In my last blog post, I explored the Gold Sovereign’s incredible success as the most trusted and popular of all gold circulating coins throughout the world during the Empire years until 1931 when its reign as the King of Coins came under threat…
The Outbreak of the First World War in 1914, followed by the worldwide economic crisis in 1931 seemed to sound the death-knell for the Sovereign.
Gold Sovereigns were struck annually until 1915, but production dropped dramatically in 1914 and the majority of the 20 million minted in 1915 were for overseas use.
Decline in Production
As part of the emergency measures put in place upon the Outbreak of the First World War, specie payments were suspended and Treasury notes replaced gold. Gold coins disappeared from circulation but they continued to be minted for overseas bullion transactions.
Sovereigns were struck in 1916 and a small amount in 1917, but no more circulating Sovereigns were minted in London, except for a consignment for overseas use in 1925. The overseas branch mints still struck considerable quantities of Sovereigns.
Sovereign production continued after the war, but in much smaller numbers. Despite this, another two branch mints were opened. One in Bombay in 1918, which struck Sovereigns for just one year only. The other was opened in South Africa in 1923.
By 1926, only three branch mints were still operating – Perth, Melbourne and Pretoria. However, the worldwide economic crisis in 1931 signalled the end of these remaining branch mints, Britain left the Gold standard and the last Sovereigns were struck in Pretoria in 1932.
This appeared to be the end of the Sovereign. But all was not as it seemed.
Would the Sovereign be revived again?
Find out in the final part of our 200 years of the Sovereign Blog Series – click here to read it >>
In Part III, I explored the history of Benedetto Pistrucci’s timeless St. George and the Dragon design used on the Gold Sovereign until its exile in 1825. But that wasn’t the end. It was revived nearly 50 years later in 1871…
The Gold Sovereign reached the height of its prominence and prestige under the record-breaking reign of Queen Victoria as the British Empire expanded.
The ‘chief coin of the world’
The Gold Sovereign was legal tender in 36 colonies during the 1860s and was widely used in countries with no allegiance to the British crown which prompted leading British economic historian, Sir John Clapham to name it ‘chief coin of the world’.
What you may not realise is that not all of these coins were struck in Britain. Sovereigns were struck in many dominions of the British Empire.
Between 1871 and 1932, Sovereign production was spread over four continents outside of Europe: North America, Australia, Africa and Asia, with branches of The Royal Mint in a number of major international cities.
In order to distinguish where the Sovereigns were minted, The Royal Mint used a variety of mint marks.
These were either a letter or several letters to show its origin. They are found on the coin’s reverse, above the inner two numbers of the date.
Mintmarks from across the World
AUSTRALIA – Gold was discovered in New South Wales in 1851 and three branch mints opened in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. The mintmarks here bore the initial of the city they were manufactured in.
SOUTH AFRICA – the African Sovereign is identified by its initials ‘SA (South Africa) and was struck in Pretoria.
CANADA – Despite experiencing its first gold rushes earlier than Australia, a branch mint did not open in Canada until 1908. Sovereigns produced in Canada were marked with a ‘C’ signifying its Canadian origin. The Canadian Sovereign almost certainly contains gold from the Yukon.
INDIA – Sovereigns struck in India are identified by the country’s initial ‘I’. Sovereigns here were only produced during the year 1918, so they are particularly rare and a target for collectors.
During the reign of King George V, the British Empire reached its territorial peak. It had risen to become the largest formal empire the world had ever seen, holding sway of over 25% of the globe’s population and landmass.
The Gold Sovereign emulated the success of the Empire – it was the go-to coin for international trade. The Sovereign was the most trusted and popular of all gold coins circulating throughout the world.
But its reign as the King of Coins came under threat. The outbreak of World War I in 1914 and the economic crisis in 1931 seemed to put the Sovereign’s future into jeopardy. Was this the end?
Find out in Part V of our 200 years of the Sovereign Blog Series – click here to read >>
In my last post I explored one of the most monumental events in the history of British coinage, the Great Recoinage when the Master of the Mint decided to bring back the Sovereign as Britain’s new flagship gold coin. Now, I explore its truly timeless design created by Benedetto Pistrucci.
As designer of the original ‘modern’ Gold Sovereign, Benedetto Pistrucci’s name has become synonymous with the coin. Born in Rome in 1783, Pistrucci took an interest in art from a young age and was trained by two of the leading engravers of the time.
But his fate was not in Rome. He moved to Paris in 1814 and then to London the following year.
And it was here that he really made a name for himself.
Pistrucci became a successful and wealthy cameo designer and maker and in 1815 he met William Wellesley Pole, the Master of the Mint, who admired his work. Pole was barred from appointing a foreigner to a crown office but when the Chief Engraver of the Mint retired, Pistrucci succeeded him in all but title.
As part of the Great Recoinage, Pistrucci was tasked with designing the new Sovereign. It was essential for the design to be considerably different from the Guinea to avoid confusion between the two coins.
The timeless design
Pistrucci’s initial inspiration for the design derived from Lady Spencer, to whom he had been introduced to by the Master of the Mint, who showed him a wax model of St. George.
Pole agreed that the patron Saint of England would undoubtedly be a fitting choice for the design for the new flagship coin.
So, Pistrucci created his masterpiece using a waiter from a hotel in Leicester Square as his model.
His St. George and the Dragon design featured on all Sovereigns and Half Sovereigns from 1817 until 1825 with a modification in 1820 when Pistrucci exchanged St. George’s shattered lance for a short sword.
Pistrucci was removed from the mint in 1825 following in-house fighting and a dispute with the King over a portrait and his original St. George & the Dragon design began a 46 year exile.
But that was not the end of his beautiful design. It was revived nearly 50 years later in 1871…
Find out why in Part IV of our 200 years of the Sovereign Blog Series – click here to read it >>