The British Gold Sovereign
The British Sovereign was first issued in 1489 under the Tudor King Henry VII. It features the monarch seated on the throne facing outward and is similar to the recent, uncluttered, commemorative minted in 1989, which has Queen Elizabeth II on the throne. In 1932 Britain went off the gold standard and it was not until 1957 that the Sovereign was again minted but this time as a bullion coin, with Queen Elizabeth on the front. The British Sovereign is the only pre-1933 coin to successfully make the jump to the modern era.
British Sovereigns issued during the rule of Edward VII and George V are likely the most often identified gold coins in the world — to the extent that the U.S. Army added them to the special forces survival kit for several years.
A Design For Over A Century
Originally the back side of British gold coins in general, was a shield and crown design, with the addition of a heraldic wreath on the sovereign. This was replaced in 1816 by a depiction of Saint George slaying a dragon, engraved by Bernadetto Pistrucci, who executed the duties of Chief-engraver, but was never given the title owing to a controversy of his foreign origin. Happily, a compromise was reached and he was granted the title of “Chief-medalist.”
Pitrucci’s design is basically the same design that is currently used on British gold sovereigns, although modified reverse designs have also been used during the reigns of two kings and two queens, William IV, Victoria, George IV, and Elizabeth II.
The 2007 reverse die was taken from a handmade authentic die produced by Pistrucci, who’s initials are found in the lower left of the back side, was redone to create new master tools. Utilizing a fusion of hand engraving skills and digital technology, the Mint endeavored to return to the detail that had been missing over the years. The reverse now more faithfully recreates the St. George and the Dragon on the 1818 silver crowns of George III.
The words “DEI, GRA, REGINA, FID, DEF” appear on the obverse and stand for Dei Gratia Regina Fidei Defensor, a Latin title, which translates to “By The Grace of God, Queen, Defender of the Faith” in English.
Two Kings and Two Queens as Sovereigns
Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 until her death in 1901, made her one of the longest ruling monarchs of the British empire. The Victorian era, as her reign came to be known, was famous for it’s emphasis on ethics and values that strengthened the family. Among its other achievements is the industrial revolution and notable expansion of the British Empire as captured in the phrase “The sun never sets on the British Empire.”
Edward VII was born Albert Edward to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. At the age of one month, he was given the titles of Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester. Though Edward was a celebrated sportsman, he is remembered as a “peacemaker” as a result of his ability to forge strong relationships with many European countries. His reign ended prematurely in 1910, the result of a heart attack.
George V became heir to the throne in 1910, and was the first monarch of the famous House of Windsor. George V guided his nation through World War I, and after World War I he warned of the increasing danger of Nazi Germany. He died in 1936.
Queen Elizabeth II, the present-day ruling queen of the United Kingdom, rose to the throne in 1952. Queen Elizabeth (at the time, Princess Elizabeth) functioned in World War II as a military truck driver and carried the junior officer rank of Second Subaltern. In 2002 Queen Elizabeth celebrated her Golden Jubilee, marking her 50th year as Queen.