STOCKHOLMIA 2019 Private Treaty Sale

Lot 77


Great Britain, 1837-40, The Wyon Medal and the Penny Black. This extensive collection illuminates the prehistory of the Penny Black and its iconic portrait of a young Queen Victoria. The bust, based on an engraving by William Wyon, was most famous prior to 1840 as the obverse of "The Wyon Medal", produced to celebrate Victoria's attendance of the annual Mayoralty banquet at Guildhall in the City of London. Encompassing both numismatics and philately, the collection here offered documents the full scope of the Wyon Victoria. Beginning with contemporary medals (close to 50, including two Guildhall medals), coins and decorative objects, along with Penny Black usages (39 covers), the holdings also include the centenary and sesquicentenary celebrations of the Black, with other modern philatelic items as well.

There are nearly 50 contemporary medals utilizing the Wyon bust, including two Guildhall medals (one copper, one silver), plus British National Stamp Show/Stampex mementos or awards (various medals) from the 1980s-90s. Also featured are two large bois durci cameos, one of Victoria, the matching Albert, along with a 1985-86 National Postal Museum Wedgwood Sweets Dish (white on black; #80 of 1000 issued) and a Crimea campaign medal set into bottom of a silver finger bowl(?). A fun, and unexpected, item is a letterpress metal plate (mounted and ready for printing) of four oversized "Penny Blacks" in denominations of 5p, 10p, 15p and 50p, all with a "Postal Strike" banner across the lower right corner (when printed).

The stamps include 39 Penny Black covers (one a horizontal pair, one alongside a 1d Red) plus five singles off-piece. These show a range of cancels (from devilish to Pollock-esque) and usages (including a turned letter and several stamps severely cut down, perhaps as a means of reusing the "mint" portion of a stamp to defraud the Post Office).

A "VR"-lettered example is included as well (whose printing looks slightly metallic), along with three Penny Red covers—including one addressed to Rowland Hill in Bayswater—and four 2d Blue singles in shades plus a cover. You'll also find an imitation copper printing plate, a Penny Black Albert (possibly the work of François Fournier), a Penny Red on (perhaps) Penny Black printer's waste (in need of further research!), etc., etc. Many of the Penny Black covers are to well-known persons of the time, and come with biographical information. There are also several examples of pre-adhesive postal markings, including a forged 1808 "Crown Free" cover (charged 4d postage).

The Classics are accompanied by a binder of material from the 1940 and 1990 celebrations of the Penny Black with a wide array of covers—UK mostly, but Canada and US noted as well. Certainly the most eye-catching is a multi-franked 1940 Centenary Registered cover, including a Penny Black, a perforated Penny Red, plus two later surface-printed Queen Victorias, a King Edward VII, four King George Vs, a King Edward VIII plus three King George VIs—many in red and all bearing the red Exhibition cancel honoring the Red Cross.

Two stunning items are plate proofs on card of the Penny Black, sans corner letters, both signed Robson Lowe. One is inscribed in pencil "1st Proof—upper lip too heavily shaded./1.11.39"; the second "2nd proof. November 16th, 1939."

Bringing us up to the modern era, there is a Fleetwood "Best of the Penny Black Sesquicentennial Stamps" by Charity Boxall (Jeffery Matthews, designer), with virtually all the singles and souvenir sheets issued around the world on the 150th, plus material from the Smithsonian Postal Museum's "The Queen's Own" Exhibit.

And if all that weren't enough…may we introduce you to the stamp snake? This tempting serpent, housed safely in its own display box, measures 25 inches overall, with its 21 5/8-inch body composed of hundreds of stamps (most Penny Reds from a cautious peek—though we see some blue in there as well) removed from envelopes, their corners cropped to varying degrees to produce the taper of the snake's body from head to tail, and strung together on a central line of cotton. Among the clippings and reprints in this lot are several pieces on stamp snakes (one 11 feet long and seven years in the making!). So for all you wondering what to do with those duplicates and space-fillers….

* * *

On 9 November 1837, Queen Victoria traveled from Buckingham Palace to the City of London. The young Queen, not yet enthroned five months, continued the royal tradition of attending the annual Mayoralty banquet at Guildhall at the invitation of the Lord Mayor, the Right Hon. John Cowan, and the Corporation. Her entourage departed the Palace at 2:00 p.m., making its way across town along rapturous crowd-lined streets, arriving at Temple Bar to be greeted by the Lord Mayor, Sheriffs, and Aldermen, along with a deputation of six members of the Court of Common Council. The entire party proceeded thence to Guildhall where, following a ceremony of speeches, dinner was announced at 5:20 p.m., and, having dined and toasted, the Queen set off on her return to Buckingham Palace at 8:30 p.m.

To commemorate this visit, William Wyon, R.A., an engraver of the Royal Mint, sculpted a commemorative medal, whose obverse featured the head of Her Majesty, with a tiara, to the left, with VICTORIA REGINA the legend. The reverse portrayed the front of the Guildhall, surmounted by the royal standard; the exergue below reading IN HONOUR OF HER MAJESTY'S VISIT TO THE CORPORATION OF LONDON 9th NOV: 1837. The medal measures 2.15 inches in diameter. Officials record three struck in gold, 120 in silver and 350 in bronze.

As proud as Wyon was of his work (he distributed specimens to prospective clients, including other European royals), perhaps even he would be surprised at the latitude and longevity of his 1834 likeness of a then-15-year-old Princess Victoria. For beyond the event-specific medal, his likeness of the queen was used on military decorations for service in the Crimea, the Baltic, China and South Africa, among other theaters; on exposition and diplomatic medals, student prizes, awards for excellence in various fields; and further on book bindings, wall plaques, perfume bottles, jewelry, Wedgwood…any decorative piece imaginable.

But it is as the basis of the Penny Black that it saw its most widespread and popular usage. Rowland Hill, instigator of British postal reforms, felt it a "foregone conclusion" that the first stamp portray the queen, whose portrait should have the added benefit of instilling in the public "a taste for fine art." Wyon's sculpted bust was taken by Edward Henry Corbould and turned into a watercolor drawing for Perkins Bacon & Co. in mid-October 1837, already working with Hill. Corbould's drawing was then transcribed by engravers Charles and Frederick Heath into the stamp we all know and crave today.

Perhaps the greatest fan of the bust was Victoria herself, who never allowed another portrait of herself to appear on stamps or stationery during her long reign. (In the Post, at least, the queen never aged.).

Price: $17,000; £13,335; €14,500; 170,000 SEK; HK$132,600.

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