James II Gold 5 Guineas 1687 NGC MS61
James II, five guineas, 1687, TERTIO, second laur. bust l., rev. crowned cruciform shields, sceptres in angles (S.3397A; Schneider 453), in plastic holder, graded by NGC as Mint State 61, with a balanced sharp strike producing an excellent portrait of King James and bold details in the royal legends and across the emblematic shield, with lustre remaining, very rare and most especially in this splendid condition .
During this, the second reign following the Civil War in which the Mint worked especially hard to stamp out memories of the images of money coined during the Commonwealth era, the design of 5 guineas and smaller gold coins continued largely unchanged from that of Charles II. Gone forever were the legends in English and the generic shields which had dominated the coinage made without regal consent. Charles’s right-facing portrait, elegantly engraved by John Roettier, was turned to face to the left and displays a somewhat more complexly fashioned presentation of the flowing periwig of Charles’s younger brother, but otherwise is essentially a near-copy of the earlier portrait. The reverse was duplicated save for the date changed each year of issue. The dividing sceptres of the reverse shield, symbolising regal power not possessed by Cromwell or his cohorts, became a stalwart image for Restoration monarchs’ large gold coins; the shield formed using sceptres of this style is displayed on all 5 guinea issues from 1668 to 1726, with the exception of the issues of William & Mary. At the Royal Mint during the final years of Charles II’s reign and up to the year before this coin was minted, a silent battle occurred concerning the fineness of the gold used to make the guinea coinages. Details may be found in C.E. Challis’s New History of the Royal Mint, pages 351-357, but in essence the so-called Slingsby affair involved a retainer of a tiny portion of the gold content of the guinea coins, seemingly with the knowledge of a few officers of the Mint, which had been obtaining its gold specie from London goldsmith Jonathan Ambrose. In 1684 one of Ambrose’s employees was found to have concocted a plan to debase the coinage ever so slightly for his own profit ‘by putting copper in the gold scissell’ but this infraction was soon discovered and the culprit suspended from his position. If the gold of James II appears at times to have a very subtle, faint coppery hue, compared to the yellow-gold standard, it may derive from this fleeting moment in the Royal Mint’s history.