The British gold sovereign holds a unique place among gold coins due to its long history and extensive usage globally. Not only has it become the most collected coin, it holds the record for the highest price paid for a British coin.
It is also a world-class investment due to its status as legal tender in UK and as such exempt of Value-Added Tax (VAT) and Capital Gains Tax (CGT). It is the only coin that has been minted in an unaltered size and weight continuously for two centuries. Its famous reverse design of St George and the Dragon, created by famous Italian coin engraver Benedetto Pistrucci (1783-1855), has become an internationally recognised symbol of unquestionable value, quality and integrity.
The first English sovereigns were minted in 1489 by King Henry VII had won the War of the Roses and founded the Tudor dynasty. They were minted for a little over a century, ending with the death of Elizabeth I and the demise of the House of Tudor.
After the passing of Coinage Act of 1816 during the reign of George III, the gold sovereign once again became the leading gold coin produced by the Royal Mint, and has remained its flagship coin ever since.
With the expansion of the British Empire in 19th century the gold sovereign became the leading bullion coin not only in Great Britain but across the world, and is the only coin that has been minted in fivecontinents— by the Royal Mint and its branches in Australia, Canada, India and South Africa. It can be considered the first truly global gold coin valued equally across countries andcultures, and its history is intertwined with the story of Britain and its empire.
Universally recognised and easily traded in any part of the world, the British gold sovereign occupies a unique place among bullion coins. Few others can match its record when it comes to returns — and it is an essential acquisition for any collector or investor.
It is estimated that more than a billion sovereigns have been minted, although many were subsequently removed from circulation and reminted. Since the end of the Second World War, the sovereign has been primarily minted in the United Kingdom, as former colonies such as Australia, Canada and South Africa adopted their own gold coins after independence.
Recently the sovereign has returned to India, where it is minted in Delhi by the Indian-Swiss venture MMTC-PAMP, under a licence from the Royal Mint. The Royal Mint maintains quality control, and the coins minted in Delhi are similar to those produced in the UK with the exception of a small ‘I’ for India mintmark. Like their predecessors minted in 1918 by the Bombay Mint, they are legal tender in the UK.
Store of value
At a minimum, a sovereign is always worth the value of its gold weight. Despite high number of sovereigns minted, it is estimated that only 1% of all sovereigns ever minted are in collectable condition, leading to a high demand from collectors and investors. Sovereigns have also been issued as commemorative coins on occasions such as the coronation of a new monarch, and jubilees celebrating a monarch’s reign.
Like similar coins, the market value of sovereigns depend on a number of factors such as condition and rarity, with the general rule being rarer coins offer higher returns. Sovereigns minted in some years have returned a compound annual growth rate of more than 15% over a 20-year period, which is comparable to other asset classes. Gold coins offer diversification in a sophisticated and risk-averse investor’s portfolio, essentially lowering downside risk.
Sovereign coins minted for Edward VIII are considered among the most valuable British coins ever minted. Briefly king from 20 January 1936 until his abdication on 11 December of the same year, coins minted for his reign never entered circulation. In 2014, a 1937 Edward VIII sovereign was sold for £516,000, the highest price at auction for a British coin.
Further reading on sovereigns
The list below is an account of books we have found useful for the purpose of study and valuation of gold sovereigns. The list is not exhaustive; additions to this list are most welcome — please don’t hesitate to get in touch through our contact page.
The Gold Sovereign by Michael Marsh (revised by Steve Hill), Token Publishing, 2017
The reworked and revised edition added much improvement to Michael Marsh’s popular and long-standing reference work. It is currently the most comprehensive reference book on the gold sovereign, covering all types of milled sovereigns to date, and includes many anecdotes and accounts of the Royal Mint’s workings and official letters along with a price guide for sovereigns. In our opinion, it is a must have for any serious collector or investor.
The History of the Sovereign: Chief Coin of the World by Kevin Clancy, 2nd (revised) edition, Royal Mint Museum, 2017
Kevin Clancy’s work is a masterpiece in all aspects, detailing not only the sovereign’s history alongside its equivalent unit-of-account denominations, but providing curcial economic and social context. The sovereign has undoubtedly played an important role in the history of Great Britain, which this book encapsulates effortlessly. The book is crucial for anyone wishing to understand gold coin production in England and the United Kingdom.
Coins of England and the United Kingdom by Emma Howard, Spink, published yearly
Since the 1960s, this has been the most commonly used price guide for British coins. It is referenced by all auction houses and coin dealers around the world, as ‘Spink’ (‘S.’ or ‘S-’) or sometimes ‘Seaby’, the original publishing house. We recommend a recent edition, as prices are updated yearly.