Victoria, pattern crown, 1887, in aluminium, by J.R. Thomas for Spink & Son, veiled bust l. wearing the bejewelled ‘small crown’, the legend in English, in raised capital letters, within parallel lines in circular form enclosing the portrait, entirely within another circle of connected tiny roses, thistles and shamrock (the so-called ornate border), rev. crowned arms, round central shield from the Order of the Garter, supported by a crowned lion and a collared unicorn, FIVE SHILLINGS above and the date below in Roman numerals stretching wide, all surrounded by another ornate border, plain edge (ESC.349)

Graded by NGC as PR63 CAMEO, subtle cameo contrast, nearly as struck, trivial hairlines and handling, extremely rare, 10 pieces struck.

Numismatic references have for many years noted this style of pattern to have been ‘by’ J. Rochelle Thomas, a Victorian dealer in antiques and curios doing business in London. One of his principal interests was in medals portraying celebrities of his day and featuring portraits of such greats as Alfred Lord Tennyson, but he also conceived the well-known ‘Egyptian’ styled Bonomi crown dated 1837 but made the same year as the pattern presented in this lot, and its related silver piece in an accompanying lot. For the Bonomi he had a novel idea, etching the design in reverse to produce incuse motifs. At the other extreme was this Veiled Bust piece, of intimate portraiture in relatively high relief. For its execution in steel, the die-work, he engaged the German firm of Ludwig Christoph Lauer, founded in 1729 but in 1887 only recently renovated as medallists and die- sinkers using the most up-to-date equipment. The firm had refurbished itself in 1848 and for the next 25 years or so had introduced the newest in coining presses in its modernisation efforts, adding steam presses in 1881. Despite this, its products were not so well received in its native Nuremberg nor by the German public, which tended at the time to prefer Austrian products, at least until the early 1880s, at which time the firm’s steam presses outdid competing mechanics. Ironically, L.C. Lauer had passed away in 1873 and he failed to see his dreams come to fruition. They were, however, carried on by his wife, Betty, and by his three brothers: Johann managed the business affairs, Ludwig arranged all technical requirements, and Wolfgang was medallist in charge of a staff of some 100 die-sinkers and engravers. The present pattern was among the finest products, albeit never accepted for commercial use, to come from their new minting facility erected in 1885. It certainly proved their efficiency and modelling skills, as did a vast assortment of jetons and commemorative medals made for clients all over Europe. Crown princes and queens were frequently portrayed, and no one could fault entrepreneur J.R. Thomas for wishing Her Majesty Queen Victoria to consider this intricately engraved pattern to be accepted for her Golden Jubilee. Spink & Son presented it for consideration, in various metals, including gold and the then-rare metal aluminium, by which time it had become one of the most common,and cheaply made, metals. Not so in 1887; it was precious then, as is this particular coin now. No doubt itsGerman origin stood against it being selected to some extent, but more likely its design was judged to be too difficult to strike up, with consistency, for a commercial crown. The idea was abandoned after only a few samples were coined, and today little more than a handful of pieces, in all metals, exist to demonstrate the monumental engraving skill and the minting machinery that produced one of the most elegant coins struck during Victoria’s lifetime.

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