History and Production
The first gold sovereign coin to come into existence was under the ruling of King Henry VII in 1489. The weight of the coin was precisely 0.5 troy ounces, or 240 grains, or 15.55 grams. The gold content of the first gold sovereign was 95.83% fine and the first coin’s obverse side featured King Henry VII in all of his power and glory front-facing, and seated on the throne.
The reverse of the coin featured a shield with the royal arms amidst a double Tudor rose. The name “sovereign” was chosen due to the majestic image of the monarch, also referred to as sovereign. The main goal when producing this first coin was to compete with the coinage of other continents and to impress all of Europe with the prestigious, elite power of the Tudor dynasty.
The first designer of the gold sovereign coin was a German engraver, Alexander of Bruchsal. He was dubbed “the father of English coin portraiture.” The coin’s gold value went up and down under the ruling of King Henry VIII to 91.66% fine. Under the ruling of Her Majesty Mary, the sovereign’s gold coin value rose to 99.4% fine gold content. As the power of the British Empire spread across the globe, so to did the gold sovereign coin.
The last of the original gold sovereign mintage released in 1604. In 1817, modern Great Britain gold sovereign coins began production again following passage of the Great Recoinage of 1816. The weight of the coin changed, increasing to 0.235420 troy ounces, or 7.322381 grams, or “almost” 113 grains and has remained consistent from that moment forward.
Historically, the gold sovereign coin has always been minted in the UK with the exception of a few instances where the coinage was minted in Australia, Canada, and South Africa. The original reverse side of the coin featuring the shield with the royal arms was later succeeded with the portrait of St. George mounted on a horse, in action slaying a dragon.
It was tradition for the Bank of England to completely remove worn sovereign coins from circulation, and to “recoin” them. Gold sovereign coins are estimated to have a 15-year lifespan on average. Once the coin reaches a point where it falls below the “least current weight,” it is removed from circulation and is no longer legal tender.
Under English law, the coin must weigh at least 7.93787 grams, or 0.280000 oz, or greater. A proclamation made in November of 1890 set forth that any gold sovereign coin minted prior to 1837 would no longer be considered legal tender effective February 28, 1891. Member of the general public were then allowed to turn in gold coins struck prior to 1837 for the purposes of reminting.
Today’s Gold Sovereign Coins
Production of the gold sovereign in great quantities ceased following World War I. It was during this time up until 1932 that the sovereign was produced in places other than the UK. In 1957, production in great quantities resumed to ward off counterfeit coin operations in Italy and Syria. Prior to 1982, the sovereign was most commonly produced as bullion. Between 1999 and 2000, only proof coinage versions of the sovereign were produced and released.
Since 2000, bullion sovereign coins have been released. Gold sovereign coins of today are minted at the Royal Mint in Wales. The coins are minted completely separate from other coinage to protect its preciousness. The Royal Mint is protected by the Ministry of Defense Police.
The gold sovereign coin is struck at 91 2/3% grown gold alloy, or 22 carat gold, with 1/12 copper, the same measurements as the first official Modern Sovereign coins of 1817. Sovereign coins tend to have a higher premium to the price of gold versus other types of bullion coinage. This is due to the fact that there is a higher demand for the Sovereign, and there are higher costs associated with the gold sovereign coin.