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Gold “Unites” for Morton & Eden Auction

A hoard of 400-year-old coins discovered in the wall of a long-forgotten cellar is expected to sell for £50,000 in a sale at London specialist coins and medals auctioneers Morton & Eden. The 57 gold “Unites” date from the reign of James I (1603-1625) and were probably hidden at the beginning of the English Civil War.

Originally 59 coins were discovered when builders were working on a building site in the Chipping Norton area of Oxfordshire. While digging footings for the erection of a building, the ground collapsed revealing a hidden cellar which was subsequently demolished. The coins were found in a space behind a large stone in the cellar wall.

They were identified by specialist James Morton at a valuation day run by Morton & Eden in association with Sotheby’s at their regional office in Cheltenham and were subsequently reported to the British Museum as potential Treasure Trove. Such was their importance, the museum negotiated the purchase of two of the coins for the National Collection. The remaining 57 were released to the owner by a Coroner’s Court and will be auctioned in a sale on June 9-10.

The sale is the final chapter in a story that began 30 years ago, when the coins were first unearthed. With no idea of their value or significance, the builder who found them gave the coins to his 10-year-old grandson who was already an avid collector of stamps, marbles and seashells. They ended up in his shoebox of treasures and stayed there until it was time to finance his forthcoming marriage.

“We took them along to the valuation day hoping they might pay for a honeymoon in Spain,” the owner of the coins said. “When we learned they were gold and worth so much, we thought about having a honeymoon in Mexico. I was absolutely gobsmacked. You could say it was a real Fools and Horses moment.”

However, the Coroner’s inquest process required in such Treasure Trove cases proved lengthy and four years later, the 39-year-old vendor is married with two children. The consolation is that values of gold coinage have risen appreciably in the interim.

Said James Morton: “The remarkable thing about this collection is that each coin is different. Each has different mint marks and styles and five of the coins were originally minted in Scotland for circulation there. There is some suggestion that James I coinage was preferred over that of Charles I. It was made of 22 carat ‘crown gold’ standard and clearly whoever it was who hid these coins for safekeeping deliberately chose them as the most reliable store of wealth. Their first owner would have been a substantial, well-moneyed individual, possibly a merchant or land owner.

“The coins were also known as ‘jacobuses’ and stocks of them were preserved separately from later gold coins. There are records of batches of them being used sometimes for special gifts in ceremonial contexts, during the English Civil War and under the Commonwealth.”

The gold unites of James I, who was also James VI of Scotland, are effectively sovereigns, with the reverse legend which reads: FACIAM EOS IN GENTEM UNAM (“I will make them one nation” Ezekiel 37, 22). This was to proclaim the union between, and thus “unite”, England and Scotland. At the time the coins were hidden, the hoard had a face value of £59, a considerable sum of money which would be equivalent to at least several thousand pounds in modern terms.

The coins will be sold individually with estimates dependent on condition and rarity ranging from £400 to £2,500 per coin.

For further information visit www.mortonandeden.com

Morton & Eden Ltd
45 Maddox Street
London
W1S 2PE
Tel.: +44 (0)20 7493 5344
Fax: +44 (0)20 7495 6325