Victoria Gold Proof 'Una and the Lion' 5 Pounds 1839 PCGS PR63+ Deep Cameo
Victoria, proof five pounds, 1839, ‘Una & the Lion’, lettered edge, young head l., 5 scrolls, rev. crowned figure of the queen as Una, standing to l., holding orb and sceptre, guiding lion behind her, DIRIGE legend, date in Roman numerals below (S.3851; W&R.279 [R2]), authenticated and graded by PCGS as Proof 63+ Deep Cameo, heavily frosted contrast, slightly finer than the last, hairlines very light, delightful golden colour, extremely rare.
The design of this most famous of all modern British gold coins was based on the Elizabethan epic poem by Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, and indeed the enchanting Una & the Lion Five Pounds gold issue which appeared in the Coronation Proof Set of 1839 remains emblematic of the English public’s captivation with their young Queen Victoria, who was a teenager when she assumed her position as head of the British Empire. She was young and untried, but an immense history lay before both her and her empire. Engraver William Wyon’s majestic image of her as the mythical fairy queen (the delicate lady Una, companion of the Redcrosse Knight in Book One of the allegorical poem) seemed then, and still today, to capture the spirit of the Romantic Age, when adventuring ruled the British mind and the whole world seemed Britain’s for the taking. Over the coming six decades, both triumph and defeat would transform the British public’s wondrous romanticism of the early 19th century into the harsh realities of conquest and dominion, as Great Britain reached the peak of its imperial ambitions. Curiously, Victoria’s most famous coin occurs with two small variant reverse legends, based on Psalm 119:133 and translating to state, or perhaps to pray, ‘May God Direct My Steps’. William Wyon seemed to sense and express this untenable future of the Empire by the use of this legend. His majestic image of the queen symbolically guiding the British imagination, engraved so deeply and boldly on this wonderful coin, evoked in the public a sense of power and an unquenchable belief in Britain’s right to be great. Here indeed is a true masterpiece of the engraver’s art.