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The Crichel House Treasure

A simple gambling between two Englishmen in the beautiful English Crichel house in 1890 eventually turned into a numismatic legend. A £5 bet led to an exceptional auction more than 120 years later : a collection of Victorian farthings in uncirculated condition.

The bet of the drop of water turned into a collection treasure

On a rainy day of 1890, two aristocratic friends were bored at the Crichel House, being the estate of one of them. Sitting near a window of the magnificent villa, they decide to bet 5 pounds on a raindrop. The one whose drop reached the bottom of the window first won the bet. To pay off his debt, the loser went to the bank and withdrew 4,800 farthings to give to the owner, Mr. Allington. He wanted to honor his debt with new coins, but chose to give him the five pounds with the smallest coins possible. The story does not say if this was out of frustration or banter.

More than a century later, the coins were found in a box at the Crichel House when the beautiful property was sold in 2013. The neoclassical-style home, located in Dorset, England, was actually the setting for the 1996 film “Jane Austen ” starring Gwyneth Paltrow. The Crichel House had been in the same family for 300 years, until the death of Mary Marten, a descendant of Baron Allington. Her six children then decided to sell the property, as well as the pieces of the bet found in perfect condition. Never used, the Victorian farthings were still covered with a delicate fabric.

The Crichel House: a treasure trove of Victorian farthings

The farthing has been diverted from the original word, the fourthling, which translates into French as “small quarter.” It is indeed a small English coin that was worth a quarter of a penny. It represents today 1/960th of a pound sterling.

These coins were born in the 13th century, they were made of silver and then copper, from 1613. They were minted until 1956, then withdrawn from circulation on the last day of the year 1960. On the reverse side, the farthings bore the portraits of successive kings, from George VI to Elizabeth II. The obverse sides were decorated with a cute wren, a bird of England, and a Britannia. The farthings of the Crichel house treasure are coins of 1890, with the effigy of Queen Victoria on the reverse side and with the Britannia on the obverse side.

A successful bet

The bet of 5 pounds finally brought 63 440 pounds to the heirs of the Crichel house treasure. A total of 2,794 Victorian farthings were sold by the auction house Woolley & Wallis. All the coins minted in the year of the bet in 1890 are in perfect uncirculated condition.

The cache of unused bronze coins, wrapped in tissue paper, represents two pounds, 18 shillings, one penny and two farthings, the equivalent of 220 pounds today.

After an investigation, the treasure had been estimated at between 14,000 and 18,000 pounds, which aroused the interest of numismatists. In reality, the sale, which took place at St. James’s in London, eventually brought in 63,440 pounds. The sale price meant that each coin was worth nearly 23 pounds, about 22,000 times its original value. The lucky buyer was a British coin collector.

While Woolley and Wallis auctioneer Lucy Chalmers admit that farthings are common, she emphasizes the rarity of the Crichel House collection. Indeed, it is the quantity of the number of farthings in new condition and dated in the same year that makes this collection rich. The other important element is its history and its place of origin, which make this treasure an exception. The bet has become a family legend passed down from generation to generation.

Sources :
Daily Mail
The Times

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