Joseph Boehm

Joseph Boehm’s most significant contribution to British coinage was, sadly, not universally appreciated. He designed the portrait of Queen Victoria for her 1887 Golden Jubilee, which appeared on several coins including the Gold Sovereign. The result was widely criticised, but perhaps that criticism was a little unfair.

An unflattering image?

The disapproval centred largely on the crown which Queen Victoria was wearing. Perched on top of a widow’s veil (she was perpetually in mourning for Prince Albert following his death in 1861) and her full head of hair, the crown looked more like a rather silly hat, or worse, a cake decoration. Yet it was Victoria herself who insisted on wearing it for the sittings with Joseph Boehm; she apparently found the full-size crown too heavy and uncomfortable.

Dedicated to realism

The portrait was so disliked that the Royal Mint replaced it as early as 1893. Yet Joseph Boehm was only portraying reality (as was Leonard Charles Wyon, who actually engraved the image). To Boehm, accuracy was important – he was a meticulous and gifted sculptor. He produced many busts of the Victorian era’s most notable figures, and also a series of famous hands, such as those belonging to the Duke of Wellington, Benjamin Disraeli and Prince Albert. They are nearly all lifelike and convincing.

A royal favourite

Whatever the public and some of his fellow artists may have said about the 1887 Jubilee head, the Queen herself was still supportive of Boehm. In 1889, he was made a Baronet, an honour which entitles the holder to prefix his name with Sir and suffix it with Bart (the traditional abbreviation of Baronet). So Joseph Edgar Boehm became Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, of the parish of St Mary Abbots, Kensington, London. He’d already been made a member of the Royal Academy in 1882.

Cosmopolitan studies

This was quite an achievement for someone who wasn’t British by birth. Boehm was born in Vienna in July 1834, and studied sculpture in London, Paris, Vienna and Italy. He won the Austrian Imperial Prize for Sculpture in 1856. It established him as a major international artist, a reputation he cemented with works he produced for the International Exhibition in London, in 1862.

Sculptor to the Queen

Having already spent some time in England, he became a British subject in 1865. With many patrons among the British aristocracy, Boehm was soon in demand to produce sculptures and monuments of royalty, and by the end of his career had been granted 40 royal commissions. He was appointed Sculptor in Ordinary to the Queen in 1881 (despite the title, this was far from an ordinary honour). The large marble monument to Queen Victoria in Windsor Castle is his work, as is the 1879 statue of Prince Albert on horseback in Bombay (now Mumbai) India, the monument of the Duke of Kent in St. George’s Chapel, also in Windsor Castle, and the statues of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on the Temple Bar monument in Fleet Street, London. Although his involvement with portraiture for coins was minimal, Boehm did produce a number of designs for medals, which showed a more conventional and better-liked image of Queen Victoria.

A royal liaison – fact or fiction?

Joseph Boehm continued his close associations with the British royal family until his death. In fact, if some scurrilous rumours are to be believed, these associations might have been responsible for his death. Boehm gave lessons in art at his home to a number of notable pupils, including Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria. She was so smitten with him that she had a studio built in the grounds of Kensington Palace, where she could enjoy his undivided attention. Whatever those tutorial sessions comprised, the fact remains that they were together when Joseph Boehm died in 1890 of a burst blood vessel – alleged by some to be the result of over-energetic lovemaking.

Leonard Charles Wyon

Yet another of the Wyon engraving dynasty, Leonard Wyon was inevitably destined to follow in the footsteps of his father, Chief Engraver William Wyon. In fact, he was born within the Royal Mint in 1826, in the buildings occupied by his father and mother, Catherine.

A quick learner

Tutored in art by his father, it seems Leonard was a talented and quick learner, producing several medals by the age of 16 and first exhibiting at the Royal Academy by the age of 17. He was accepted to study there the following year, at the same time becoming Second Engraver at the Royal Mint, under William’s continuing guidance.

Favoured by the Queen

Leonard rapidly established an impressive reputation; at 23, he was sufficiently highly regarded for Queen Victoria to commission him to make medals of the royal children. Sadly, one year later his father died. Appropriately, it was Leonard who was asked by the Art Union of London to design the William Wyon Laudatory Medal. Still working at the Royal Mint, Leonard might have expected to become the next Chief Engraver, but the post was discontinued during a reorganisation and instead he took the title of Resident Engraver, which later changed to Modeller and Engraver. He was still chief engraver in real terms however, so it was Leonard who created the dies for a new range of British coins in 1860.

A new range of British coinage

With Pistrucci’s Britannia on the reverse, it was Leonard’s job to create a new likeness of Queen Victoria. He’d already produced a new Victoria portrait for the 1857 Australian Sovereign, struck in the Sydney Mint. His design for the 1860 British penny coin became known as the Bun Penny, after Wyon’s portrayal of the Queen’s hairstyle. Victoria was apparently very pleased with Leonard’s work, the result of several sittings for him. Incidentally, this was the first bronze penny produced by the Mint. Until then, pennies had been struck from copper, which by the late 1850s was felt to be too valuable a metal for such a common denomination.

Cutting the Gold Sovereign dies

Leonard wasn’t responsible for the rather unflattering portrait of the Queen produced for the 1887 Golden Jubilee, but he did cut the dies, including those for the Gold Sovereign. (The image of the Queen was the work of Sir Joseph Boehm). Like his father before him, Leonard was something of a workaholic, with a prolific output of coin designs for countries throughout the British Empire. He also designed and engraved numerous medals commemorating events in South Africa and India, for the 1862 International Exhibition in London, the Britannia Bridge over the Menai Straits and to celebrate personalities such as Wordsworth, Paxton, Hogarth and Gladstone.

An engraver for the Victorian age

Perhaps his work ethic deterred his children from taking up engraving or seeking a position in the Mint; unusually for Wyons, none of them took up the profession. Leonard Wyon died in 1891 at the age of 64, succumbing to kidney disease and internal bleeding. Some of his designs and dies were still in use up until 1901, the end of the Victoria era.

James Wyon

James Wyon (1804 – 1868) was William Wyon’s cousin. He worked as William’s assistant until becoming Resident Engraver at the Royal Mint following William’s death in 1851. At first James was appointed on probation, but his position was made permanent in 1854 and continued, officially, until 1861.

Unique to Australia

James’s work was seen not only in Britain, but also in Australia. He prepared the dies for an image of the young Queen Victoria, for the Australian Sovereign and Half Sovereign of 1855 and 1856, minted in Sydney. The image was James’s own design, and different to the more famous ‘young Victoria’ portrait by William Wyon. It’s believed this image was not used on any other coin. James’s initials also appear on the obverse of an 1859 pattern penny, also showing an image of Queen Victoria. While James must have worked on several medals during his time at the Mint, there seem to be few recorded details of them.

After the Mint

Although James is recorded as having held the post of resident engraver at the Royal Mint until 1861, he was actually pensioned off due to ill health, having apparently been admitted to a mental hospital a year before. However, he seems to have recovered to some extent, as following his tenure at the Royal Mint, James Wyon turned to painting and produced a series of images in the Victorian sentimental style, with titles such as ‘Amusing Baby’, ‘A family visit’ and ‘Going with father’s dinner’. Whilst perhaps not the greatest ever works of art, they were well-observed paintings and certainly suited the mood of the age. One hopes they earned James enough to make his final years more comfortable.

From a long line of engravers

James Wyon was a member of the artistically gifted Wyon family, which originated in Germany. They supplied coin and medal dies to the mints based in Cologne. Sometime in the 1760s, Peter George Wyon, a metalworker, emigrated to England. His son became a metalworker too, started a die-engraving business in Birmingham. And so the tradition continued through the family. Thomas Wyon was the first to make his mark in London, as Chief Engraver of His Majesty’s Seals in 1816. James Wyon, however, is descended from the side of the family that stayed in Birmingham. He was the son of George Wyon and Elizabeth Phillips. In keeping with the Wyon family tradition, two of James’s sons, Henry and George, also became die engravers; in fact George took over from James as resident engraver at the Royal Mint, though he sadly died young in 1862. James’s brother John George, meanwhile, had remained in Birmingham and was the father of Edward Wyon, who worked for a local mint and was subsequently responsible for building the first modern mint in China. James Wyon is perhaps not the most famous member of the Wyon dynasty, but with so many gifted engravers and artists in the family, he can surely be forgiven for that.

William Wyon

William Wyon was one of the most admired and prolific of all the Royal Mint’s engravers, and was Chief Engraver from 1828 to 1851. He came from a family of respected engravers and medallists, which initially proved a handicap when he first attempted to join the Royal Mint.

A family connection

Encouraged by his uncle Thomas Wyon, who was already an engraver there, William applied to enter the competition for a vacancy as an engraver, only to be rebutted by the Master of the Mint, who refused to countenance having two members of the same family working together. William submitted his entry, a bust of King George III, in secret. Luckily the competition was judged by the artist Sir Thomas Lawrence rather than the Master of the Mint; William’s design was acknowledged as the best, and he was appointed as Second Engraver in 1816.

Not entirely in favour

Although William Wyon secured the post, he still had to contend with the Master of the Mint. William’s uncle Thomas was succeeded as Chief Engraver by his son, also called Thomas. When Thomas junior died, William expected to take over the role, but the Master of the Mint instead appointed Benadetto Pistrucci. However, William’s work was sufficiently highly valued for his objections to be taken seriously. William Wyon became Chief Engraver in 1828, with Pistrucci placated with the role of Chief Medallist.

The Queen’s favourite coinage portrait

His rapid rise to prominence was large based on his portraits of Queen Victoria. She first sat for him as a 13 year old, and subsequently for the portrait engraved by Wyon for her 18th birthday medal. It was his ‘young head’ of Victoria that is the best known; although it first appeared on coins for circulation in 1838, Queen Victoria liked it so much that it was 1887, when she was in her 60s, before she allowed it to be replaced. The ‘young Victoria’ was used on the Gold Sovereign from 1871 to 1887, when it was supplemented by the older ‘Jubilee head’. In fact for 1887 there were three Gold Sovereigns featuring Queen Victoria’s head: one with Wyon’s ‘young head’ and a shield design on the reverse, another with Pistrucci’s George and the Dragon on the reverse, and a third with that same design on the reverse but the ‘Jubilee head’ on the obverse.

On coins and stamps

William Wyon’s work also inspired the design on the famous Penny Black, the world’s first adhesive postal stamp. The stamp shows the head of Queen Victoria as sketched by Henry Corbould, who based his rendition on Wyon’s engraving for the ‘City’ medal, which commemorated the Queen’s visit to the City of London in 1837.

Admired by his peers

William Wyon produced many great works besides his Victoria portraits. Highlights include his 1817 Three Graces pattern crown, the seated Britannia and skilful engravings of George IV and William IV, based on the sculptures of artist Francis Chantry. He also designed a commemorative medal for the 1851 Great Exhibition, and the Naval General Service Medal. The consistently high quality of his work earned him recognition as an Associate and later Full Member of the Royal Academy. His unremitting work ethic may ultimately have led to William Wyon’s demise. In late 1851 he suffered what is now thought to be a stroke, leading to partial paralysis, and despite a move to Brighton to convalesce, he died on the 29th of October. His work, however, lives on, as does his standing as one of the most diligent and dedicated of all the Royal Mint’s Chief Engravers.

Ian Rank-Broadley

If you have a handful of current UK coins in your pocket, it’s almost certain you’ll be able to see the work of Ian Rank-Broadley. His portrait of the Queen has been used on the obverse of these coins since 1998.

Chosen against tough competition

As with previous portraits, Rank-Broadley’s was chosen following a competitive selection process organised by the Royal Mint. The Mint initially requested designs for the 1997 Golden Wedding commemorative crown, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the marriage of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. The standard of entries was so high that the Mint then decided to commission a new design for the circulating coins, too. A shortlist of three designs was submitted to the Queen for approval, and Ian Rank-Broadley’s was chosen. Besides the everyday coinage in the UK, it has appeared on the Gold Sovereigns from 1998, and on Australian circulating coins from 1999.

An acclaimed sculptor

Ian Rank-Broadley was born in 1952 and studied first at the Epsom School of Art, then the Slade School of Fine Art, and subsequently at the British School in Rome. He had already been made a Fellow of the Royal British Society of Sculptors, a Brother of the Workers Art Guild and a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, by the time he submitted his 1998 design to the Royal Mint.

The mature monarch

2002 Gold Sovereign Obverse
The portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, by Ian Rank-Broadley.

Unlike the earlier designs by Mary Gillick and Arnold Machin, which highlighted the Queen’s youthfulness during the earlier years of her reign, Rank-Broadley felt there was “no need to disguise the matureness [sic] of the Queen’s years. There is no need to flatter her. She is a 70-year-old woman with poise and bearing.” Once again, the Queen is not wearing a crown; instead, she wears the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland tiara given to her as a wedding present by Queen Mary, her grandmother. Compared to previous designs, the Rank-Broadley design seems rather bolder. This is a consequence of it occupying more space on the coin, to compensate for the fact that several of the UK coins denominations had been reduced progressively in size, to occupy less space in purses and pockets.

Why in profile?

Ian Rank-Broadley explained why heads are nearly always depicted in profile on coins. “Coins are designed to be stacked, and will rub against each other. So if you have a three-quarter portrait, even if you have enough relief to put a nose on there, it’s inevitably going to be defaced, and within a very short time, the monarch or whoever appears on the coin, will end up with a shiny nose.”

A poignant tribute

You can see more of Ian Rank-Broadley’s work at the National Memorial Arboretum near Lichfield in Staffordshire, UK, where his sculptures form the centrepiece of the Armed Forces Memorial. His sculptures, sought after by collectors across the world, are usually created in his studio, a former wool mill in Gloucestershire, UK. Credit: Photo of Ian Rank-Broadley by flickr user Charlie Dave, reproduced under Creative Commons license.

Raphael Maklouf

Raphael Maklouf designed the image of Queen Elizabeth II that replaced Arnold Machin’s portrait, which had been used on UK currency since 1968. Maklouf’s design was chosen from 38 submissions entered by 17 artists for a 1982 competition staged by the Royal Mint Advisory Committee. Maklouf initially followed Machin in working from a photograph taken by Lord Snowdon, but was subsequently granted two sittings with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, to create the clay bust from which the coins were modelled. Maklouf said he found Her Majesty “absolutely friendly, making jokes all the time.”

From the UK to Australia

Maklouf’s Queen Elizabeth portrait was his first design for a coin. It appeared on UK coins in 1985, including the 22ct Gold Sovereign and the Half Sovereign, and was used until 1998. The image was also adopted by Australia for its coinage, and continues to be used on coins minted for Gibraltar by Maklouf’s own company, Tower Mint Ltd. It was Maklouf’s version of the Queen that appeared on the UK’s first bicolour (silver and gold colour) £2 coins from 1997. Generating great interest when they were introduced, the bicolour coins were quite sought after and, so some believed, rare and valuable. However appealing they are, these coins are not rare; 13 million of them were minted.

Looking young for her age

As sculpted by Raphael Maklouf, the image of the Queen is couped – cut off at the neck. Like his predecessor Arnold Machin, Maklouf gave the Queen a relatively youthful look – too young, according to some critics. Maklouf countered this by saying he did not set out to be unduly flattering, but “to create a symbol, regal and ageless.”

Personally identified

Raphael Maklouf's initials
Raphael Maklouf’s initials

Use a magnifying glass and you’ll see that Maklouf has included his initials R.D.M. (for Raphael David Maklouf) at the base of the Queen’s neck. The D for David was important; without it, Maklouf thought, the initials R.M. could be misconstrued to mean Royal Mint. Also like Machin, Maklouf eschewed using a crown in the portrait and instead showed the Queen with the royal diadem that she wears for the State Opening of Parliament.

A troubled start

Ironically, Maklouf became a sculptor because of eyesight problems. As a boy, he suffered from an eye disease that made reading and writing difficult. While in hospital he started to express his artistic talent through sculpture – a medium which also allowed his fingers to influence the final form. Born in Jerusalem in 1937, Maklouf emigrated to Britain with his parents after World War II, studying at the Camberwell School of Arts before becoming a lecturer. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and an Associate of the Royal Society of British Sculptors.

Arnold Machin

If someone asked you what was the world’s most reproduced work of art, what would you answer? An Andy Warhol print? Van Gogh’s sunflowers? In fact it’s the head of Queen Elizabeth II, reproduced on over 320 billion stamps, and designed by British artist and designer Arnold Machin.

A design for a new era

Machin’s 1966 stamp design was very similar to one adopted by the Royal Mint, two years earlier. This was intended specifically for the UK’s first decimal coins, which were introduced in 1968, although decimal currency didn’t fully replace pounds, shillings and pence until 1971. The 5p and 10p coins were the same size and value as the old shilling and two shilling coins, so they were brought in early to help the public become accustomed to them. Arnold Machin’s design was not just used on relatively low denomination coins. Apart from the years 1975 and 1977 when no Sovereigns were minted, it also graced the Royal Mint’s gold Sovereigns, from 1974 to 1984.

Painstaking work

Like Mary Gillick, Machin wanted the Queen to look approachable and less formal, so his design replaced the traditional crown with the tiara she wore for her wedding. The portrait had a tricky gestation. Originally chosen in 1962 as one of the Royal Academy team working on the design, he was singled to progress it on his own. He worked initially from photographs taken by Anthony Buckley, then from another set taken by Lord Snowdon, and later still from personal sittings with the Queen.

Unusually appealing!

In the end, the designs based on Snowdon’s photographs were judged to be the most satisfactory, and were approved by the Queen in 1964. They had also, less formally, been approved by Royal Mint Advisory Committee member John Betjeman, who thought the portrait made the Queen look “a bit sexy.” Perhaps this is what attracted the Stamp Advisory Committee, when they were choosing an artist for their postage stamp. By the mid-1960s, Arnold Machin was a well-established and respected artist, sculptor and designer. Both his father and elder brother made small models for the potteries in their home town of Stoke-on-Trent, so it was no great surprise when Arnold started work at the Minton China Factory as an apprentice china painter.

A developing talent

Later, during the Depression years, he learnt to sculpt at Stoke-on-Trent Art School, then studied at the Derby School of Art and subsequently won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art. The terracotta sculpture ‘Mother and Child’ he produced there would prove pivotal.

Valued and principled

It not only won him a place in the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, but also earned him a job with Josiah Wedgwood & Sons, where he produced designs for several figures, animals and even a chess set. Wedgwood’s was a loyal employer, keeping Arnold’s job for him even when he was imprisoned during the Second World War as a conscientious objector. This was typical of his quietly expressed but strongly held beliefs; in the 1950s, he made the local headlines when he chained himself to a cast iron gas lamp, due to be replaced by a concrete electric version, in a protest against modernism. Arnold Machin became Master of Sculpture at the Royal Academy School and was awarded the OBE. But he will almost certainly be best known as the designer whose work, first seen on a coin and then on a stamp, has become the most reproduced work of art in the world.

Mary Gillick

To a certain generation, Mary Gillick’s designs are amongst the most recognisable on British coins. Her classic profile portrait of Queen Elizabeth has graced a range of coins, including the Gold Sovereign, from the Coronation in 1953 until 1970. Young, informal and fresh, Mary Gillick’s design captured the spirit of the age. Post-war optimism had taken root; the 1951 Festival of Britain showed a glimpse of an exciting future, and even food rationing was due to end soon, as the British economy gained in strength.

The new Elizabethan age

By substituting a simple wreath of ribbons for the more traditional crown, Mary Gillick gave us the image of a friendlier, more approachable monarch. The design was forward-looking and energetic, which is even more remarkable as Gillick herself was 71 when she submitted the design in 1952. Born Mary Tutin in Nottingham in 1881, Mary Gillick studied at the Nottingham School of Art and subsequently the Royal College of Art. She was primarily a sculptor, and her first exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1911 comprised mostly large bronze and stone sculptures, although it also including designs for medals to be given as awards.

A successful partnership

By then Mary had married, having met fellow sculptor Ernest Gillick in her Nottingham home town. It’s commonly believed that Ernest’s work was a major influence on Mary; while it’s true they worked together much of the time, this should not detract from her own creativity and imagination. She was responsible for several highly regarded sculptures during her career, both for the church and private patrons. Commemorative medals featured significantly in Mary’s work. She produced several for the Royal Society, Royal Academy and Institute of Physics, as well as portrait plaques for contemporary worthies including Sir Henry Welcome.

A design at risk

Her famous Queen Elizabeth II design was chosen in preference to sixteen others, submitted by various artists. However, the design itself nearly didn’t make it to the coins for which it was intended. The die master was judged to lack relief, meaning that the detail Mary had created would not appear when the coins were minted. Fortunately, the die was remastered and saved by Cecil Thomas – rather ironically, since he was one of the sixteen whose designs had been passed over in favour of Mary’s.

Familiar in many countries

The Gillick Elizabeth was used not just for the Gold Sovereign, but also for coins of many denominations in the UK and the then Commonwealth countries of Canada, Australia, Union of South Africa, New Zealand, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The design lasted in mainstream use in the UK until the introduction of decimal currency in 1971. It still appears on the Maundy money given out by the Queen on Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday, and on other special issues. A version adapted by David Gentleman in 1966 was introduced, and sometime still appears, on special commemorative stamps issued by the Royal Mail.

Her legacy continues

Mary Gillick was awarded the OBE, and died in London in 1965. Her skills have been inherited by later generations of her family, with Theodore, Liam and James Gillick all contemporary artists.

William Wellesley Pole

William Wellesley Pole was a career politician with many jobs in the British Government, including Secretary of the Admiralty, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Postmaster General. Our interest, though, is his period as Master of the Mint, from 1814 to 1823.

A born reformer

Although he held the post for a relatively short time, William Wellesley Pole had a significant influence during his tenure. The Royal Mint was a rather archaic institution, squeezed into the Tower of London. Shortly before Pole’s arrival it moved to purpose-built buildings on Tower Hill; the Royal Mint was ripe for reform, and William Wellesley Pole was the ideal man for the job. Pole’s dynamism stemmed from the struggles he overcame early in his life. Born as William Wesley in Dangan, Ireland in1763, he came from an aristocratic family; his father was the 1st Earl of Mornington, and one of his younger brothers, Arthur, became the Duke of Wellington. However, like many aristocratic families at the time, the Wesleys were living beyond their means. Though William Wesley had an Eton education, he didn’t go straight into the higher echelons of Government like many of his contemporaries, but became a midshipman in the Royal Navy.

Rapid rise in politics

His fortunes improved, literally, with an inheritance in 1781 from a great uncle, William Pole. One of the conditions of the inheritance was that he should adopt Pole as the family surname, becoming William Wesley-Pole. Soon afterwards he started his career as a politician, serving as a Member of the Irish Parliament from 1783, then from 1790 as Member for East Looe, in Cornwall. By then he’d changed his name again. Along with other family members, he dropped Wesley in favour of the grander Wellesley, to become William Wellesley-Pole.

Reshaping the Mint

Appointed Master of the Mint by Prime Minister Lord Liverpool, Wellesley-Pole set about reforming both its administration and the coins it produced. The Royal Mint had become a rather shambling and inefficient institution; Wellesley-Pole’s plans for a shake-up were approved by the Privy Council, and the Mint was transformed to an organisation that was not only more effective, but cheaper to run. This was important – England had just concluded (and won) an expensive war at the Battle of Waterloo. In fact, one of Wellesley-Pole’s first jobs as Master of the Mint was to supervise striking 37,000 silver medals for the victorious troops.

Recognising talent

Wellesley-Pole was a true hands-on administrator. He was concerned with every detail, from personally overseeing the installation of a gas lighting plant at the Mint, to reviewing and selecting the artists and engravers for coin designs. It was William Wellesley-Pole who supported the talented but ‘difficult’ Bernadetto Pistrucci, and so was indirectly responsible for the famed St. George and the dragon design first used on the 1817 Gold Sovereign.

A lasting legacy

By 1821 William Wellesley-Pole had joined the peerage, taking Baron Maryborough as his title. Two years later he was appointed Master of the Buckhounds and Custos Rotolorum of Queen’s County (now County Laois, in Ireland). So ended his period as Master of the Mint. But Wellesley-Pole had already secured his place in its history, not only through his patronage of Pistrucci, but also by establishing the Royal Mint Museum, opened in 1816 and still providing a unique and fascinating historical resource today.

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