back to earlier coinage, as Pistrucci's George and the Dragon emblem returns to the crown for the first issue since 1822. After George IV's unhappiness with the Italian engraver, the design stopped being used, however Victoria enjoyed a friendly relationship with Pistrucci and selected him to design her coronation medal, for which she granted him several sittings. Coinciding with a new portrait, the decision to return to the classic design (even including the helmet streamer from the original George III crown), was an attempt to reinforce Britain's strength as an imperial power, a show of stability and longevity. Charles Freemantle, Deputy Master of the Mint at the time, explained that "it is hardly possible to over-rate the advantages accruing to a coinage from an artistic and well-executed design." Pistrucci's iconic and enigmatic design would last be seen on a crown in a 1902 minting for King Edward VII.

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