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Gold Sovereigns - The Queen and St George

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The 2019 Gold Sovereigns are timeless in their depiction of two things that are intrinsic to the British way of life. St George is depicted riding his horse, slaying the Dragon on one side, with a depiction of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the other. Both serve as potent symbols of longevity and tradition.

How fitting that the Queen should celebrate her 92nd birthday this year, just two days before St George’s Day.

In honour of Her Majesty’s celebrations, the legend of St George and of course the release of the 2019 Gold Sovereigns, we’re taking a look back at the origins of these beautiful coins.

The Royal Connection

The very name of a Gold Sovereign denotes a firm connection with the crown, despite the wording seeming archaic to modern Britons. Gold is a precious metal that has been sought-after for generations, for its seemingly ageless beauty.

The use of the word Sovereign, a word derived from the Latin word for “above”, suggested taking a likeness of the ruling monarch and engraving it in a way that would make it last for generations.

English Sovereigns

The original Gold Sovereign was first minted in 1489, during the early reign of Tudor King Henry VII. Years of civil war had come to an end, and the Houses of York and Lancaster melded into one dynasty that would rule for over a century. The English Gold Sovereign depicted the likeness of five Tudor monarchs - three kings and two queens.

On the obverse side, the Tudor rose, combining the White rose of York and the Red rose of Lancaster were engraved upon it. It was minted in 23-carat gold, almost one of the purest forms of gold you could hope to find.

Its purpose was largely ceremonial, and it fell out of production in 1603, following the death of Elizabeth I. Despite its absence for many centuries, the English Sovereign would have a lasting legacy that future monarchs would be keen to emulate when the time came.

Gold Sovereigns

But two centuries passed before the Gold Sovereign returned, during the latter years of George III’s reign. The Gold Sovereign of George III was introduced in 1817, as a means of restoring British prestige following the Napoleonic War. Engraver Benedetto Pistrucci was tasked with designing what Gold Sovereign collectors will recognise as the distinctive St George and the Dragon image. Pistrucci is immortalised with the inclusion of his initials, BP.

The British Gold Sovereign was given a declared value of one pound sterling. Even the Gold Sovereign 2019 retains an official value of one pound Sterling, despite its true worth being many times this, owing to the increase in gold’s value in the ensuing centuries.

Victorian Gold Sovereigns

The British Gold Sovereign was struck in 22-carat, a slightly reduced purity, but still impressively high. It became truly distinctive during the lengthy reign of Queen Victoria, who ruled between 1837 and 1901.

Collectors will be familiar with the Gold Sovereign’s three iterations during this period. Saint George was initially absent from the coin, until 1871, when a new version of the Young Head Gold Sovereign was produced, with the inclusion of Saint George being approved by Queen Victoria herself.

Victoria’s lengthy reign resulted in a special commemorative coin, the Jubilee Head Gold Sovereign coin, produced between 1887 and 1892. By now, Victoria was Queen and Empress to millions. This coin is a rare gem for collectors, fascinated by Britain’s imperial past.

Victoria’s later years were celebrated by the Victoria Veiled Head Coin, reflecting her status as a widow Queen, approaching the final years of her reign. By the time of her death in 1901, Victoria had ruled for an unprecedented 64 years. Gold Sovereigns had now become very much a symbol of Victorian Britain.

War and turmoil

The death of Victoria marked a gradual transition towards a gloomier era for Britain, as it soon found itself at war with Germany in 1914. By now, King George V was on the throne, and the Gold Sovereign of George V soon vanished out of circulation, as economic stress grew. For many years, there was a gap, with the Gold Sovereign seeming to be out of fashion, as the population was convinced to transition towards banknotes instead.

The Gold Sovereign remained in production, but access was more limited. Despite this, they were not only produced in Britain, but all over the Commonwealth too, in places such as Canada, India, Australia and South Africa.

By the end of World War Two in 1945, the Gold Sovereign appeared to have become a prized possession from an old era that had long since passed.

Gold Sovereign return

The sudden and unexpected passing of King George VI in 1952 resulted in his young daughter succeeding him, to be crowned as Elizabeth II. It’s fitting that the final English Gold Sovereign was minted in the reign of Elizabeth I, but the Gold Sovereign was revived again in the early reign of Elizabeth II, some three centuries later.

In 1957, the Young Head Gold Sovereign of Elizabeth II entered production, displaying Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in her earlier life, as a Queen presiding over an empire that was beginning to fade away, with Britain questioning its role in global affairs. This coin was particularly special, as it marked the final set of Gold Sovereigns minted before decimalisation.

Elizabeth II’s reign has seen numerous commemorative versions of the Gold Sovereign, including a special 200-year Anniversary Gold Sovereign, minted in 2017, to mark two centuries of coins, symbolising St George’s victory over the Dragon, along with a high-quality likeness of the ruling monarch. Her Majesty has also lived to see a Golden and Diamond Jubilee.

By some fateful coincidence, Her Majesty’s actual birthday falls just two days before St George’s Day. The Queen is to celebrate her 92nd birthday, and so the 2019 Gold Sovereign is the perfect way of reflecting the centuries-old union between the crown and English folklore. Why not get a piece of history yourself by buying a 2019 Gold Sovereign today?