The Royal Mint have launched (26th June) two additional sovereign anniversary coins to mark the iconic coin’s bicentennial. The sovereign was first struck in 1817 as part of the United Kingdom’s historic Great Coinage Act of 1816. The reverse of each coin is to feature Pistrucci’s original 1817 masterpiece with the full garter border and inscription, which in 2017 has been struck for the first time since 1820. The design has been carefully remastered from the master engraver’s tools.
One of the new anniversary issues, a piedfort sovereign coin, is the first of its kind. Piedfort coins—which are simply double thickness in their specifications—originate from France and were first seen in the 12th century. Their name, translated to English, means “heavy measure.”
The sovereign is occasionally struck on the day of historic occasions, normally to mark significant royal events. In addition to the piedfort anniversary coin, to mark the exact date of this historic occasion, a “Strike on the Day” Brilliant Uncirculated coin will be struck on the 1st July 2017—the 200th anniversary of the proclamation that revived the sovereign in 1817. This will be the only coin in the anniversary range that will be produced with a plain, rather than a reeded, edge. Mintage will be limited to 1,817 pieces, a number chosen to reflect the year 1817.
Along with these two special sovereign coins, a special-edition £5 gold piece (or 5-sovereign piece) will also be issued. Not to be confused with the gold versions of the £5 crown, which is often referred to as a 5-sovereign piece, the 2017 five-sovereign anniversary coin is one of the most anticipated releases for avid collectors. This year’s issue is particularly special, as it marks the first time that the Royal Mint has used Pistrucci’s original masterpiece with the full inscription and garter design on a 5-sovereign piece. The largest coin in the sovereign family, it contains five times the gold of a single sovereign and is finished to Brilliant Uncirculated standard.
The Brilliant Uncirculated sovereign, the piedfort sovereign, and the £5 gold piece all include the fifth definitive effigy of HM Queen Elizabeth II as designed by Royal Mint engraver Jody Clark and used on all British circulation and many commemorative coins since 2015.
|Sovereign||.9167 gold||7.98 g||22.05 mm||Brilliant Unc.||1,817*|
|Sovereign||.9167 gold||15.97 g||22.05 mm||Proof, piedfort||3,750|
|£5 gold||.9167 gold||39.94 g||36.02 mm||Brilliant Unc.||1,000|
|* “Strike on the Day” coin; also the only coin in the range with a plain (rather than reeded) edge.|
Reserve orders are now being taken for the Strike on the Day BU sovereign. A mintage limit of 3,750 of the piedfort sovereign gold Proofs will be released. The £5 gold piece is issued only as an individual coin, and is not included in any set. Please visit the website of the Royal Mint for more information on these and other coins issued to mark the 200th anniversary of the issue of the modern sovereign coin.
The Story behind the Pistrucci Sovereign
In the early 19th century the effects of the Napoleonic Wars and a shortage of silver meant that the United Kingdom’s circulating coinage was issued primarily in gold, with the few silver pieces being in poor condition. The recoinage and exchange of 1816–17 would transform the nation’s coins, and the new standards meant greater scrutiny and efficiency than ever before. The Royal Mint had moved to a new location in Tower Hill, where it was equipped to meet the new demands with modern steam-powered machinery.
Alongside this activity, legislation would formalise the gold standard, setting out the coins to be produced and the standard to which they would be struck. One key change was the abandonment of the guinea gold piece, valued at 21 shillings, in favour of reinstating a 20-shilling piece. The new coin would be known as the pound or sovereign. As it would circulate alongside the gold guinea for a time, it was essential that the sovereign be visually distinct from the existing gold coin.
The coins were produced by minting presses which were capable of precision strikes which were perfect in shape with very sharp relief. The chosen reverse design, the instantly recognizable St. George and the Dragon created by the newly appointed Benedetto Pistrucci, was acknowledged across the world as a masterpiece. While the sovereign has deviated from the iconic St. George at times, it always returns to this 200-year-old design.
The Master Benedetto Pistrucci and His Iconic Design
Benedetto Pistrucci came to London from Rome in 1815 under the patronage of Prince George, the prince regent and, from 1820, King George IV. He was relatively unknown in Britain but his reputation attracted interest and he quickly found sponsors and supporters of his work. Soon after his arrival, his talent as an engraver was recognized, and he was given the prestigious task of creating the designs for the new gold and silver coins of George III, who was nearing his 57th year on the throne.
Pistrucci’s St. George and the Dragon design has become synonymous with the sovereign. He created an interpretation that defied the medieval image of a knightly St. George, instead opting for a Greek interpretation: bare and muscular, not weighed down with the usual chain mail and armour.
The inscription created for the sovereign when it was introduced in 1817 has been revisited for this celebratory anniversary edition: HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE, a Latin motto meaning “Evil unto him that thinks evil of it,” which has featured on the coat of the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom for centuries.
Benedetto Pistrucci died in 1855 and was buried in Surrey, where his prominent gravestone cites his title as Her Majesty’s “Chief Medallist.” ❑
Brilliant Uncirculated Sovereigns from 2016 and earlier can be purchased from Coin Update sponsor APMEX.