One of Europe’s longest-running gold coin programs still available to modern coin investors is the Gold Sovereign from Great Britain. First introduced by the Royal Mint on October 28, 1489, the original concept behind the gold sovereign was to introduce a “new money of gold,” according to the Royal Mint’s extensive history of the sovereign. The gold sovereign was not England’s first gold coin minted and released into circulation, but it did go on to become a significant symbol of the power of the Kingdom of England and modern Great Britain.
Throughout hundreds of years of coining, the Gold Sovereign has changed its obverse design fields to feature the image of the ruling monarch on the throne during the year of issue engraved onto the coins. Reverse designs have changed over time, with most coins featuring either a royal shield or the image of St. George battling the dragon. Learn all about the Gold Sovereigns of Britain below!
Prior to 1489, the Royal Mint of England had issued various other gold coins for circulation within the kingdom. When the first gold sovereigns were issued during the reign of King Henry VII it instantly became the largest and most valuable gold coin ever seen to date. Like modern gold sovereigns, these original coins included the portrait of Henry VII as depicted sitting on his throne in a coronation gown.
The reverse side of the original gold sovereigns included the double rose that symbolized the union of the House of York and House of Lancaster following the Wars of the Roses. Over the centuries, the reverse and obverse design elements would change with new monarchs. In 1603 however, the practice of coining the gold sovereign died out during the reign of King James I who had unified the crowns of Scotland and England.
Modern-era gold sovereigns reemerged in 1817. The move was spurred by the defeat of Napoleon and his French Army at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The nation carried out a review of its coinage and found demand among citizens for gold coins in values of 20 Shillings and 10 Shillings over the previously-used Guineas, Half-Guineas, and Seven Shilling pieces. First issued during the final years of King George III’s reign, these gold sovereigns introduced the practice of the monarch profile portrait on the obverse and the St. George design on the reverse.
Since 1817, gold sovereign coins have been issued to fill varying roles. From the original sovereigns of Henry VII to the new modern gold sovereign of King George III, most gold sovereigns prior to the 20th century were gold coins intended for use in circulation to meet economic needs as a medium of exchange. Those coins had a face value of 20 Shillings, with so-called Half-Sovereigns available with a 10 Shilling face value from time to time. The coins featured .2345 Troy oz of .917 gold content that included .083 copper and other metals to improve its resistance to wear and tear.
However, starting in 1914 the gold sovereign’s purpose was altered. From 1914 until 1978 the gold sovereign was largely issued as a trade coin by the Royal Mint and rarely used in the United Kingdom as a medium of exchange for commerce. Since 1979, the Gold Sovereign has been issued as a bullion coin with proof versions also available, both bearing a nominal face value of 1 Pound Sterling.
In the modern collection of Gold Sovereigns, the obverse has been the steadier of the two faces of the coin in terms of designs. The ruling monarch is always featured on the obverse face of the coin, with notable designs including:
The reverse of most Gold Sovereigns issued since 1817, as alluded to, feature Pistrucci’s design of St. George battling the dragon. Though this image has been modified at various times or paired with other images on the reverse, it is the most consistently used design in the collection of Gold Sovereigns from the Royal Mint.
The most commonly issued British Gold Sovereign is the standard gold coin in this series. It has been available for most of the years since its introduction in 1817. While the Gold Sovereign is the most prevalent coin in the series, there are actually two other options available in the British Gold Sovereign Series. The British Gold Double Sovereign was conceived at the same time in 1817, but the coin never entered circulation. A select few proof or pattern coins were released in 1820 during the reign of King George III. In 1887, Double Sovereigns were released to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Double Sovereigns rarely went into circulation. In the 1980s, Double Sovereigns were introduced for the first time as modern bullion coins for investors. Additionally, a British Gold Half Sovereign was conceived in 1817, but like the Double Sovereign, was rarely issued. It is more commonly available from the 20th century and 21st century as bullion coins not intended for circulation use.
Our collection of Gold Sovereigns covers many of the coins issued dating from the reign of Queen Victoria I to the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. From her great-great-grandmother to the reigning monarch of England, Gold Sovereigns of the modern era are known as a symbol of power, strength, and the refining excellence of the Royal Mint.