Skip to content
The History of the Gold Sovereign

The History of the Gold Sovereign

The sovereign, or as it is humbly known - the chief coin of the world, is a gold coin first issued in 1489 by King Henry VII. The large gold coins have a diameter of around 42mm, weighed 15.6 grams and were initially struck from 23 carat gold. The design of these coins features a full length figure of the monarch enthroned on the obverse and a royal shield within a Tudor rose on the reverse. These coins were discontinued in 1604 under James I and replaced with the equally large gold unite. 


A gold sovereign of Henry VII, first issued in 1489

The sovereign as we know it today was first issued in 1817 under George III. Prior to this the “main” gold coin in circulation was the guinea which was valued at 21 shillings. Whilst this denomination did not cause many issues, funding the Napoleonic wars of 1803 - 1815 did cause a shortage of gold for coining, this was alleviated by the issuance of paper money. Following the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, gold coins could be minted again. It was initially intended to re-introduce the gold guinea however a government review suggested that the Public were in favour of a gold coinage consisting of  twenty shillings and ten shillings, it was to this end that a new gold 20 shilling coin was minted and given the old name of Sovereign.

In 1815, a fiery Italian gem engraver by the name of Benedetto Pistrucci arrived in England. Through his established connections he was soon introduced to Lady Spencer who commissioned Pistrucci to produce a cameo of St. George and the dragon in the Classical Greek style for her husband’s regalia as a Knight of the Garter. He also produced a portrait of King George III around this time. Sir Joseph Banks showed this work to William Wellesley-Pole, the Master of Mint and such was his admiration for these works - and the impending Great Recoinage of 1816, he was employed to produce models in stone for the mint engravers to produce dies from. 

Lithograph print of Benedetto Pistrucci

Thus the “modern” sovereign as we know it came to be, valued at one pound, weighing 7.98 grams and containing a gold fineness of 22 carats or a 91.7% purity of gold. A standard still in use after more than 200 years. 

Reverse of an 1817 sovereign

From 1825 the sovereign’s reverse featured a more conventional Royal Shield design however in 1871, during Queen Victoria’s reign, St. George was reinstated as the reverse of the major gold circulation coin - a tradition that endures to this day with Benedetto Pistrucci’s initials proudly displayed below the ground line of the coin.

Reverse of a 2021 sovereign, note Benedetto Pistrucci's initals below the ground line. 


Bath Spa Capital offers a range of gold sovereigns. Its rich history and iconic design makes this one of the most popular gold coins. In addition to this, it is their face value and status as legal tender and thus exemption from Capital Gains Tax which makes them highly sought after by collectors and investors.

Previous article US Versus European Grading Standards
Next article Proof vs Brilliant Uncirculated vs Circulation - A Guide to Coin Manufacturing Standards