The perfect collector's coin: a history of the sovereign part II

We return to the history of the sovereign, with a redesign inspired by one of Britain's longest serving monarchs. 

Victoria’s accession changed the arms of the royal family (no woman could hold a Hanover throne) and a royal shield was engraved onto her first sovereigns.

Queen Victoria learns she is to be Queen

Queen Victoria finds out her face is about to go onto millions and millions of coins.

In 1842 to 1845 millions of sovereigns were taken out of circulation and melted down. Gold is worn down easily making many coins underweight and threatening the coins legitimacy.

This destruction helps make older sovereigns rarer, and is believed to have removed almost all remaining circulating guineas.

Improvements in quality control helped make the sovereign a globally recognised store of value, “the world’s coin” by the late 1860s. You could spend sovereigns in Brazil for example.

More fragile than you think

Queen Mary sovereign

These Queen Mary sovereign from the 1550s shows how gold wears over time.

Gold remained malleable and fragile though. Many new coins were rejected during production and many circulating coins were taken back and melted down.

By 1900 only around 4% of circulating coins were underweight, while - as a result of gold finds - as many as 40% were struck in Australia.

Sovereigns were struck around the empire, including in South Africa, Canada and India.

The end of the circulating sovereign

World War I ended many things, including the reign of the sovereign.

Uncertainty sent people running to their banks to buy gold coins or change notes for gold. A plummeting national gold reserve accelerated a shirt to paper money after war broke out. Using sovereigns became considered unpatriotic.

By the end of the war the transition to bullion coin was largely completed.

Sovereigns were now usually worth more as gold than as the value stamped on them. They were still struck, but usually kept by the state. A huge shipment of them went to pay off war debts to the USA.

Proof sets were made for new monarchs.

These include the most famous sovereign of all, the Edward VIII pattern coins. Edward abdicated before the production process could be completed, and we are left with a £1 million sovereign sold in 2020.

Where sovereigns were still used as currency (they were popular in the Middle East, for example) they were often “forged”. But as they very often contained the correct amount of gold as for the real thing little harm was done. One counterfeiter was acquitted when a court accepted his defence that the sovereign was no longer in circulation so couldn’t be forged.

1959 Queen Elizabeth II sovereign

This 1959 sovereign shows how well the original design has aged.

Making the sovereign legal again

This was later addressed with a massive increase in production. Forty-five million Queen Elizabeth sovereigns were struck before 1968. The government went to courts around Europe to get the sovereign recognised as a legal tender coin.

In 1979, the sovereign became a collector's coin, sold in proof condition. Bullion striking was suspended in 1982.

In 1989 the 500th anniversary of the Henry VII sovereign was celebrated with an anniversary coin. A 2017 special edition celebrated the bicentenary of the modern sovereign.

Bullion production began in 2000.

The Royal Mint has issued special collector’s editions (usually around royal dates) in recent years.

King Charles III sovereigns caused a huge spike in demand.

Buy rare sovereigns today

We buy and sell rare and valuable historic coins. You can see some of what we have here.

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