How rare is your gold sovereign

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!

How much does a gold sovereign weigh?

Gold Sovereigns weigh 7.98g

How much does a gold sovereign weigh? It’s a frequently asked question, so let’s answer it!

  • Modern gold Sovereigns weigh 7.98g
  • They are minted in 22ct gold and contain 7.32g of pure gold

The very first gold sovereign was minted in 1489, during the reign of Henry VII. This coin was a very different coin to the ‘modern’ sovereign we are familiar with today. They weighed 240 grains, or half a troy ounce (15.55g), that’s almost twice the weight of the modern version.

Grains

The grain was the legal foundation for the traditional English weight system and was based around the weight of one single grain of barley. One grain is the equivalent of 0.06479891g.

Troy Ounce

The troy ounce is part of the troy weights system, primarily used for precious metals & gemstones.an imperial unit. It’s important not to confuse troy ounces with imperial ounces, which is part of the avoirdupois system. There are 12 troy ounces in a troy pound and 16 imperial ounces in an imperial pound.

The weight of a modern gold sovereign

The weight of the modern sovereign was defined according to the coin act of 1816 and has remained consistent from the first mintage in 1817 to the present day.

Accordingly, the precise weight of a freshly minted British gold sovereign sovereign is 7.98805g, minted in 22ct gold. Its gold content is 7.322381g , 113.0016 grains or 0.235420 troy ounces.

A sovereign could remain legal tender so long as it remained above its legal minimum weight of 7.93787g, after which, a coin would be removed from circulation and re-coined (melted down and made into a new coin).

How much is a gold Sovereign worth?

One of the most searched questions about the gold Sovereign has to be ‘How much is my gold Sovereign worth?‘ Do a search on Google and you’ll find the question asked on dozens of sites. Of course, if you find the question answered and a value given, whilst it was probably correct at the time of writing, it’s unlikely to be still correct weeks, months or years later.

  • A bullion gold Sovereign is currently worth £ ($ / €).
  • The bullion value of a gold Sovereign is calculated at 7.31 x the price per gram of the prevailing gold price.

Bullion value vs numismatic value

Answering the question is however not quite so straightforward as it seems. On a simple level, many Sovereigns are worth their bullion value. However, other Sovereigns have a higher, numismatic value. The value of a Sovereign is dependent on a number of factors.

  • The year it was minted
  • Which branch mint produced it
  • The total number of Sovereigns produced at that mint for that year or the total number remaining
  • Whether it was a bullion or proof issue coin
  • The condition of the coin.

To give you an example, there are 7 versions of the 1887 Sovereign:

So, the Melbourne mint, young head shield Sovereign is far more scarce than a Melbourne mint, young head St. George Sovereign. Referring to the 2014 edition of ‘Coins of England’ by Spink, a valuation of £900 is given for the former in ‘fine’ condition (the lowest grade of interest to collectors). Compare this to the latter, being a far more common example, its value is in its gold content (bullion value).

Mintage numbers

Simply looking at the mintage number for a particular Sovereign issue is not necessarily an accurate indication as to its scarcity. Many Sovereigns were shipped overseas to settle government debt. These coins would almost certainly have been melted down on arrival to their destination, thus increasing scarcity. Although over a million 1917 London mint Sovereigns were originally produced, it’s now an exceptionally hard coin to find, so be prepared to pay a four or five-figure sum if you want one!

Mintage Errors

It’s always worth keeping a sharp eye out for Sovereigns that occasionally appear with errors in the strike. As the demand for Sovereigns increased around 1843, more dies were having to be produced. Quality control was not quite a tight as it could have been and as a result, errors started to appear. So, if you come across an 1844 Sovereign with the first ‘4’ upside-down, it’s worth around double a standard example from the same year!

Calculating how much a gold Sovereign is worth

Putting the numismatic value to one side, at very minimum, a gold Sovereign is worth its weight in gold, otherwise referred to as its bullion value. If it’s in relatively unworn condition, it should still weigh 7.98g or thereabouts. A Sovereign is minted in 22ct gold, which means it contains 91.67% pure gold (7.31g by mass). To work out the bullion value of a Sovereign, we need to do some simple calculations. Pure gold is currently trading at around £ / troy ounce ($ / €).

There are 31.103 grams in a troy ounce, so to convert troy ounces to grams, we need to divide by 31.103. Therefore, the value of 1 gram of pure gold is £ / g ($ / €).

We already know that a Sovereign contains 7.31g, therefore the bullion value of a gold Sovereign is currently 7.31 x  = £ ($ / €).

Sell your gold Sovereign

If you’re considering selling a gold Sovereign, we will be more than happy to purchase it from you. Please see our selling gold Sovereigns page for more information. If you own a gold Sovereign and want to get an idea as to how rare it is, try out our easy-to-use wizard. Simply enter its year in the box at the top of this page to get started. Notes:

  1. For the purposes of this article, we update the the gold price twice a day, around 11.00am and 3.30pm GMT.
  2. If you work these figures out manually, it’s likely your answer will differ by a few pence. It’s simply down to rounding and the number of decimal places our system works to.
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