The “Elephant & Castle” and the Birth of the Gold Guinea

Following the turbulent times of the brief English Republic and the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the House of Stuart undertook to increase the supply of gold coinage in use, as there was a distinct lack of it within the kingdom. Accordingly, a royal charter was established, granting to the "Company of Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa" a monopoly over trade on the west coast of Africa. The rich deposits of natural resources, including gold, made this area a hotbed for colonial pursuit by other European powers as well, such as the Dutch Republic. In less than five years, the company found itself at odds with its Dutch rival, ultimately engaging the latter in a conflict that was part of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, a contest that would also plunge the company into severe debt.

Rising again in 1672, the company restructured with a new, narrower name—the Royal African Company—and a new, broader focus—adding the slave trade into its enterprise. This ignominious addition allowed the company to recover prior losses and prove profitable by supplying the triangular trade between the West Indies and the Americas. After the Glorious Revolution in 1688 and the installation of Anglican Mary Stuart with her Dutch husband William—and the toppling of Catholic James II, Mary’s father—the company lost its monopoly, though it continued to increase its presence in and profitability from the slave trade. This continued until 1731, when it was abandoned and there was a refocus upon other local resources.

Returning to the company’s initial objective, the mining of gold was a success, as the supply of the precious metal began to flow into the kingdom in the 1660s, allowing the mint to increase the supply of hard currency at the same time that it was adopting more modern manufacturing in the form of milled, rather than hammered, coinage. This new thicker gold issue would eventually be known as the "guinea," along with its multiples thereof, with the name deriving from one of the areas in which the precious metal was sourced—Guinea being the regional name for the southern coast of West Africa. In a nod to the source of the gold, a portion of the company’s logo, an elephant, was placed below the truncation of the monarch’s neck. In order to further reinforce the role that the crown held in the company’s affairs, later issues featured a castle atop the elephant. These charming notations can be seen on issues from Charles II, James II, and William and Mary, all of which are enthusiastically collected today and are rather rare due to many having been melted down for recoinage in the 18th century.

Two such 5 Guinea issues, a 1688 of James II (NGC AU-58) and a 1692 of William and Mary (NGC MS-62), will be among the many exceptional rarities in our upcoming auction held in conjunction with the New York International Numismatic Convention (NYINC) in January 2020. These two pieces, both emanating from the prestigious Marlborough-Blenheim Collection, display radiant luster along with the iconic "elephant & castle" below the busts. Look for these along with numerous other highlights as we approach this tremendous sale.

To view our upcoming auction schedule and future offerings, please visit website where you may register and participate in forthcoming sales. We are always seeking interesting and exceptional coins, medals, and pieces of paper money for our future sales, the next of which will be our Collectors Choice Online (CCO) auction in October and our Official Auction of the N.Y.I.N.C. in January 2020. If you would like to learn more about consigning, whether a singular item or an entire collection, please contact one of our consignment directors today and we will assist you in achieving the best possible return on your material.

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