03 March 2022
The King Edward VIII penny has been an object of fascination for almost a century. For years, some doubted whether it existed at all. Next week the famous coin is being sold by Showpiece.com into fractional ownership for £50-a-share. Here professional numismatist Richard Gladdle traces its colourful history.
King Edward VIII signed his abdication papers on the 10 December 1936 — days before minting of his coinage was scheduled to begin. The Royal Mint immediately aborted their plans, and switched to preparations for a George VI coinage instead.
During Edward’s eleven-month reign he had shown considerable interest in the design and development of his new coinage. As Prince of Wales, he had particularly liked the work of Humphrey Paget and despite Paget’s strained relationship with the Royal Mint’s deputy master, Paget was invited to provide drawings and models of a proposed coinage.
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Edward wanted more modern designs – reverses with signet rings and fish and deer and the Royal Mint still has many drawings of possible designs which they received in the summer of 1936. In the end the Royal mint prevailed on him to accept more traditional designs – largely similar to his father’s coinage.
Breaking with coin tradition
However, there was one sticking point on which he would not be moved, contrary to long standing tradition that the monarch’s head changes the way it faces each reign, he insisted on facing left, i.e. the same direction as his father George V.
The reason for this is that he preferred that side view because it showed his parting, rather than the right facing view which showed just a bob of hair. He was adamant and the Royal Mint was in apoplexy about the break in Royal tradition – even to the extent of suggesting that he have a mirror image of his profile – i.e. a right facing portrait with the parting.
However, he was the king and his wish prevailed. Patterns of the new coinage were made and presented to him and he made his choice - by December 1936 the new coinage was ready to begin.
The date agreed was 1 January, but that of course was abandoned as a result of abdication and all work on the new coinage ceased.
Cancelled coin… yet some survived
However, at that point a number of proof coins had already been produced. A proof coin is a coin struck from specially polished dies to produce superior strike for the purpose of presentation pieces – heralding the issue of a new coinage. We don’t know exactly how many they had made, but for George VI a few months later some 5,501 gold sets were issued.
These Edward proofs were all melted down after abdication – or so it was thought.
In June of 1938, nearly two years after the abdication, George VI was made aware of some sets that had escaped this fate – and therefore asked for one for the Royal Collection.
This request was obviously met and the Deputy Master sent him one and placed the remaining sets in a small cardboard box marked…
NOT TO BE OPENED EXCEPT IN THE PRESENCE OF TWO SENIOR OFFICIALS OF THE ROYAL MINT
…in his safe at the Royal Mint.
When the Deputy Master died in September 1950 the sealed cardboard box was removed from his safe and finally opened.
Inside four sets of Edward VIII coins were found - one set missing the three gold denominations.
At some point Edward, now the Duke of Windsor, learned of the discovery, possibly from his brother. In late 1951 he approached the Royal Mint asking if he could perhaps have a set.
Much to the Royal Mint’s relief the matter was deferred to George VI who promptly turned his brother down.
The Duke of Windsor most likely did not know any earlier that any of his coins had actually been made – for if he did, he would surely have asked them before 1951.
How many pennies exist?
Two further sets are known – and these must have got out ‘unofficially’ as they are in the public domain, but how, we do not know.
One is a complete set that is now in the Tyrant collection, and one is a set that has been broken up. Those coins have been sold individually and come onto the market periodically.
So, this means there are seven proof sets in existence – one owned by the Queen (from her father), four at the Royal Mint and British Museum (of which one set is missing the gold denominations, and one set is matt proof) and two sets out in the market – one as a complete set and one as individual coins.
Consequently, there is only one, unique opportunity of acquiring an Edward VIII coin and that is from the broken-up set.
It is from this set that the penny which goes on sale next week comes.
Collectors can buy into the King Edward VIII penny from March 8 at Showpiece.com