A long journey ends.
It started in January 2002 as a hunt for a memento of fond visits to one of my ancestral homelands. A perfect choice turned up in an eBay auction by a seller in France, for a raw Scotland 1567 James VI Ryal or “Sword Dollar” (face value 30 shillings) that I upgraded last year. When it arrived I was captivated by the big, crude, hammered coin – but especially its history. It soon triggered the cluelessly naïve thought that, “I only need seven more for a complete set.”
The first coin in my set was a 1567 James VI located in France.
Finding all eight turned out to be a marathon test of patience. Two types of Ryals were involved: those issued under Mary Queen of Scots in 1565-66-67 whose main design element is a tortoise climbing up a palm tree (don’t even try to make sense of that), and those issued under her infant son James VI in 1567-68-69-70-71 whose main motif is a sword.
If Ryal mintage records were ever kept 450+ years ago, they haven’t been found yet. My personal hunch is not many were made; maybe a couple thousand or less of each year and type. Even if I am close, there’s likely a bigger reason why Ryals are so scarce today: Rapid Inflation during and after the time of issue pushed their silver bullion value far above face value, resulting in widespread melting.
A leading expert on Mary Ryals estimates the total surviving number for all three years of that type is just 575. He has no estimate for James VI Ryals, but my own research tracking down the sales of 203 Ryals since 2002 suggests the surviving number may be equally tiny. The breakdown is 97 Mary coins and 106 James VI coins. Interestingly, the smallest single year totals are both James VI dates – 1569 and 1568.
Once the set began (it is the only Scotland coin set of any kind in the PCGS Set Registry program) it soon became clear that the biggest obstacle to finishing it was that Ryals seldom came up for sale, or at least in places I knew about. I only saw four of them in all my years of attending Long Beach, FUN and ANA shows (two were auction previews), none at smaller shows, and filling out want lists was useless. I once went seven years between purchases, and five years another time.
But – hooray! – my persistence finally paid off last month. The last coin is now in hand: a 1568 James VI Ryal. Fittingly, my journey ended the same way it began, with a raw coin in Europe.
Besides being the last coin, the 1568 is extra-special because it resulted from a tip from the Ryal expert, who lives in New Zealand. We have never met or spoken; just corresponded to share information. His email arrived during Heritage’s special VAM sale in late June, letting me know where it was available in England. I quickly went to the dealer’s website, located the coin, bought it, and went back to watching the auction.
Talk about a small coin world, not to mention the joy of numismatic networking! Although I got shut out at Heritage that day, I still feel like I was the biggest winner of all.
Now just two steps are left: sending in the 1568 for grading so all 8 coins will be in PCGS holders, and have the set pedigreed. Fingers crossed; I’m thinking VG10.
By the way, the hammered coin specialist dealer I bought the 1568 from told me that mine is the only complete Ryal set he has ever heard of.
P.S.: A remarkable part of this coin’s story is the time it took to be delivered (no extraordinary shipping method; just a padded package via UK Royal Mail with International Tracking & Signature):
– Ordered June 27
– Mailed from England June 28
– Arrived in Northern Ireland June 29
– Arrived at New York Customs July 2
– Handed off to USPS July 4
– Arrived in Denver July 5
– Arrived in Salt Lake City July 6
– Arrived in Boise July 6
– delivered to me July 7