The History of British Sovereigns

03/09/2013 13:24  |  Sovereigns

This most famous of British coins has a long and illustrious history dating back hundreds of years. The first ever Sovereign was minted during the reign of Henry VII back in 1489, a time when gold was in abundance. This earliest piece was equal to 1 pound and featured on the obverse an image of the king seated on the throne, holding an orb and sceptre.  A Tudor rose and Royal Shield appeared on the reverse.

Gold Sovereigns were struck during the reigns of successive Tudor monarchs including Henry VIII  and Elizabeth I but with a lower weight and fineness. In 1604, James I commissioned a lighter, smaller version in 22 carat of precious metal. It would be the last Sovereign for 213 years.

The start of the nineteenth century saw a number of important developments that revolutionised British coin production. The Royal Mint moved to larger premises on Tower Hall and faster, more efficient steam powered minting machines had been introduced. In 1817, for the first time in over 200 years, Britain’s most famous gold coin was back.

On the coin’s reverse was an exquisite image of Saint George slaying the dragon by a brilliant young Italian engraver called Benedetto Pistrucci. A portrait of the reigning king, George III appeared on the  obverse. This was essentially the first ever ‘modern’ Sovereign, as we know it today, struck in 22 carat gold with a 22.05mm diameter and 7.988g weight. To this day, Pistrucci’s design has appeared on more Gold Sovereigns than any other design. 

During the 19th century, Pistrucci’s design appeared on a number of coins issued during the reigns of George IV, William IV and Victoria however, from 1825 a Shield design was also used. As the British Empire expanded, this iconic coin also flourished in Commonwealth countries such as Australia and Canada, minted by overseas branches of The Royal Mint. In 1917, as Britain started to count the cost of the Great War, it was replaced by cheaper paper currency.

Sovereigns were still struck to mark special occasions like the Coronations of George VI and Elizabeth in 1937 and 1953 respectively and today is regarded as one of the most eagerly-awaited annual British coin issues.

View The St George and the Dragon Gold Sovereign Collection.

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