Early Proof Sets

As most people who know me will you tell, as a numismatist, my main passion is British milled gold coins. These include gold five pounds pieces (£5), two pounds pieces (£2), sovereigns, half sovereigns, five guineas, two guineas, guineas and so on. However, the coins that top the list for me has to be early gold and silver proof sets (Alternatively known as specimen sets).

Proof sets issued pre-1953 are often referred to as 'Early Proof Sets' by collectors. The Royal Mint produced these sets usually in commemoration of a newly appointed monarch, or when the portrait of the reigning monarch was changed. The coins issued in the sets vary dramatically, often based upon the circulating coinage of the day. There are also different varieties of coins issued within sets, but I won't bore you with these details!

The first official British milled proof set was issued during the reign of King George IV in 1826, and contained 11 coins - 1826 gold proof five pounds piece (£5), two pounds piece (£2), sovereign, half sovereign, crown, half crown, shilling, sixpence, penny, half penny and farthing. All of the coins feature King George IV's Bare head, used on British coins from 1825 to 1830. Issued in a stunning leatherette case, it is believed only 150 sets were issued. They do turn up on the market, and sell for in excess of £25,000.

The next set issued was in 1831, the coronation year of King William IV. Unlike the 1826 set, a gold proof five pounds piece was not produced. The 1831 proof set contained 14 coins - 1831 gold proof two pounds piece (£2), sovereign, half sovereign, crown, half crown, shilling, sixpence, Maundy fourpence, Maundy threepence, Maundy twopence, Maundy penny, penny, half penny and farthing.

One of my favourite sets issued was the 1839 proof set. This was the first set issued during the reign of Queen Victoria. The set contains the stunning 1839 Una and the Lion gold proof five pounds piece designed by the talented William Wyon. In total, there are 15 coins that make up the 1839 proof set - 1839 Una and the Lion gold proof five pounds piece (£5), sovereign, half sovereign, crown, half crown, shilling, sixpence, groat, Maundy fourpence, Maundy threepence, Maundy twopence, Maundy penny, penny, half penny and farthing. Beautifully presented in a Royal Mint leatherette presentation case. Although the set was originally issued in 1839, collectors were able to order brand new sets from the Royal Mint right up until the end of the 19th century. For a fee, the Royal Mint would produce a set using the original minting dies. It is my dream for one of these sets to walk into my shop - If anyone has one, like all other proof sets, I would be very grateful for the opportunity to make a no obligation offer!

In 1853, the Royal Mint decided to issue another proof set. The 1853 proof set was only a sovereign down set, but contained the desirable 1853 Gothic crown. No gold proof five pounds piece or two pounds piece was included. The 1853 proof set contained 16 coins in total - 1853 proof sovereign, half sovereign, Gothic crown, half crown, florin, shilling, sixpence, groat, Maundy fourpence, Maundy threepence, Maundy twopence, Maundy penny, penny, half penny, farthing and half farthing. The coins were issued in a shield shaped leatherette presentation case.

To commemorate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, the Royal Mint opted for a new obverse portrait. The 'Jubilee Head' design was featured on all British coins from 1887 onwards (Designed by Joseph Edgar Boehm). Naturally, this lead to the third proof coin set to be issued during Queen Victoria's reign. Interestingly, the Royal Mint produced two seperate sets, an 11 coin proof set, containing both gold and silver coins, and a 7 coin proof set, containing just the silver coins. The larger 1887 proof set contained a 1887 gold proof five pounds piece (£5), two pounds piece (£2), sovereign, half sovereign, crown, double florin, half crown, florin, shilling, sixpence and threepence. The smaller 1887 proof set contained a silver proof crown, double florin, half crown, florin, shilling, sixpence and threepence. Only 797 larger 11 coin 1887 proof sets were issued, and 287 smaller 7 coin 1887 proof sets.

The final proof coin set bearing Queen Victoria's portrait was issued by the Royal Mint in 1893. The obverse portrait was changed to the 'Widow Head' design. This was the last portrait of Queen Victoria to feature on British coinage. Similarly to the 1887 proof sets, the Royal Mint decided to issue two seperate sets, a 10 coin set, containing a gold proof five pounds down, and a 6 coin set, containing a silver proof crown down. The larger 1893 proof set contained a 1893 gold proof five pounds piece (£5), two pounds piece (£2), sovereign, half sovereign, crown, half crown, florin, shilling, sixpence and threepence. The smaller 1893 proof set contained a silver proof crown, half crown, florin, shilling, sixpence and threepence. The mintages were almost identical to the 1887 issue, 773 larger 10 coin 1893 proof sets were issued, and 539 smaller 6 coin 1893 proof sets.

King Edward VII was the first monarch to have two different proof sets issued during the same year. In 1902, the Royal Mint decided to issue a Long set and a Short set. The 1902 Long proof set contained 13 coins - A 1902 gold five pounds piece (£5), two pounds piece (£2), sovereign, half sovereign, crown, half crown, florin, shilling, sixpence, Maundy fourpence, Maundy threepence, Maundy twopence and Maundy penny. The 1902 Short proof set contained only 11 coins, exactly the same as the Long proof set, but missing the 1902 gold five pounds and two pounds pieces. Not only did the Royal Mint break with tradition by issuing two seperate sets, they also ammended the quality of the strike. Instead of the usual highly polished finish, the Mint decided to issue the 1902 proof coin series with a matt finish. In place of the mirror like surfaces, the matt finish can be described as being fairly dull, or with a frost like look. Both sets were issued in Royal Mint red leatherette presentation cases with gold insignia on the top. This was the only time the Royal Mint created a standard issue proof set with a matt finish.

If you can not tell from the article above, I am very keen on purchasing any British proof coin sets or single coins if you have any for sale. I am happy to provide a free no obligation quote, either in person, over the phone, or via e-mail. Please keep me in mind if you come across any, or decide to sell your coin collection.