Atkinsons Bullion & Coins
Back to January 2019

This week sees the release of the 2019 Full Sovereign Gold Coin, so we thought this was the perfect chance to delve a little deeper into the history of the sovereign as one of the world’s favourite gold coins.

First minted over 500 years ago, the sovereign remains the world’s oldest surviving coin still in production and is regarded as a symbol of quality, steeped in British history, respected by collectors and precious metal investors alike.

The First Gold Sovereign

The very first gold Sovereign coin was struck at the Tower of London on the 28th October 1489. This new coin was to be the largest in value and size ever seen in England.

This new coin was requested by King Henry VII and featured a portrait of the King himself, enthroned and dressed in full coronation regalia. A large and cumbersome coin, with its only real use being as a statement for England’s stability and the Monarch’s greatness, this first sovereign coin’s issue came to an end in 1604, and a Sovereign was not struck again until 1817.


After England defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, Britain’s finances were unstable, and the solution was to be the ‘Great Recoinage’ currency reform.

The year was 1817. The old gold guinea was gone, and instead came the new gold Sovereign with a monetary denomination of 20 shillings (one pound). The beautiful St George and the Dragon reverse, still famously in use today, was designed by the Royal Mint’s chief medallist, and one of the most celebrated gem engravers in the world, Benedetto Pistrucci.

This new 22ct gold coin was exactly half the size of the original sovereign, weighing 7.98 grams, and is still the same today.

International Mintmarks

During the 1850s, the Royal Mint built branches in three Australian cities - Sydney, Melbourne and Perth - and also India, South Africa and Canada. These international branches produced sovereigns for the British empire and can be distinguished by their own lettered mintmarks struck into each coin. These are often very small, however, so viewing with an eyeglass may be required.

International mintmarks to look out for are Sydney (S), Melbourne (M), Perth (P), Bombay (I), Pretoria (SA), and Ottowa (C).

Victorian Sovereigns

Queen Victoria previously held the record for the longest reigning British female monarch, up until Queen Elizabeth II, and the Sovereigns issued during her reign were updated. The following were the main portraits that appeared on the obverse of the sovereign coins during her reign:

Young Head

The 'Young Head' design was the first of the portraits used for Queen Victoria’s coinage, used with a number of slight changes from the first issue. These ran from 1838 until 1887. These coins are unique as they were produced in ‘coin alignment’ (the portrait side and reverse side are upside down to each other).

Jubilee Head

The 'Jubilee Head' was the second major portrait of Queen Victoria used on gold Sovereigns and used for only 7 years. Introduced in 1887 and used until 1893.

Old (Veiled) Head

The 'Veiled Head' coins featured the third and final portrait used for Queen Victoria’s coinage, and was used from 1893 to 1901.

Shield and St George Reverse Designs

Benedetto Pistrucci’s iconic St George and the Dragon reverse was dropped and replaced in 1825 by a design featuring the shield of the royal arms. However, this was criticised, and the St George design was revived in 1871, when both shield and dragon reverse designs ran until 1887. It’s worth noting that some of these shield reverse sovereigns are now sought after by collectors, which often means they can be a little more valuable.

There have also been a number of special reverse designs to commemorate special occasions such as: Diamond Jubilee, Golden Jubilee, and the 500th anniversary of the Sovereign.


The Sovereign famously aided Britain during WWI, as an estimated £100,000,000 worth of gold Sovereigns from the vaults of the Bank of England financed the war effort. Citizens were also urged to trade in their gold sovereign coins to the Post Office, exchanging them for notes instead – and this meant the end of the use of gold in circulation in Britain. The sovereign was then retired in 1933, but only temporarily.

Today’s Modern Sovereign

In 1957, the Royal Mint began manufacturing Sovereign coins again. This time respected as a popular gold bullion coin for those who wish to invest in gold, as well as collectors. The Royal Mint in Llantrisant, North Wales, now manufacture coins for countries all over the world.

2015 was a historic year for the coins of the UK, including the sovereign, as the fifth portrait of Queen Elizabeth II first appeared on coins.  This was designed by Jody Clark, whose design was selected when Clark was just 33 years old, making him the youngest designer to have captured the definitive coinage portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

In 2017, the sovereign celebrated its 200th anniversary. For this year, the coin featured a special commemorative shield mint mark, placed below the dragon, to signify the anniversary.

Since that very first coin struck in 1489, the sovereign has survived retirement, rebirth, and retirement again to become one of the most famous and well-respected coins in the world. Now highly prized and instantly recognisable, the gold coin’s legacy has endured, making it an eagerly awaited release each year.

This year’s 2019 Sovereigns are sure to be as popular as ever.

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This blog represents one person’s opinion only. Customers should conduct their own research and take advice before making an investment. We do not offer investment advice.


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