Private Sale of British Medals

17th October 2014

A private medal collection assembled over the last quarter of a century by Christopher Foley, F.S.A., a long-established dealer in early English paintings and director of Lane Fine Art Limited, was sold on October 16th as a stand-alone sale.

With nearly 600 lots of British medals of the 15th – 17th centuries such a dispersal is exceedingly rare and the occurrence of a sale such as this, is one that can be measured on a century by century basis. 

Estimates ranged from £20 - £40,000.  A busy view over two days during London’s     Coinex and viewing in Salisbury combined with considerable coverage from coin and medal publications gave enthusiasts the opportunity to see the entire collection and drew buyers in from all over the world.  

Christopher Foley bought his first medal, the rare oval uniface portrait medal of Elizabeth I as little more than a souvenir of a successful sale of the famous George Gower ‘Sieve’ portrait of the Queen.  This started what has been described as a collection that ‘has perhaps never been equalled and certainly never surpassed in more than 100 years.’  His personal preference was for the hammered and the hand-made, so in the early years the collection concentrated on the era from the medallic incunabula of the Tudors to the relative sophistication of the Commonwealth era. The later 17th century machine-struck medals followed in more recent years.

The sale included no fewer than 10 of the oval portrait medals by Simon de Passe (c. 1574-c.1644), the youngest son of Crispin Passe, an eminent artist from Utrecht, who taught him the art of engraving. De Passe came to England in about 1613, living here some 10 years mostly in the employment of Nicholas Hillard to engrave counters of the Royal Family of England. In later life he moved to the service of the King of Denmark. The medals made by some long-lost process that makes them seem as if they were engraved. The first of the de Passe lots was lot 127, Elizabeth I, circa 1616, which was keenly contested in the room and online, exceeding the upper estimate, selling for £16,500, another, oval silver portrait medal of James I, Queen Anne, and Prince Charles, sold for £17,100, to the same American collector.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the £583,000 sale was lot 366, The Naval Reward for Captains, a gold medal, 1653, by Thomas Simon, estimated at £30,000 - £40,000 this example is only the fourth to have appeared at public auction since the War, although about 80 are thought to have been made.  Bidding quickly gathered pace with phone bidders, internet interest and buyers in the room all keen to purchase this ‘extremely fine and excessively rare, superb gold medal.’  Bought online by the English Trade on behalf of a private client, the lot sold for £44,000.

Coin and medal expert Richard Falkiner, F.S.A., commented ‘The excellent catalogue was compiled by savant Daniel Fearon who has a life time’s experience in this type of material and it will shall make weary the shelves of the cognoscenti.’  He went on to say ‘the best (highest priced) and rarest but not necessarily the most aesthetically pleasing went very well indeed.’

Lot -366-being -sold -500-wide

Chairman Paul Viney about to bring the hammer down on the Naval Reward medal.

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