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.

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

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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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