A depiction of St George vanquishing the dragon is one of, if not the, most renowned reverse designs on sovereign coins. This mythical tale of good triumphing over evil has such a long and illustrious association with the gold sovereign that the two are almost synonymous.
Engraved by Benedetto Pistrucci, the George and the Dragon design first appeared on British sovereigns in 1817. For more than 200 years, this design has been used on the coins of every British monarch, except for William IV. Here, we will be exploring the coinage available at Hattons of London that feature this remarkable design…
The Queen Victoria Jubilee Portrait Gold Sovereign of 1887
To coincide with Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee milestone in 1887, a new portrait of the Queen was created for the coinage, which become known as the ‘Jubilee Head’ or ‘Jubilee Portrait’. It was adapted from a model prepared by the Austrian-born sculptor Joseph Edgar Boehm. It presented a middle-aged jowly queen with a disproportionately small crown on top of her widow’s veil. The portrait met with considerable disfavour and was replaced in 1893, meaning that the Queen Victoria ‘Jubilee Head’ was one of the shortest-lived portraits in the history of British coinage.
The Royal Mint decided to soften the gold by replacing the 1.25% of copper to the alloy with silver so that the natural golden colour was enhanced and the coins of 1887 looked more ‘yellow’. Featuring the classic depiction of St George slaying the dragon, the 1887 coin is the lowest mintage of all six years of Jubilee Portrait sovereigns; just 1.1 million coins. As both the first date, and the lowest mintage of its type, along with being the only year ever struck in ‘yellow gold’, the 1887 sovereign is one of the most significant collector coins of the Victorian Age.
King George V Gold Sovereign of the Bombay Mint of 1918
In 1918 a gold refinery was established in India and The Royal Mint established a branch on the grounds of the existing mint – but entirely separate from it. This was done with the purpose of minting gold, which was flowing from South Africa, into sovereigns. Before the First World War, this gold had been sent by sea to London for minting into sovereigns, but the great conflict made it difficult to transport the gold all the way to England. Instead, the gold was sent from South Africa in the other direction, to India.
It wasn’t until 1918 that the Bombay Mint became ready for operation, and only one date of sovereign was ever struck, featuring the St George slaying the dragon design. The difference was, a small letter ‘I’ was placed below St George’s horse, to distinguish that those coins of 1918 were struck in India. The spirit of St George is what carried Britain through to VE-Day. In 1923, a branch of the Royal Mint was established in Pretoria to carry out the minting ‘at source’, so this makes the 1918 ‘I’ Sovereign the shortest lived type of sovereign ever; the only one-year type, and a must-have for all gold collectors
King George V Gold Sovereign of the London Mint of 1925
Within just days of the outbreak of the First World War, the British government issued Treasury Notes as currency and began the withdrawal of gold coinage. By the summer of 1915 gold coins had all but vanished from circulation. However, in 1925, Winston Churchill controversially put Britain back onto the ‘Gold Standard’. The 1925 sovereign was struck, eight years after the last sovereign had been struck, and it would be the last ever British currency sovereign, ending a 108-year tradition of circulating gold.
Featuring the first portrait of King George V facing left on the obverse, and St George slaying the dragon on the reverse, these coins were never released into circulation as it was deemed imprudent to issue gold as coinage, and so the ‘Churchill’ sovereign lay in the vaults of the Bank of England. It is thought that these coins were given to those operating behind enemy lines in WWII as a form of emergency currency. They were re-struck in 1949, 1951 and 1952 to remove the premium that counterfeits could earn, however, as they still carried the portrait of King George V, it meant that they were minted under the authority of a king who was no longer alive. This is one of the twelve most important sovereigns, as it is the last of its kind ever issued in London, and the story of its minting is unique in the history of British gold coinage.
Queen Elizabeth II Gold Sovereign of 1957
As the provisions of post-war austerity were still in force, no gold sovereigns were issued for Her Majesty’s coronation in 1953, and it was not until 1957 that the first gold sovereigns were struck with Queen Elizabeth II’s portrait. This sovereign was struck primarily for sale into global gold bullion markets and features the coronation portrait of Her Majesty that had appeared on her regular coinage since 1953, and would continue to be used until 1970. Designed by Mary Gillick, the portrait shows a youthful Queen with her hair tied in a fillet and wreath; inspired by the first coinage portrait of Queen Victoria.
The reverse, designed by Benedetto Pistrucci, is the classic interpretation of St George slaying the dragon, which was first used in 1817 and still remains on our gold sovereigns today, making it one of the world’s most widely recognised coin designs. This gold sovereign is a type that was only issued for one year as it features a finely milled edge with 168 grains, whereas all other issues of Queen Elizabeth II have just 108 grains. No Proofs were struck that year, making the bullion striking the best quality available.
Queen Elizabeth II The Diamond Jubilee 2012 Commemorative BU Gold Sovereign
There have been only two monarchs in British history to have celebrated Diamond Jubilees; Queen Victoria in 1897 and Queen Elizabeth II in 2012. As part of the celebrations for the Diamond Jubilee in 2012 a special design was created for the gold sovereign issues of that year. This design was only ever struck in the year 2012.
The design by Paul Day features a strikingly modern interpretation of St George slaying the Dragon. This romantic adaptation shows St George as a medieval knight of Arthurian style, with a dragon of more threatening attitude and size, its wings have a harp-like quality in contrast to the realism of the knight and horse. This is only the third time St George has been redesigned, and only the third commemorative sovereign ever issued, which makes it sought-after by gold collectors.