Gold Sovereign Reverse Designs and Their History

With its origins tracing back to over 500 years ago, the gold Sovereign is steeped in British history, regarded as a symbol of quality and reliability, and respected by collectors and precious metal investors alike.

The flagship coin of The Royal Mint, the Sovereign coin traditionally features the current reigning monarch on the obverse, and St George and the Dragon on the reverse – however, throughout the years there have been some commemorative reverse designs honouring historic events. In this guide we will take a detailed look at each of them.

The first gold sovereign

The very first gold Sovereign coin was struck at the Tower of London on the 28th of October 1489.

This coin was requested by King Henry VII and featured an obverse design showing the King himself, enthroned and dressed in full coronation regalia, and a reverse design showing the royal arms , with a double rose symbolising the union of York and Lancaster after the Wars of the Roses. This new coin was to be the largest in value and size ever seen in England at the time and was used as a statement for England’s stability and the Monarch’s greatness after the turmoil of the Wars of the Roses.

This first sovereign coin’s issue did not last long as it came to an end in 1604, and a Sovereign was not struck again until 1817.

1817 – Pistrucci’s St George and the dragon

The famous reverse of the modern gold Sovereign was designed by one of the most celebrated engravers in the world, Benedetto Pistrucci, after Napoleon was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. Commissioned to engrave a scene of St George fighting the dragon to represent England’s strength and conquest, Pistrucci created a masterpiece of design which owed much to the art style of Ancient Greece. Featuring a muscular St George on horseback with flowing cape and wielding a spear, trampling a dragon, the design was met with instant acclaim and is beloved to this day.

Benedetto Pistrucci’s original design featured a border bearing the words ’HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE’, which translates to “Evil unto him who thinks evil of it”.

1821 – Remodelled St George and the dragon

Four years after his original design was featured on the first modern Sovereign coin, Pistrucci’s design was then slightly changed.

The border and wording which surrounded the scene was removed, leaving room for a larger and more detailed image, and St George’s spear was changed to a sword.

1825 and 1830 - George IV and William IV’s shields

In 1825, the image of St George was replaced with the crowned shield of the royal coat of arms, commissioned by King George IV, designed by French engraver Jean Baptiste Merlen.

However, when King William IV was crowned in 1830, he commissioned Merlen to slightly update his previous design to make it more detailed.

1838 – Victorian shield

Upon Queen Victoria’s coronation, Jean Baptiste Merlen was commissioned to update the crowned shield design for the Sovereign coin’s reverse once again.

Today, the Victorian shield reverse designs are sought after by collectors, often making them a little more valuable.

1871 – St George’s return

After many years of the design being replaced by the shield, Pistrucci’s beloved St George and the Dragon reverse design made a comeback and was paired with the Queen Victoria obverse for the first time in 1871.

Both shield and dragon reverse designs ran until 1887, with shield reverse sovereigns again being sought after by collectors today.

1989 – 500th anniversary sovereign

1989 saw The Royal Mint commission Bernard Sindall to create a special design for the 500th anniversary of the original gold Sovereign coin. Both the reverse and obverse of the coin mimic the original Sovereign from 1489, with the obverse featuring Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II seated at her coronation, and the reverse showing the shield of the royal arms upon a double Tudor rose.

These special coins are highly collectable and sought after by collectors, making them more valuable.

2002 – Golden jubilee sovereign

Produced to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee, 2002’s Sovereign saw a return to a shield reverse.

The coin was designed by Timothy Noad and features a similar crowned shield design to the one used by Queen Victoria.

2005 – A modern St George

In 2005, The Royal Mint introduced a modern interpretation of St George and the dragon for the reverse of The Sovereign, designed again by Timothy Noad, for one year only.

The bold new design featured St George wearing a helmet, brandishing a broad sword and shield, mid-swing against a dragon.

2012 – Diamond jubilee sovereign

Produced to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, 2012’s Sovereign saw another version of St George. Decided by a competition held by The Royal Mint, sculptor Paul Day’s brand-new design was chosen to appear on the reverse of the Sovereign for this year only.

The coin’s design featured St George in full armour on horseback, striking his lance through the dragon’s open mouth.

2017 – 200th anniversary sovereign

To mark 200 years of the modern Sovereign gold coin, The Royal Mint featured Pistrucci’s famous St George and the Dragon reverse.

However, the 2017 coin also featured a small shield mint mark with the number 200, placed below the defeated dragon, to acknowledge the 200th anniversary.

2022 – Platinum jubilee sovereign

To commemorate Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee, the 2022 Sovereign coin featured another rare design change.

The coin displays an interpretation of the Royal Coat of Arms by Timothy Noad (making this his third Sovereign reverse design), with the Lion of England and the Unicorn of Scotland on either side.

The coin’s one-off design honours the achievement of Her Late Majesty the Queen’s historic 70-year reign with this special commemorative design of The Royal Mint’s flagship coin.

2022 - Queen Elizabeth II memorial sovereign

Early 2023 saw the release of a new sovereign to honour the life and legacy of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The reverse design bears Jody Clark’s new intricate depiction of the Royal Arms, and is dated 2022.

As these special Sovereign coins featured a change of reverse design, as well as the new obverse portrait of King Charles III, they are a popular choice for investors and collectors.

The return of St George and the dragon

July 2023 saw the release of the 2023 UK Coronation Sovereign Gold Coin.

This coin sees the return to the iconic George and the Dragon reverse, designed by Benedetto Pistrucci; the same design that featured on the first modern sovereign in 1817.

These coins celebrate the coronation of His Majesty King Charles III, and also feature the first ever official crowned coinage portrait of His Majesty, designed by British sculptor Martin Jennings.

Why are the newer sovereigns so pink in colour?

The unique physical characteristics and hues of gold are determined by the type and amount of metal that is alloyed with it. In the past, gold sovereign coins were crafted with a greater proportion of silver, giving them a more golden appearance compared to the more recent sovereigns. Sovereigns minted from the year 2000 onwards, incorporate a larger portion of copper, resulting in more of a pinkish or copper-toned appearance.

Since that very first coin was struck in 1489, the Sovereign has been a constant of British coinage, one that is admired and trusted throughout the world and through times of change.

Popular with investors due to its status as a VAT-free and Capital Gains Tax-exempt asset, highly prized and instantly recognisable, the Sovereign’s legacy endures, making it an eagerly awaited release each year.

This blog represents one person’s opinion only. Please note, gold and silver prices may go down as well as up. Atkinsons Bullion & Coins accepts no responsibility for any losses based on information we have provided. We do not offer investment advice. Please carry out your own research before making an investment decision.