The British Gold Sovereign is considered a bullion coin, despite that it does carry a nominal value of one pound sterling.
The British Gold Sovereign is named after the English gold sovereign, which was last minted in 1604, ninety years before the establishment of the Bank of England. The name, British Sovereign, was re-instituted via the Great Recoinage Act of 1816. Then the gold content of the coin would be fixed at 113 grains, giving the coin its 0.2354 troy ounce. That’s about 7.33 grams of gold.
Sovereigns were for short periods minted in many Commonwealth territories, like Pretoria, Bombay, Ottawa, Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney. Thus, they are a well-recognized coin to the English speaking world. Moreover,they function as excellent fractional gold coins at hundreds of dollars less of a premium than the traditional fractional coins, such as the American Gold Eagle or American Gold Buffalo.
Hundreds of millions of Gold Sovereigns were minted at their peak distribution in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Sovereigns minted post-1817 have been minted according to the coin act of 1816, meaning:
Weight: 7.98 grams
Thickness: 1.52 mm
Fineness: 22 carat or 916 and two-thirds/1000
Gold Content: 7.322381 g = 0.235420 (exactly: 1320/5607) troy ounces.
The reverse was initially designed with the shield and crown motif, along with a heraldic wreath. This was followed by a portrayal of Saint George killing a dragon, engraved by famous artist Benedetto Pistrucci.
During the Victorian era the Bank of England removed worn sovereigns and half sovereigns from circulation in order to recoin them. Although a billion sovereigns have been minted in total, that figure includes gold that has been coined, collected, recoined numerous times. Further, when coins were sent to places like the US for international payments between governments, they were frequently melted down into gold bars due to the Federal regulations. When gold coins were withdrawn from circulation in 1933 in the US, thousands of British gold sovereigns were consigned to the refinery in this manner.
Estimates place the lifespan of a sovereign as up to 15 years before it fell below the “least current weight”; in other words, the minimum amount of gold below which it would be considered to be legal tender. English law stipulates that a sovereign must weight at least 7.93787 g or more in order to be considered legal tender.
In Victorian Britain, the half-sovereign had the majority of circulation. Sovereigns often were kept in bank vaults. An 1891 proclamation was made stipulating that the public could hand in any gold coins that were underweight and have them replaced by full-weight coins. Any gold struck before 1837 also ceased to be legal tender. This recycled gold was later reminted into 13,680, 486 half sovereigns in 1892 and 10,
Sovereign obverse (heads) dies were also used in the nineteenth century to create farthings once they had become worn. (An obverse die could typically produce 100,000 coins.)
British Gold Sovereigns were produced in quantity until the First World War, at which time the UK came off the gold standard. From then until 1932, sovereigns were produced ony at branch mints at Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Bombay, Ottawa and Pretoria (except for some in 1925 produced in London as part of Winston Churchil’s efforts to return the UK to the gold . The last regular issue of the British Gold Sovereign was in 1932 at Pretoria.
In 1957, British Gold Sovereign production resumed so as to prevent the coin being counterfeited in Syria and Italy. Treasury papers also imply that British Sovereigns were widely used in British foreign policy in the Middle East, and Britons believed the coin could not fall into ill-favor, as many individuals were receiving payments in the form of sovereigns for services rendered for the British Empire.
British Sovereigns continued to be minted as bullion until 1982. From there to 1999, proof coinage only version were produced, but since 2000, bullion Sovereigns have been minted. Modern sovereigns are minted at the Royal Mint in Llantrisant, Rhondda. Cynon Taff, Wales. The coins produced in the “precious metal” unit which is blocked off from the rest of the Mint, while the Mint itself is protected by the Ministry of Defence Police.
For the 21st century individual, the British Gold Sovereign and British Gold Half Sovereign appear small to the eye. However, in 1895, it carried the same purchasing power a £94.78 in 2011.
Gold is a dense metal as well. A small coin like the sovereign can mean a coin that contains lots of wealth. That is why Gold Silver Bitcoin considers the British Gold Sovereign a “survival coin.”
Detection of counterfeit coins is easy and can be done visually by comparison with known genuine coins, by using a coin gauge, or by precise weighing and measurement against standard dimensions.
There are lots of accounts of fake or counterfeit gold sovereigns in circulation, though they are still relatively scarce in comparison to the numbers of genuine coins due to the difficulty of accurately replicating such a small coin. To try and replicate the British Gold Sovereign simply does not make sense, because of the precise detail and small gold content.
You might come across a fake sovereign coin where the gold is replaced or alloyed with some other metal that is meant to look like gold. A limited number of fake sovereigns did appear in circulation which were produced with act gold instead of the correct 22 carat composition.
Modern sovereigns are minted in the same 22 carat “Crown gold” allow as the first modern sovereigns of 1817. Alloys are used to make gold coins harder and more durable, so that they may resist scratches and dents during handling.
Sovereigns often carry a higher premium to the price of gold than some other bullion coins, like the Krugerrand. This is due to numerous factors: the higher unit cost of the Sovereign (at under one-quarter of an ounce); the higher demand for the Sovereign from numismatists (compared to the Krugerrand which is not sought-after numismatically.
Sovereigns were produced as follows:
- London 1817–1917, 1925, 1957 onwards
- Melbourne 872–1931
- Sydney: 1855–1926
- Perth: 1899–1931
- Bombay: 1918 only
- Ottawa: 1908–1919
- Pretoria: 1923–1932
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