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Although first struck in 1489 during the reign of Henry VII, the modern day Sovereigns we know today weren’t actually introduced until 1817 as part of a major coin reform. On its reverse was the iconic engraving of St George and the Dragon by Italian engraver Bendetto Pistrucci. His classical depiction has appeared on the gold coin each year and is only changed on very rare occasions. This design continued to be used exclusively on the Sovereign’s reverse until 1825, when a shield design was introduced – this was used intermittently throughout the reigns of King George IV, King William IV and Queen Victoria. As the British Empire spread across the globe, this collector classic went with it, accepted and trusted in even the most remote parts of the world.
In 1917, under pressure of the war effort, production stopped although they were still struck at other mints within the British Empire until 1932. However, in 1957, in response to demand from collectors and investors, Gold sovereign coins were once again issued to meet world demand and to try to address the problem of counterfeiting, but these were not re-introduced into everyday circulation. Prior to 1979, only gold bullion coins had been issued but this year saw the Mint introduce proof versions for the first time ever. They were so popular the practice continues to this day. Between 1983 and 1999, only the proof versions were struck but by 2000, the gold bullion had returned to regular production and it continues to be struck on an annual basis.
The iconic depiction of St George slaying the dragon by the brilliant Italian engraver Benedetto Pistrucci was first introduced in 1817 and is only changed on very rare occasions. During the Queen Elizabeth II’s entire sixty year reign, it has changed just four times. In 1989, the 500th anniversary of the first ever Gold Sovereign was marked by a special commemorative proof issue, while the Queen’s 2002 Golden Jubilee saw the shield design used, in modified form, on the coin’s reverse for the first time since 1887. A new design also featured on the 2005 Sovereign while most recently, the 2012 edition featured a new reverse by designer Paul Day to mark the occasion of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.