The Royal Mint produces Gold Sovereign coins out of 22 karat (91.67% purity) gold as regular bullion coins as well as with brilliant uncirculated and proof finishes. According to the Royal Mint, its brilliant uncirculated (BU) coins are minted to a higher production standard than regular bullion coins. Part of the Gold Sovereign's appeal comes from its long history which reaches back to the year 1817 for the modern version of the Sovereign and even further for the historic original Sovereign. The British Gold Sovereign is nowadays produced in denominations of 5 Pounds (Five Sovereign or Quintuple-Sovereign), 2 Pounds (Double-Sovereign), 1 Pound (Sovereign), 0.5 Pounds (Half-Sovereign) and 0.25 Pounds (Quarter-Sovereign).
The obverse side of the coin depicts a portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In March 2015, a switch was made from Ian Rank-Broadley's fourth official effigy of her majesty to Jody Clark's fifth portrait that shows an older Queen. Proof Sovereigns depict the fifth portrait since that date. Bullion and brilliant uncirculated Sovereigns depict the new fifth portrait since 2016. In the slideshow underneath, you can also see the first, second and third portrait of her majesty that appeared on Gold Sovereigns since 1957. Starting with the Queen's fourth portrait, the artist's initials (IRB or J.C) appear below the image. The profile of her majesty that appears on the Sovereign coins can also be seen on the British Lunar Gold coins as well as the British Britannia Gold coins. Her majesty's name, "Dei Gra" and "Regina Fid Def" are engraved along the coin's edge. However, the respective official denomination is not engraved on the various Sovereign coins.
The standard reverse design of the British Gold Sovereign goes back all the way to 1817. It depicts St. George on a horse in the process of slaying a dragon. This classic design by the Italian engraver Benedetto Pistrucci makes the Sovereign one of the most recognizable coins. The year of mintage appears underneath the image. Since 1957, Pistrucci's design was only replaced in 1989, 2002, 2005 and 2012. The 2005 and 2012 editions of the Gold Sovereign depict modern interpretations of the "St. George slaying the dragon" theme. The 2002 Sovereign was dedicated to the Queen's 50th anniversary on the British throne and depicts a crowned shield and wreath. The 1989 coin was dedicated to the 500th anniversary of the historic Sovereign. It shows the crowned shield on top of a double rose and the inscription "1489 - 1989 Anniversary of the Gold Sovereign".
Gold Purity: 91.67%
|Weight||Face Value||Diameter x Thickness|
|1.1771 oz||£ 5||36.02 x 2.89 mm|
|0.4708 oz||£ 2||28.4 x 2 mm|
|0.2354 oz||£ 1||22.05 x 1.52 mm|
|0.1177 oz||£ 0.5||19.3 x 1 mm|
|0.0588 oz||£ 0.25||13.5 x 1.1 mm|
2013 Bullion Coin (BU)
Silver Purity: 99.9%
|1/2 oz||£ 20||27 mm|
2013 Commemorative Proofs
Silver Purity: 92.5%
|28.28 grams||£ 5||38.61 mm|
In 1489, King Henry VII ordered the Royal Mint to produce a new and larger gold coin. The new half ounce coin out of 95.83% gold (23 carat) was called a Sovereign, possibly because it showed a portrait of the enthroned king on the obverse side. The depiction of the royal coat of arms on top of a double rose was meant to symbolise the new union between York and Lancaster after the War of the Roses. The gold content was reduced to 91.67% during the reign of King Henry VIII. This 22 carat gold is still referred to as crown gold today. The size of the Sovereign was repeatedly reduced but successive Tudor monarchs continued to have it minted until the year 1604.
Due to currency reforms after the Napoleonic wars, a new 20 Shilling gold coin was introduced in 1817 and given the old name of Sovereign. The revived Sovereign coin was not only lighter and smaller than the original Sovereign, it also featured a different design on the reverse side. The Italian engraver Benedetto Pistrucci designed the now famous image of St. George on horseback slaying a dragon. From 1825 to 1870, the Sovereign's reverse showed a conventional royal coat of arms though. Pistrucci's "St. George and the Dragon" design returned in 1871. Until 1887, Sovereign coins were minted with both the St. George and the royal shield design on the reverse side. Mintage of Sovereigns stopped in 1917. The coins were briefly minted again in 1925 when Winston Churchill tried to reintroduce the gold standard, but it was not until 1957 that more or less regular production resumed. No coins were produced in the years 1960 - 1961, 1969 - 1973, 1975 and 1977 and only proof Sovereigns were produced between 1983 and 1999. Since 2000, Sovereign gold coins are issued every year in the form of brilliant uncirculated bullion coins as well as proof coins. The Sovereigns minted in 1989 (Bernard Sindall's design of a crowned shield of the Royal Arms on a double Tudor rose for the Sovereign's 500th Anniversary), 2002 (shield of the Royal Arms for the Queen's Golden Jubilee by Timothy Noad), 2005 (modern interpretation of "St. George and the Dragon" by Timothy Noad) and 2012 (new depiction of "St. George and the Dragon" for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee by Paul Day) feature different designs on their reverse sides instead of Pistrucci's original design.
Since 1817, portraits of nine successive British monarchs have appeared on the obverse side of the modern Sovereign coins. The first depicted monarch was George III whose portrait appeared from 1817 to 1820. His portrait was replaced by those of George IV (1821 - 1830), William IV (1831 - 1837), Queen Victoria (1838 - 1901), Edward VII (1902 - 1910), George V (1911 - 1932), Edward VIII (1937), George VI (1937) and Elizabeth II (since 1953). Some of those monarchs had their coin portraits changed throughout their reign.
The Royal Mint was not the only place were Sovereigns were minted in the past. The coins had also been minted in Melbourne (1872 - 1931, mintmark 'M'), Sydney (1855 - 1926, mintmark 'S'), Perth (1899 - 1931, mintmark 'P'), Bombay (1918, mintmark 'I'), Ottawa (1908 - 1919, mintmark 'C') and Pretoria (1923 - 1932, mintmark 'SA'). Interestingly, Sovereigns minted in Sydney between 1855 and 1870 had a special design but all other Sovereign coins minted at these branches of the Royal Mint were identical in design to the coins minted in London. Since 2013, Sovereign coins are also minted under license by the Indian/Swiss joint venture MMTC-PAMP in Delhi. The Sovereigns minted in India bear the mintmark 'I' but are otherwise identical to Sovereigns minted in the UK.
The Half-Sovereign was first produced under the reign of King Henry VIII in 1544. Production continued until 1604 and it was not until 1817 that the Half-Sovereign was reintroduced. Since 1893, St. George also appears on the Half-Sovereign, replacing the usual royal arms design. Half-Sovereigns continued to be produced until 1926. After that, only special proof issues for coronation years appeared until 1980. A staggering 2.5 million bullion Half-Sovereigns were minted in 1982. From 1983 until 1999, only proof Half-Sovereigns were minted. Since 2000, the coins are produced every year as brilliant uncirculated and proof coins.
The first Double-Sovereign coins were struck in 1485 for Henry VII and in 1553 for Edward VI. The first modern Double-Sovereign with the "St. George and the Dragon" design was struck in 1820 for George III as a pattern coin. Proof and circulation Double-Sovereigns were issued in the years 1823, 1887, 1893 and 1902. Only proof coins were issued in 1824, 1825, 1826, 1831, 1911 and 1937. Double-Sovereign gold coins are issued again in most years since 1980, often only as proof coins.
Quintuple-Sovereign coins were produced since 1820 (proof and uncirculated) in some years. Since 1984, Quintuple-Sovereigns are produced every year. The coins were also first made with brilliant uncirculated finishes that same year. Before 1984, they were only available as proof and uncirculated coins. The British Royal Mint created some confusion when it introduced a bullion version of the coins in 2000. Although these bullion coins are uncirculated as well, they are produced to a lower production standard than brilliant uncirculated coins.
The Quarter-Sovereign was first produced in 1853, but only as two different pattern coins (with different designs on their reverse side). In 2009, Quarter-Sovereigns were first issued by the Royal Mint bearing Pistrucci's design.
Mintage numbers of the modern Sovereign coin (since 1957) vary wildly between 30.688 coins in 2004 and a whopping 9.1 million coins in 1979.
There are no official Silver Sovereigns. In 2013, the Royal Mint released silver coins (brilliant uncirculated) with the same design as the Sovereign coins though. These 1/2 oz "St. George and the Dragon" coins out of 99.9% silver have a face value of £ 20. The mintage limit of these legal tender coins was set at 250.000 pieces.
In addition to these silver bullion coins, the Royal Mint also produced 10.000 commemorative "St. George and the Dragon" £ 5 proof coins in 2013. These coins out of sterling silver (92.5% silver purity) were issued in order to commemorate the birth of Prince George in 2013.
The famous "St. George and the Dragon" design had also been used on British Silver Crown coins in the 1800's.