Pistrucci’s iconic Sovereign design back for 2013

After months of speculation, 2013 well and truly got off with a bang following today’s unveiling of one of the year’s most exciting and eagerly awaited new issues – the UK Gold Proof Sovereign.

2013 gold sovereign1 - Pistrucci’s iconic Sovereign design back for 2013

Pistrucci’s nearly 200 year-old design graces the reverse of the 2013 Gold Proof Sovereign once more

Nearly 200 years young
And after the change of reverse design on last year’s Diamond Jubilee Sovereign (only the fourth ever in the coin’s long and illustrious history), Benedetto Pistrucci’s almost 200 year-old Sovereign design makes a welcome return in 2013.

The one and only Sovereign design
For many collectors, Pistrucci’s classical depiction of Saint George slaying the dragon remains the definitive Sovereign design; it has in fact appeared on the coinage of every British monarch since George III. Fittingly, it is also 60 years since the pair first appeared on the first Sovereigns of the Queen Elizabeth II’s reign in 1953.

Another record Sovereign sell-out expected
Struck in 22 Carat Gold to the highest proof finish by the master craftsmen of The Royal Mint, the Sovereign has long been considered Britain’s most famous and sought-after coin.

Last year’s Gold Proof Sovereign sold out in record time and it’s widely anticipated that the 2013 coin will follow suit. There are however just 7,500 available worldwide so orders should be placed immediately.

Click here for a full range of sovereign coins currently available from The Westminster Collection

Read up on the History of the Sovereign

History of the Sovereign

The gold Sovereign is one of the most famous coins in the world. “Sovereign” is the name we give to a gold coin, originally of one pound sterling value. The first pound was struck in 1489 during the reign of Henry VII. It was a magnificent coin showing on the obverse the king sitting a throne, hence the name “Sovereign.”

The first Sovereigns

Henry VII ordered the Sovereign to be struck as part of the process to stabilise the English economy after decades of civil war. The King commissioned the great German engraver Alexander of Bruchsal to design the coin, showing Henry VII enthroned on the obverse and a Tudor rose enclosing a shield on the reverse. Its value was 240 silver pennies or twenty shillings. This was the first Sovereign – it was struck in 23 carat (95.83% fine) gold.

first sovereigns - History of the Sovereign

Debasement and replacement

King Henry VIII increased the sovereign’s value from 20 shillings to 22 shillings then 22 shillings and 6d. His son, Edward VI fixed the value at 20 shillings and also issued a half sovereign, a “Fine Sovereign” of 30 shillings and a double sovereign. After his death in 1553, his half sister, Queen Mary issued only a “Fine Sovereign” of 23¾ carats. Mary died in 1558 and her successor, Elizabeth I re-introduced a “standard sovereign” of 22 carats, worth 20 shillings, circulating alongside the fine sovereign. James I eliminated the fine sovereign and introduced a smaller, lighter sovereign of 22 carat fineness in 1604. This was to be the last sovereign struck in England for 213 years.

Unite, Laurel, Broad and Guinea

After the Sovereign there followed a succession of coins, of roughly sovereign value. First came the “Unite” of one pound value. It was so called in honour of the uniting of the kingdoms of England and Scotland. In 1612 the Unite was revalued at 22s before being replaced in 1619 by the “Laurel.” It survived the Civil War and was circulated during the Commonwealth, although a smaller 20 shillings coin, “the Broad”, was briefly issued in 1656. The Unite was issued for two years by the restored Charles II but was replaced by the machine-made “Guinea” (so called because it used gold from Guinea, West Africa) in 1668.

The Sovereign reigns supreme

In 1809 The Royal Mint was moved from the Tower of London to a new site on Tower Hill. In 1813 the last Guinea, with a value of 21 shillings, was struck by The Royal Mint but a huge transformation in how British coins were produced was about to take place. Using the new steam-powered minting machines of Boulton and Watt, the Mint could now produce superior coins more quickly and on an industrial scale. The Mint also now issued coins with a face value greater than their intrinsic value – the world’s first “token” coinage – and in 1817 came the return of the gold Sovereign after 213 years. On its reverse was the iconic engraving of St George and the Dragon by the brilliant Italian engraver Bendetto Pistrucci. This is essentially the modern gold Sovereign we know today, minted to 22 carat (91.7%) fineness, 22.05 mm in diameter and weighing 7.988 g.

The George & Dragon design continued to be used exclusively on the reverse of Sovereigns until 1825, when a shield design was introduced. The shield continued to be used intermittently throughout the reigns of George IV, William IV and Queen Victoria. As the British Empire spread across the globe, the sovereign went with it, accepted and trusted in even the most remote parts of the world. In 1855 the Sydney Branch of The Royal Mint was established. Uniquely, its Sovereigns (identified by the mintmark “S”) were completely different in design to the British originals. Other Royal Mints striking Sovereigns were opened at Melbourne, Perth and Ottawa, Canada.

george v sovereign - History of the Sovereign

A new life for the Sovereign

In 1917, under pressure of the war effort, The Royal Mint stopped production of the gold sovereign, replacing it with paper currency for everyday circulation. Although the Mint produced some Sovereigns in 1927 and proof sets in 1937 and 1953, this effectively marked the end of the Sovereign as currency. However, in 1957, in response to demand from collectors and investors, The Royal Mint issued bullion sovereigns almost every year until 1968, resuming regular production in 1974. In 1979 the Mint issued proof versions, which were so popular the practice continues to this day.

2011 sovereign2 - History of the Sovereign

In 1989 the 500th anniversary of the 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 reverse of a Sovereign for the first time since 1887.  Most recently, the 2012 Sovereign featured a new reverse design by Paul Day to mark the Queen’s  Diamond Jubilee. Over the past decade bullion and proof Sovereigns have proved a sound investment. As long as there’s a pound, it seems likely we’ll still have a Sovereign.

2012 sovereign5 - History of the Sovereign

Coin Collecting – a fascinating and rewarding hobby PART II – What to Collect?

There is a lot of satisfaction in collecting coins, be they ancient or modern, struck from gold, silver or base metal, from the Royal Mint or any other mint. Sign up to The Westminster Collection’s mailing list and you will receive regular information and offers on many different kinds of coins.

You may however specialise in a particular type of coin or choose current UK coins. You’ll be offered the most current non-precious metal coins in uncirculated condition at an affordable cost. You can opt for commemorative coins or special issues from the various mints commemorating great events such as royal weddings, or the London 2012, special anniversaries such as a royal jubilee and even great people such as Winston Churchill.

You could concentrate on historic coins. Although the rarest coins are probably best left to museums and millionaires, some very old coins can be surprisingly affordable. The Romans were great coiners during the four centuries they occupied Britain – and great hoarders of coins. Hoards of Roman coins are still uncovered by archaeologists and metal detectors. Collecting these old coins, handled by legionnaires, wine merchants and peasants almost 2,000 years ago provides a unique insight into and link with the past.

There are many books on general and specialist aspects of coin collecting. The Internet is also an excellent source of information, though the quality and accuracy is sometimes unreliable.

Collecting Sovereigns: risks and rewards

In the past ten years, the price of gold has increased by hundreds of percent.  Good news for anyone who has been collecting gold sovereigns, but it has also placed them beyond the reach of many

2012 sovereign4 - Coin Collecting - a fascinating and rewarding hobby PART II - What to Collect?

The sovereign was first issued in England in 1489, though the modern sovereign containing 7.988 grams of 22-carat gold dates from 1817.  After stopping production in 1917, the Royal Mint started sovereign production in 1957, producing bullion sovereigns mainly for investors.  “Bullion” sovereigns are essentially sold for their gold content value. 

The Royal Mint strikes “Proof” sovereigns in limited numbers for collectors, often to commemorate a special event.  The Royal Mint annually issues limited numbers of full sets of gold coins – half-sovereign, sovereign, £2, and £5 gold coins, which make a spectacular addition to your collection or a once-in-a-lifetime gift.

Next time – Part III – Coin Collecting Made Easy