A39, Lot 339
A COLLECTION OF BRITISH MUSEUM REPLICAS. Two-hundred-twenty-nine electrotypes of the finest Greek coins from the British Museum holdings in a late 19th century bespoke cabinet.
Robert Ready and his sons were seal makers hired by the British Museum in the late 1850’s to produce copies of some of the finest ancient coins in the British Museum. Using an electrotyping technique invented in 1838 they produced uniface replicas of actual coins in the Museum holdings. This electrotyping process is explained below. The Museum displayed these as well as making them available for purchase and for education.
Barclay V. Head (1844-1914) began work at the British Museum at the age of 20 and ultimately became head of the Department of Coins and Medals. Among his extensive output of research and catalogs he summarized Ready’s work, publishing a Guide to the Select Greek Coins Exhibited in Electrotype in the Gold Ornament Room in 1872 and a subsequent edition (1880) that also included Roman Coins in Electrotype in its title. I believe the 1872 work was the basis for the numbering and layout of this collection. The latter edition is available as a reprint and we will include it with the set on request.
The mahogany cabinet is 8 ½ inches deep, 9 inches wide, and 8 ½ inches high with brass handles on the sides and doors with a latch and key. The woodwork is of the highest quality with dovetail joints, pulls with different heads from Greek coins on them, and numbered tailor-fitted depressions in velvet lined drawers that conform to the size and shape of each piece. The coin replicas were purchased joined together from the Readys with “R R” stamped on the side across the seam. The set is exceptionally well preserved.
The value of this set, $20,000 to $25,000, reflects the exceptional quality of this 19th century cabinetry and the fact that all the pieces are joined and intact from the era with the RR stamp on the edge, as well as recent prices Ready electros have achieved. Several years ago CNG sold “A Mounted Set of Twenty-six British Museum Electrotypes…each uniface with attached mounting pins…mounted on velvet-lined wood” for $3250. In November 2019 Baldwins of St. James’s realized a total equal to $17,000 for what they described as “A large collection of late 19th/early 20th Century electrotypes of ancient Greek and Roman gold silver and copper coins, most comprise separate obverses and reverses and are placed side-by-side in a deep front, stacking Lincoln mahogany cabinet (handles missing).”
The Electrotyping Process:
Invented in 1838, electrotyping involves coating a mold of the coin being duplicated in a conductive material, graphite, then connecting it to a wire and running a current through it while suspending it in an electrolyte solution along with a copper anode. The copper dissolves from the surface of the anode and is deposited on the conductive graphite. The final result is a uniface replica of one side of a coin, which was sometimes then joined to a copy of the other side and the edges smoothed to create a more accurate replica. The copper shell was also often gilt to represent silver or gold coins more accurately.
Electrotypes were widely produced by Robert Ready and his sons for sale by the British Museum between 1859 and 1931, using examples from the Museum’s collection. Electrotypes were a popular display and educational product that, while convincing, are usually fairly straightforward to distinguish from the actual pieces by examining the edge for a seam, comparing the weight to an actual piece, or by a stamp of RR, R, or MB on the edge (which stand for Robert Ready, one of his sons, or the Latin name for the British Museum respectively).