How rare is your gold sovereign

Introducing the 2017 Gold Sovereign

The 2017 Sovereign

The 2017 Gold Sovereign celebrates 200 years since the first ‘modern’ Sovereign was minted in the UK and is now available to purchase direct from The Royal Mint.

Sovereigns actually date back to 1489, when King Henry VII told the Royal Mint to produce a new high value gold coin or, as he described it, “a new money of gold”. Named the Sovereign, it had an ornate and elaborate design. The obverse naturally showed an image of King Henry himself on his throne, while the reverse marked the end of the Wars of the Roses between Lancaster and York, with a large double rose surrounding the royal coat of arms. This ostentatious coin was in every sense, a status symbol.

In 1817 the Sovereign was reborn as a gold coin with a nominal 20 shilling value. Though smaller and much lighter than the 1489 version, it was just as visually striking, introducing the renowned St George and dragon design created by Benedetto Pistrucci.

This design has come to be one of the most admired and revered of all those to grace the Sovereign. It has appeared on each gold sovereign minted for a new monarch, since the reign of Queen Victoria. So it’s entirely fitting that it should grace the 2017 Sovereign, which marks 200 years since the introduction of the ‘modern’ version of the coin.

How the modern Sovereign came about

The defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo saw the end of another costly war, in both human and monetary terms. It was the latter aspect particularly that contributed to a review of UK coinage, including adopting gold as the ‘Sole Standard Measure of Value’.

Had tradition been maintained, the Sovereign would have a 21 shilling guinea, but there was considerable pressure for 20 and 10 shilling gold coins, rather than the rather awkward values of Guineas, Half Guineas and Seven Shilling Pieces. The 20 shilling gold coin became the Sovereign and the 10 shilling gold coin, logically, the Half Sovereign.

Augmenting the Pistrucci design

Surrounding the St George and dragon around the edge of the 2017 Sovereign are the words Honi soit qui mal y pense. There are various translations of this Anglo-Norman phrase, but it’s generally taken to mean “Shame be to him who thinks evil of it”. The phrase is probably best known, certainly in the UK, as the motto of the Order of the Garter, which also appears on the Royal coat of arms.

As with the exact translation of the phrase, there are different versions of how it came about. Perhaps the most appealing is based on the story of King Edward III dancing with his cousin Joan of Kent. When her garter slipped down her leg, there were sniggers from those attending the dance. Edward promptly displayed his chivalry by attaching it to his own leg, saying “Honi soit qui mal y pense”, which was an admonishment to the courtiers meaning “a scoundrel who thinks badly of it.” And so was established the Order of the Garter, which is the highest order of chivalry bestowed in the UK, ranking as an honour only behind the George Cross and Victoria Cross.

Another notable feature

The 2017 Sovereign is the first Sovereign to actually show the year of its minting since the 1887 coin. This departure from recent tradition is, of course, to mark the 200th anniversary of the ‘modern’ Sovereign.

The Queen’s head

The obverse of the 2017 gold Sovereign shows Jody Clark‘s image of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. His is the fifth depiction of the current Queen, who is now Britain’s longest-ever serving monarch and the world’s longest serving current monarch.

Jody Clark’s design was first seen in 2015. Then 33 years old, he was the youngest artist to have portrayed Elizabeth II for the Royal Mint.

‘The chief coin of the world’

Whilst perhaps conceived as a status symbol, the Gold Sovereign has become respected as a serious trading commodity and features widely on the world’s bullion markets.

This transformation largely came about with the new standards for accuracy established with the 1817 Sovereign. As well as Pistrucci’s landmark design, the Sovereign benefited from the precision of new, steam-driven minting machinery at the Royal Mint’s new London location in Tower Hill. This reputation for excellence has been upheld to the present day, making the British Gold Sovereign probably the world’s most recognised bullion coin.

The 2017 Gold Sovereign is struck from 22 carat gold, is 22.05mm or 0.868 inches diameter, and weighs 7.98g or 0.281 ounces. Buy it now from The Royal Mint.

Gold Sovereign eBay Highlights

We’ve created this page to highlight notable of listings of rare Sovereigns on eBay. We’ll update this page on a regular basis, so don’t forget to bookmark this page and check back on a regular basis.

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow us via @gold_sovereigns & receive updates when we spot a rare Sovereign that’s worth bidding on.

Attention dealers!

If you list a rare Sovereign on eBay, we’d love to feature it on this page & tweet the details to our followers. Just ping us an email to ‘hello -at- goldsovereignexpert.com‘ & let us know the listing number.

Disclaimer: Please exercise extreme caution when purchasing rare Sovereigns on eBay. Due to their high value, fraudulent listings are not uncommon and will catch-out an unsuspecting buyer. We do not endorse any of the listings referred to below.


1838 Victoria First (Small) Young Head Sovereign

1838 Sovereign
1838 Sovereign

Spink: 3852 / Marsh: 22 / Rating: Rare

Listed: 13 October 2016
Ending: 23 October 2016

Comments: Although only ‘fine’, expect this coin to sell for in excess of £700

eBay listing: 391580874860


1820 ‘Closed 2’ Sovereign

1820 'closed 2' Sovereign
1820 ‘closed 2’ Sovereign

Spink: 3785C / Marsh: 4 / Rating: Rare

Listed: 1 December 2015
Ending: 4 December 2015

Comments: The seller has graded their coin ‘NVF’, which seems fair. A few subtle variations exist for this year. If you study the date on the obverse (heads) side, you’ll notice the hook of the ‘2’ is closed. The initial price has been set at £199, so it’s well worth bidding on.

eBay listing: 161903960346


 

1849 Victoria Sovereign

1849 Sovereign
1849 Sovereign

Update: Sold for £291.76

Spink: 3852C / Marsh: 32 / Rating: Rare

Listed: 9 November 2015
Ending: 14 November 2015

Comments: A pleasant looking shield Sovereign in ‘VF’ condition. This is on a 5 day auction with a £0.99 start. The Spink guide values are £300 for ‘Fine’ & £425 for ‘VF’. If this sells for around £330 it’s a good buy.

eBay listing: 161883159585


 1838 Victoria Sovereign

1838 Sovereign
1838 Sovereign

Update: No surprises, this was a fraudulent listing.

Spink: 3852 / Marsh: 22 / Rating: Rare

Listed: 23 September 2015
Ending: 27 September 2015 22:55

Comments:  Being the first Sovereign of Queen Victoria’s reign, 1838 coins are always popular with collectors, however they are also a target for scammers & we’re not 100% sure about this listing. The photos of this coin were taken in November 2014, so are almost 12 months old. The seller has no history of selling high value items, yet 4 high ticket items have been listed, all ending on the same day. If you are considering bidding on this, we would recommend you exercise extreme caution. Contact the seller & request up-to-date photographs that include some sort of proof of ownership, such as their eBay ID or the date written on a piece of paper next to the coin.

eBay listing: 151826099445


 1824 George IV Sovereign

1823 George IV Sovereign : Extremely Rare
1823 George IV Sovereign : Extremely Rare

Update: Sold for £2,207.57

Spink: 3800 / Marsh: 7 / Rating: R3

Listed: 17 September 2015
Ending 27 September 2015 19:08

Comments: Rated ‘R3’ by Marsh, this 1824 Sovereign is an extremely rare and excellent specimen. It also benefits from having been slabbed & graded ‘AU53’ by PCGS. USA & overseas coin collectors can therefore buy with confidence. £0.99 auction start price. Spink guide prices are £2,500 – ‘VF’ & £7,000 – ‘EF’.

eBay listing: 391263757351


 1830 George IV Sovereign

1830 George IV Sovereign
1830 George IV Sovereign

Update: Sold for £435.00.

Spink: 3801 / Marsh: 15 / Rating: Scarce

Listed: 17 September 2015
Ending: 17 September 2015 20:58

Comments: A worn coin in ‘Fine’ condition with a £0.99 auction start price. Marsh rates this coin as ‘scarce’. Spink list a guide price of £500 in this condition. Bucks Coins regularly list on eBay and are a trusted and reliable seller.

eBay listing: 361388575692


 1849 Young Head Shield

1849 Young Head Shield : Rare
1849 Young Head Shield : Rare

Update: Sold for £367.89

Spink: 3852C / Marsh: 32 / Rating: Rare

Listed: 17 September 2015
Ending: 27 September 2015 20:09

Comments: This coin has at some point in the past been polished, which is a shame. The Spink guide prices for this coin are £425 in ‘VF’ condition and £900 in ‘EF’ condition. At a start price of £0.01, it’s well worth getting a bid in. The seller ‘1st Sovereign’ are a regular eBay seller of coins, so bid with confidence.

eBay listing: 141777569114


 

RMS Douro gold Sovereigns

RMS Douro Gold Sovereigns

Fiction is rich with tales of ships loaded with treasure that succumb to attacks by pirates or being assaulted by storms. Yet there’s a real life story of a vessel sinking with a cargo of gold, and the cause was neither vagabonds nor the weather. It happened on April 1st 1882, but this isn’t an April Fool’s story.

Pride of the fleet

The RMS Douro was one of the most favoured vessels in the extensive fleet of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, founded in London in 1839 by a Scotsman, James McQueen. Launched in 1865, by the time of her sinking the Douro was not the most modern of the Royal Mail’s vessels, but she was considered sturdy and comfortable, and often preferred by those who travelled on her regular route from South America to Britain.

RMS Douro was an iron-hulled, screw driven ship of 2,824 tons – quite a substantial size for her era. Like so many British built ships of that time, she was constructed on the River Clyde in Scotland. As well as her steam engines, she also had two auxiliary masts with sails to assist her screw propulsion.

A precious cargo

In the Victorian era, Britain was arguably the most prosperous nation in the world, and millions of tons of valuable goods flowed into the country’s ports. This included the cargoes brought from South America by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. The post and newspapers that was the company’s staple business were regularly accompanied by diamonds, high value coins and gold bars. In fact, RMS Douro had its own bullion room to ensure the most precious cargo was carried securely.

Initially designed for a crew of 114, by the time of her sinking in 1882 RMS Douro was only carrying 80 officers and crew. Yet comfort was certainly not compromised. Douro had a reputation for being the epicurists’ choice for the voyage, renowned for the exquisite meals, fine wines and lavish quantities of champagne served on board. Her passengers tended to be the elite: prosperous businessmen, diplomats, politicians and members of the Royal Court. They revelled in the luxury of 253 first class cabins.

By 1882, RMS Douro was well established in her trans-Atlantic routing, having already completed sixty-one such trips. At the outset, her 62nd started normally, and she embarked from Rio de Janiero loaded once again with well-heeled passengers and their servants, plus coffee, diamonds and gold – including a quantity of gold Sovereigns.

A normal voyage

Having docked at Salvador and Recife, the RMS Douro proceeded across the Atlantic via the Cape Verde Islands to Lisbon. Here the majority of her passengers disembarked, while other cargo (including Portuguese wine) was loaded for delivery to her destination port of Southampton. Perhaps the disembarkation or loading took longer than anticipated, but whatever the reason, the Douro left Lisbon an hour and a half late. She finally cast off at 8.30pm on March 31st and sailed full steam ahead to make up time.

Douro made good speed the following day and by evening had passed Cape Finisterre. Although the sea was slightly rough and though Douro rolled with the swell, it was not enough to discomfort the few passengers who were still awake – most of them already sleeping off another splendid dinner. Conditions were good and visibility in particular was excellent, with a full moon and none of the fog for which the Cape Finisterre region was notorious.

With the clear conditions, it became obvious to the officer of the watch that the light approaching Douro was that of another ship. Assuming that the ship was pass behind them, and that the officers on the bridge would have seen it anyway, he delayed bringing it to their attention. By the time he did, it was too late to take effective action. The Spanish passenger line Yrurac Bat hit Douro’s starboard side hard, rebounded and hit it again, gouging a large rent in her hull. She immediately started filling with water.

Disaster strikes

The impact was at 10.50pm and the Douro sank about half an hour later, shortly after the Yrurac Bat. The crew of the Douro acquitted themselves well, putting the safety of their passengers first. Ultimately, six of the Douro’s passengers drowned, and seven or the crew, including the Captain, went down with the ship. The Yrurac Bat suffered more, losing 46 passengers and crew.

Ultimately, a Board of Trade enquiry concluded that the fault lay with the Douro’s crew, who had failed to follow the correct procedures for altering course to pass another ship. The decision, though, was academic. Both vessels rested on the seabed, and the bereaved families would never see their loved ones again. What would be seen again however, over a century later, was the Douro’s valuable cargo of British Gold Sovereigns.

Tracking down the treasure

In 1991, author and wreck researcher Nigel Pickford alerted Sverker Hallstrom to the Douro’s existence, including its Gold Sovereign treasure. The Swedish shipwreck treasure hunter carried out his own research, which helped him narrow down the likely resting place of the Douro.

An experienced master mariner and marine salvage expert, Hallstrom searched the area extensively between June 1993 and January 1994, when he was convinced he’d finally found the RMS Douro. When he sent down his ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle), he was dismayed to discover it wasn’t the Douro, but another victim of Spain’s Costa del Morte (the Death Coast, infamous for shipwrecks). This was the Gijon, a ship from the same era of the Douro. It had sunk just two years afterwards, also as a result of a collision in these busy shipping lanes.

Found at last

Hallstrom persevered and on the 4th July 1995, finally found the Douro. At first sight, through the ROV’s cameras, it was by no means clear that this was the vessel he was looking for. There was no tell-tale double gash in the starboard side, no bow markings or bell to identify her, little to see except the engines and shafts, which at least seemed to be of the right type. The iron hull was badly corroded and mostly collapsed. If it were the right ship, salvage would be difficult.

Then Hallstrom’s crew spotted a plate, which the ROV was able to pick up and bring to the surface. Once cleaned, the plate clearly showed it belonged to the Royal Nail Steam Packet Company. This confirmed the wreck was the Douro.

The recovery begins

It was lying approximately 1,500 feet down, which required the use of a modified oil drilling rig, the Deep Sea Worker. An expensive investment for Hallstrom, it was nevertheless necessary if he was to recover the gold sovereigns.

The gamble paid off. Once the wreck had been cleared of the fishing nets that had snagged on it over the years, the ROV’s cameras were able to track up and down the vessel to locate the bullion room. They showed that the gold was still there, and luckily not scattered all over the seabed. Within three days, the rig’s hydraulic attachments had brought up all the recoverable gold bullion and sovereigns. Hallstrom estimated he’d collected at least 93% of the original cargo of gold bars and coins, an exceptionally high percentage.

RMS Douro gold Sovereigns, a valuable haul

In accordance with the law, Hallstrom had to wait a year and a day for the Receiver of the Wreck to release the treasure. The haul was impressive, and included around thousands of Gold Sovereigns of the early Victoria era (showing the young Queen’s head), in excellent condition. Many of them were auctioned in London by Spink & Son (formerly part of famous auction house Christie’s) over the 20th and 21st November 1996. The auction numbered over 1,700 lots of gold coins, the majority being Gold Sovereigns, and in total raised £1,546,000.

Unique attraction

Other Gold Sovereigns from the Douro that were not included in the Spink & Son auction are still coming to light, and appear on auction and numismatist websites. Although normally a coin’s condition dictates its value, the Douro Sovereigns, rescued from the depths of the Atlantic more than a century after they plunged to the bottom, have a fascination and allure unique amongst Victorian coins.

External links:

Jody Clark

Jody Clark is the young designer responsible for the latest image of Britannia introduced on UK coins in 2014. Refined in Photoshop and completed using a CAD program, Clark’s Britannia is truly a product of the digital age.

The digital portrait

The fifth portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, by Jody Clark
The fifth portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, by Jody Clark

The same can be said of his portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth, introduced on UK coinage for 2015. Unlike his predecessors, who sketched the Queen during a special sitting, Jody Clark did not meet the monarch; he worked from photographs and created his portrait digitally.

Only 33 years old when he produced the portrait, Clark is the youngest artist to have portrayed Elizabeth II for the Royal Mint. After securing his degree in Illustration at the University of Central Lancashire, Preston, he moved to the Arden Group where he worked in commercial packaging as a CAD/CAM programmer.

A committed illustrator

At the same time, Clark continued to practice his illustration skills for a variety of clients, with a wide variety of work including posters, flyers, CD covers, editorial illustration and corporate identity. This stood him in good stead when he joined the Royal Mint in September 2012.

Jody Clark is the first Royal Mint engraver for over 100 years to create the royal coinage portrait. As is usual with the Royal Mint, his designs were entered as part of a competition judged by the Advisory Committee, and he beat several outside candidates to secure the commission.

Honest and appealing

By Autumn 2015 Elizabeth II will have reigned even longer than Queen Victoria, and Clark had the difficult challenge of portraying an older woman favourably yet truthfully. “I wanted to make her look less stern,” he said, “and give her a slightly warmer expression. I hope she likes it.

Clark’s other designs for the Royal Mint include the commemorative piece presented to the delegates of the 2014 NATO conference held at Celtic Manor in Newport, South Wales, and the 2014 Ryder Cup Medal Masterpiece. His rendering of Britannia is a refreshingly different interpretation of an iconic figure, which has appeared on coins for more than 2,000 years.

Shapely Britannia

The Britannia is the Royal Mint’s flagship coin, launched in 1987. Clark’s design is the eleventh in the collection, and portrays a very feminine figure, counterbalanced by a line at her feet. Often depicted with strong maritime associations, Clark’s Britannia stands in front of a globe, representing a global outlook.

At the time, Clark felt his Britannia was the most prestigious job he’d undertaken for the Royal Mint, but this was soon surpassed by his work on the new portrait of the Queen. Clark’s design is the fifth of Elizabeth’s reign. The first was created by Mary Gillick, who famously showed the young Elizabeth with a laurel wreath instead of a crown.

Joining the greats

The second portrait, and the first to be used on decimal coinage, was the work of Arnold Machin. His rendition, which included a long bare neck, was described by the poet John Betjeman as “a little racy”. The third version, by Raphael Maklouf, appeared in 1985, and the fourth, created by Ian Rank-Broadley was introduced in 1998. As post-decimal coins, these three are in current circulation in the UK and will be joined by the Jody Clark portrayal.

Further information:

 

Queen’s fifth portrait unveiled by the Royal Mint

The Royal Mint today revealed the winning design that will be used as the fifth portrait of Queen Elizabeth II for all UK coins.

The design is by Jody Clark, a member of the Royal Mint’s design & engraving team.

The fifth portrait of Queen Elizabeth II for UK coins
The fifth portrait of Queen Elizabeth II for UK coins

The winning design was selected from a closed ballot of entries in a competition organised by the Royal Mint Advisory Committee. A number of designers from around the UK were invited to submit their designs anonymously. The designs were judged on their merits & suitability and the chosen design sent for approval to the Chancellor and finally the Queen for approval.

The fifth portrait design of Queen Elizabeth II was unveiled in at a ceremony, held at the National Portrait Gallery in London. It supersedes the Ian Rank-Broadley portrait, introduced in 1998.

The 2015 gold Sovereign is the first UK coin available to the public that will feature the fifth portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. Initially available in proof form only, a maximum mintage of just 9,000 pieces will be produced; 7,500 as individual coins and 1,500 to be included in sets.

It is the first time since 1893 and only the third time overall that the gold sovereign has featured two different bust designs in the same year.

Previous double portrait years were

External links:

How many gold sovereigns have been minted?

An interesting question, which is pretty much impossible to give a 100% accurate answer. However, we’re happy to make an educated guess at how many gold sovereigns have been minted!

We’ve done some quick calculations and based on our mintage figures for bullion and proof sovereigns, we estimate that (at the time of writing this post) around 1,158,294,408 sovereigns have been minted.

If you could stack that many coins on top of each other, your coin tower would be over 1,150 miles high! Now we know this figure isn’t going to be 100% accurate. For a start, during certain years, a small number of proof coins were minted for which we don’t have the figures (1817, for example). We’ve also only counted full gold sovereigns. Maybe in another article, we’ll include quarters, halves, doubles and crowns! It’s also worth remembering that when sovereigns were in general circulation, the practice of re-coining was employed. When a coin fell below its legal minimum weight, it was removed from circulation, melted down and re-struck as a new coin. Of course, many of these coins no longer exist. Sovereigns were used to settle government debt, with large quantities being shipped overseas. At their final destination, they would have been melted down.

One final interesting fact about the gold used for sovereigns; although many of the coins no longer exist, almost all of the gold that was used to mint them still does. Being a nobel metal, gold doesn’t oxidise, rust, corrode or tarnish. No single acid can dissolve or destroy gold, so in one form or other the gold is still around today – maybe in something you own!

What size is a gold sovereign?

Since the introduction of the modern day gold sovereign in 1817, the size and specification has remained constant ever since.

It was the Coin Act of 1816 which set the specification of the gold sovereign. This included the gold content, guaranteed to four decimal places, along with the overall weight and its diameter. Weighing-in at 7.98805g, a gold sovereign was considered legal tender providing it didn’t fall below the legal minimum weight of 7.93787g. Old and worn coins that failed to meet this criteria were melted down and re-coined.

Diameter and thickness of a full gold sovereign

The size of a gold sovereign is as follows:

  • Diameter: 22.05mm
  • Thickness: 1.00 to 1.69mm

Whilst it’s pretty easy to measure the diameter of a sovereign, its thickness is a little harder to specify. Victorian shield sovereigns were struck with a beautiful relief (the raised detail), whereas our modern versions have a much lower relief detail. According to the Royal Mint, the thickness of a modern sovereign is 1.69mm. However at their lowest points the thickness can drop down to around a millimeter. Source: The Royal Mint 2013 Bullion Specification

What is the rarest / most valuable gold sovereign?

As you read this article, a standard, bullion grade gold sovereign is currently worth about £ ($ / €). However, some sovereigns are worth much, much more than this. This article takes a look at some of the rarest and most valuable sovereigns that exist.

An unobtainable sovereign

Probably the most valuable gold sovereigns are those that a collector will never have the opportunity of acquiring, regardless of their budget. The first sovereigns struck following Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne were those minted in 1953. Just three four proof coins are know to have been produced, along with accompanying Crowns, double and half-sovereigns. One set resides in the Royal Mint Museum, another with the British Museum and the final set with the Royal collection. As no set has ever been sold, it’s impossible to place a value on them. Update Jan 2015: In May 2015, St James’s Auctions will be auctioning The Park House Collection. Included in the sale is the only known 1953 Sovereign available to private buyers.

The rarest / most valuable sovereign available to collectors

During George III’s reign in 1819, 3,574 sovereigns were struck. Although not the lowest mintage run (that accolade goes to the 1923 Pretoria mint sovereign with just 406 being struck), only 10 examples are now known to exist. As a result of their scarcity, 1819 sovereigns command huge prices when they do come up for sale, even when in relatively poor condition.

On the 8th May 2013, one of the finest examples know to exist was sold at Baldwin’s auctioneers. As part of the ‘Bentley collection’, it was the star attraction of the auction and sold for a magnificent £186,000 (approx. $289,000).

It is believed that one proof version of the 1819 sovereign exists. However, its whereabouts is currently unknown and has not been seen for over 70 years. Suffice to say, if & when it does re-appear, its value is likely to be well in excess of £250,000.

Other rare and collectable sovereigns

There are many other dates that are rare and collectable. Here is a selection of the more scarce ones:

  • 1908 Edward VII Ottawa Mint
  • 1924 George V Pretoria Mint
  • 1916 George V Ottawa Mint
  • 1917 George V London Mint
  • 1922 George V Melbourne Mint
  • 1859 Victoria ‘Ansell’
  • 1926 George V Sydney Mint
  • 1921 George V Melbourne Mint
  • 1923 George V Sydney Mint
  • 1874 Victoria ‘Young Head’ Shield
  • 1920 George V Sydney Mint

Minting errors

When determining their value, it’s not just sovereigns that were either minted in low numbers or where few survive today that collectors are interested in. As demand grew for newly minted sovereigns around the mid 19th century, the quality control in the production of new dies began to slip and errors became more common. Sometimes, the number ‘1’ in a date would be accidentally substituted for the Roman letter ‘I’, or a number ‘4’ would be placed upside-down. Only the keen-eyed collector is likely to spot such mistakes, but when found, a minting error can significantly increase the value of a coin. Take for example the 1880 Sydney mint shield sovereign. An easily obtainable date at standard sovereign prices for its age. However, if the word ‘VICTORIA’ on the obverse (heads) side uses an upside-down letter ‘A’ instead of a ‘V’, you could be looking at a 5-figure value!

Paul Day

For the 2012 Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Gold Sovereign, the Royal Mint looked once again to break with the classic Pistrucci St. George and the Dragon design, and seek a new interpretation. This is only the fourth time that the iconic image has been redesigned, and the artist chosen for this rare honour was sculptor Paul Day.

Born in 1967, Paul Day has become known for sculptures that are lifelike yet often incorporate an unusual sense of perspective. British-born, he studied initially at the Colchester Institute before attending the Dartington College of Arts and subsequently gaining his Degree at the Cheltenham School of Arts.

Early recognition

Day was fortunate to start working almost immediately on leaving Cheltenham, supported by a grant from the Prince of Wales Trust. Since then his work has won several major prizes, and been awarded some significant commissions.

One of Day’s best-known works in the UK is the Battle of Britain Memorial on London’s Embankment. His design won the 2002 competition to select the artist for this important commission, which was finally completed and unveiled in 2005.

Figures that come alive

The Battle of Britain Memorial is an extraordinary work, where the low relief becomes three dimensional in places. As a result, the sculpture is notably dynamic and arresting – perhaps influencing the judges’ final choice of Paul Day for the Diamond Jubilee Sovereign?

Similarly acclaimed was Paul Day’s work on the friezes for the Memorial to the Queen Mother, situated on the Mall. The first frieze also has a wartime narrative, showing the then Queen Elizabeth and her husband King George VI meeting and raising morale amongst Londoners who were enduring the Blitz during the Second World War.

A poignant embrace

Day’s characteristic relief work, and his skill at capturing emotion, is also seen in The Meeting Place, a huge sculpture of an embracing couple standing on a bas-relief plinth, and sited on the concourse of the London Eurostar terminal at St Pancras. The couple are, allegedly, modelled on Day himself and his French wife; the artist has lived in France for several years.

A fresh look at St. George

With such an impressive portfolio, it was entirely appropriate that Day should be chosen as one of five artists invited to submit designs for the Diamond Jubilee Sovereign. His rendition was typically animated and absorbing. As the artist himself explained, “I have chosen to opt for a romantic version of the St George and the Dragon theme — a medieval knight of Arthurian legend, something quite traditional and true to our culture.”

“I have given the dragon a more threatening attitude and size,” Day continued, “so that it represents a real menace: its wings have a harp-like quality, in contrast to the realism of the knight and horse, while the lance divides the surface into two.”

A controversial interpretation

This modern interpretation of St George and the Dragon has divided opinion, with traditionalists rather less receptive. Other commentators have welcomed the design but expressed disappointment that it was not accompanied by a new portrait of Her Majesty for the obverse; the Mint chose to retain Ian Rank-Broadley’s design.

One aspect that all experts have agreed on, however, is that as it was commissioned for one year only, the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Gold Sovereign will rapidly gain in value.

Further information

Humphrey Paget

Humphrey Paget had the unique distinction of being the only artist in the 20th century to design the obverse (heads) side of UK coins for two different monarchs – initially for Edward VIII and subsequently for George VI. This is explained by the extremely short reign of Edward VIII, which lasted only 326 days. Succeeding to the throne on 20 January 1936 following the death of his father George V, he abdicated on 11th December in order to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson. His coronation never took place.

An admired designer

Humphrey Paget had previously designed a medal for the Honourable Company of Master Mariners, featuring Edward when he was still Prince of Wales. This was liked by both Edward and the Deputy Master of the Mint, so when Edward became King, Paget was the obvious choice to design the new coins.

A break with tradition

There was a problem immediately. Since King Charles II replaced Oliver Cromwell, there had been a tradition in UK coin design that the head of the succeeding monarch should face in the opposite direction to that of the previous ruler. George V’s head had faced to the left, so Edward’s should have faced right. Edward, however, felt that wasn’t his best side, and insisted his head should face left to show the parting in his hair. Paget’s design was forced to break with tradition.

Extremely rare

The abdication meant that only a few Edward VII coins reached the trial minting stage, and none were ever officially struck as common UK currency. Their rarity makes even the trial strikings especially sought after by collectors, and consequently very valuable. The 1937 Edward VIII Proof Sovereign sold at auction for £516,000, and the holy grail of numismatists, the Edward VIII 1937 Proof Set, was sold in 2010 for $2.1 million. With Edward VIII’s abdication, Humphrey Paget was now tasked with designing the new obverse for the George VI coins, and time was tight. Despite completing it in less than a month, any concerns that he may have rushed the design were totally dispelled when the coins were struck.

A masterpiece of coin design

Paget’s George VI design has been described by experts as ‘the classic coinage head of the 20th century’. A handsome, unadorned and appealing portrait, it was also technically near perfect, a quality for which the Royal Mint must have been grateful, given the urgency involved in striking the new coins. Incidentally, George VI’s head also faced left, the reasoning being that Edward VIII’s should have faced right!

A single year’s Sovereign

Only one Sovereign was issued during George VI’s 16 year reign, for his coronation in 1937. Of course it featured Paget’s magnificent portrait, with the Pistrucci St George and the Dragon on the reverse. It was never circulated, and only issued as part of a four coin proof set, so it too is very valuable.

Prolific talent

Paget was a highly prolific designer of coins and medals, at his most productive post-World War II. He created seals and medals for many institutions, and coins for numerous countries, from Bolivia to New Zealand. One of his best-loved UK coin designs was, perhaps ironically, for a coin of low value – the image based on the Golden Hind sailing ship, which was used on the halfpenny coin from 1937 until decimalisation in 1971. His last major commission was a medallic portrait of the Duke of Edinburgh in 1970. Humphrey Paget was also a well-regarded sculptor, perhaps not surprising for someone who had come from such an artistic family. His father had illustrated the original editions of Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island, and his uncle had illustrated the Sherlock Holmes stories first printed in the Strand magazine. Paget married in 1942, was awarded the OBE in 1948 and died in Sussex in 1974.

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