A Gold Sovereign is a gold coin first issued in 1489 for Henry VII of England and still in production as of 2023. While the coin typically had a nominal value of one pound sterling or 20 shillings, the Sovereign was primarily an official piece of bullion with no mark of value on the coin itself.
The name “Sovereign” comes from the majestic and impressive size and portraiture of the coin, the earliest of which showed the king facing, seated on a throne, while the reverse shows the Royal coat of arms on a shield surrounded by a Tudor double rose.
Gold Full & Half Sovereigns
Sovereigns were discontinued after 1604, being replaced by Unites, later by Laurels, and then guineas. Production of Sovereigns restarted in 1817, their reverse design being a portrayal of Saint George killing a dragon, engraved by Benedetto Pistrucci. This same design is still in use on British gold Sovereigns, although other reverse designs have also been used during the reigns of William IV, Victoria, George IV, and Elizabeth II and the new King Charles III.
In Victorian times it was the practice of the Bank of England to remove worn Sovereigns and half Sovereigns from circulation and have them recoined.
Consequently, although a billion Sovereigns have been minted in total, that figure includes gold that has been coined and recoined a number of times. In addition, when coins were sent to places such as the United States for international payments between governments, coins were frequently melted down into gold bars because of the Federal regulations then in force. When gold coins were finally withdrawn from circulation in 1933 in the US, many thousands of British gold Sovereigns were consigned to the melting pot in this way. It is estimated that in circulation, a Sovereign could have a lifespan of up to 15 years before it fell below the “least current weight”, that is, the minimum amount of gold below which it ceased to be legal tender.
It was actually the half-Sovereign that had the most circulation in Victorian England. Many Sovereigns languished in bank vaults for most of their lives. It is estimated that only 1% of all gold Sovereigns that have ever been minted are still in collectable condition.
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