The first British Gold Sovereign Coins were minted over 500 years ago and they remain the world’s oldest surviving coin, still in production. The UK Sovereign is regarded as a symbol of quality, steeped in British history, and is respected by collectors and investors alike.
The First Gold Sovereign
The first gold Sovereign was struck by the Royal Mint at the Tower of London on the 28th October 1489. This new coin was to be the largest in value and size ever seen in England.
When King Henry VII ordered the first Sovereign to be struck, instead of a generic image on the obverse, the coin featured a portrait of himself enthroned and dressed in full coronation regalia. The coin was a statement, a show-off piece; Henry VII was declaring to the world that there was a new guy in charge, and that England was most definitely a country not to be reckoned with!
The coin’s issue came to an end in 1604 as its only real use being as a statement for England’s stability and the Monarch’s greatness. A Sovereign was not struck again until 1817.
The Revival of the Sovereign Coin
After England’s defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, Britain’s finances were unstable and the solution was the ‘Great Recoinage’ currency reform.
In 1817 the gold guinea was gone, enter the Gold Sovereign valued at 20 shillings (one pound). The iconic St George and the Dragon reverse, still in use today, was designed by the Royal Mint’s chief medallist, Benedetto Pistrucci.
At half the size of the original Sovereign, the new coin was made of 22 carat gold and weighed 7.98g, exactly the same as the sovereigns of today.
The Royal Mint Goes International!
During the 1850s, the Royal Mint built branches in three Australian cities (Sydney, Melbourne and Perth) and also South Africa, India and Canada. These branches produced sovereigns for the British empire and can be distinguished by their own lettered mintmarks.
Shield and St George & the Dragon Reverse Designs
The popular St George and the Dragon reverse was dropped and replaced in 1825 by a design featuring the shield of the royal arms. However, this was largely criticised and the St George design was revived in 1871, when both shield and dragon reverse designs ran until 1887.
There have been a number of special reverse designs to commemorate special occasions such as: Diamond Jubilee, Golden Jubilee, 500th anniversary of the Sovereign.
Victorian Young-Head, Jubilee Head & Old Head Obverse Designs
The Victorian Young-Head, Jubilee Head & Old Head Obverse Designs were the main portraits that appeared on the obverse of Sovereign coins during Queen Victoria’s long reign.
The first of the portraits used for Queen Victoria’s coinage was the 'Young Head' design. It was used with a number of slight changes from the first issue the majority of the coins featured the design shown here. These ran from 1838 until 1887.
The Jubilee Head was the second major portrait of Queen Victoria used on gold Sovereigns, introduced in 1887 to celebrate the then Queens Jubilee, it was used until 1893.
Old (Widow or Veiled) Head
The third and final portrait used for Queen Victoria’s coinage was the 'Veiled Head', this was used from 1893 to 1901.
The British Sovereign Will Win!
The Sovereign aided Britain during WWI, as an estimated £100,000,000 worth of gold Sovereigns from the vaults of the Bank of England financed the war effort. The government also appealed to citizens to trade in their Sovereigns to the Post Office for notes through posters urging them ‘The British Sovereign Will Win’.
The coin went out of circulation and was replaced by notes. This brought the circulation of this iconic coin to an end in Britain.
The Modern Sovereign
In 1957, the Royal Mint began manufacturing Sovereign coins again. Now respected as a popular bullion coin for those who wish to invest in gold and coin collectors alike.
The Royal Mint in Llantrisant, North Wales, now manufacture coins for over 60 countries around the world.