We’re starting the new year with a brand new blog series for you; five facts about the Twelve Greatest Sovereigns. Each segment will feature one of the twelve greatest sovereigns and provide you with five facts which you may not have known! Let’s start with the King George III Gold Sovereign (1817-1820)…
The very first modern sovereign
It was during the Great Recoinage of 1816, in the reign of King George III, that the world’s greatest coin, the modern sovereign, came into being. Following the financial turmoil that had accompanied the Napoleonic Wars, King George III decided upon a reform of the gold coinage.
The value helped to reform accounting
It was decided that the guinea would be replaced by a coin valued at exactly one pound – the guinea was valued at one pound and a shilling, which made accounting somewhat cumberstone. The new coin would be called the ‘sovereign’ and it was to be accompanied by a half sovereign.
The specifications were appealing worldwide
This new coin was quite different from its medieval forerunner, at around half the weight and just over half the diameter. Its gold purity was fixed at 22 carats, where it has remained ever since. Struck using powerful new steam powered coining presses at the Royal Mint’s new premises in London’s Tower Hill, the new sovereigns were uniform in shape and weight for the first time – and with the gold content of every coin assured, the sovereign’s popularity grew rapidly around the world.
It was the first to feature the St George and the dragon design
It was decided that the traditional design of the Coat of Arms would no longer be used, and in its place a depiction of St George slaying the dragon by the talented engraver Benedetto Pistrucci was adopted. This design would become synonymous with the British sovereign – and the George III sovereign was the very first coin upon which this design appeared.
It was only struck for four years
The new coin of King George III was only struck for four years from 1817 – 1820. It featured a portrait of King George III by the acclaimed designer Benedetto Pistrucci. In addition, the first type – only issued in the years 1817, 1818, 1819 and 1820 – was the only one to feature the early design of St George within a garter.
This coin earns its place in the twelve most important sovereigns because not only is it the very first coin of its kind, but it is the only sovereign to feature this first rendition of St George slaying the dragon by the great designer Benedetto Pistrucci (although a limited edition coin has been released in 2017 which reproduces this original design).