The British Sovereign was first imagined in 1489 by King Henry VII, after he instructed officers of his Royal Mint to produce a ‘new money of gold’. Prior to that point, England had enjoyed circulating gold coinage for almost a century and a half, but the new coin, named a Sovereign, was to be the largest coin both in size and value.
Then in 1817, the ‘new sovereign’ made its debut with a newly imagined design featuring St George slaying the dragon. The new design was created by Italian gem engraver Benedetto Pistrucci and was destined to become one of the world’s most loved coin designs.
We are looking back through the years at each Monarchs reign and the sovereigns that defined each era.
King George III (Reign 1760 – 1820)
The King George III gold sovereign was only minted four times; 1817, 1818, 1819 and 1820, and was the first to feature the new George and the dragon design. King George III always faces to the right.
King George IV (Reign 1820 – 1830)
King George IV had two sovereign designs in his name; the first only minted five times in 1821, 1822, 1823, 1824 and 1825, featuring St George and the dragon. The second sovereign featured a different portrait, of a much more similar likeness, and was the first to feature the shield design. This was minted six times in 1825, 1826, 1827, 1828, 1829 and 1830. King George IV always faces left.
King William IV (Reign 1830 – 1836)
King William IV was the only monarch never to have struck the St George and the dragon design, his coins featured only the Shield of Royal Arms. Minted six times, 1831, 1832, 1833, 1835, 1836 and 1837. King William IV always faces right.
Queen Victoria (Reign 1836 – 1901)
Queen Victoria had three portraits feature on her sovereigns, across her 63-year reign. The first sovereigns feature the ‘Young Head’ portrait, one with the shield design for 1838 – 1874, and the other with the St George and the dragon design for 1871 – 1885. The second portrait is known as the ‘Jubilee Head’ portrait, and only featured the St George and dragon design and was minted for only six years between 1887 – 1892. The third and final portrait, the ‘Veiled Head’ portrait, was minted for eight years 1893 – 1901 (not 1897) and also only featured the St George design. Queen Victoria always faces to the left.
King Edward VII (Reign 1901 – 1910)
The King Edward VII gold sovereign was minted every year between 1902 and 1910, with the St George and the dragon design. King Edward VII always faces to the right.
King George V (Reign 1910 – 1936)
King George V had eight sovereigns minted during his reign in 1911, 1912, 1913, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917 and then 1925; all with the same portrait and the George and the dragon design. King George V always faces left.
King George VI (Reign 1936 – 1952)
King George VI had only one coin issued during his reign, for his coronation year in 1937. The mintage was only 5,501 coins. King George VI always faces to the left, the same direction as King George V. Between these monarchs, King Edward VIII reigned for only 10 months, abdicating before any coinage could be struck. He would have in turn faced right.
Queen Elizabeth II (Reign 1952 – Present)
Queen Elizabeth II is the current longest reigning monarch and has such had the most different sovereign designs struck during her reign; 13 in total. Between these sovereigns, there have been six portraits featured and a seventh portrait depicting the monarch enthroned; the first in over 300 years. The First Portrait sovereign was struck for ten years, with the 1957 having a unique edge milling making it a one-year type. This was designed by Mary Gillick.
The second portrait of Her Majesty was by Arnold Machin and this featured across two sovereign types, struck between 1974 and 1984. The third portrait by Raphael Maklouf was struck only as high quality strikigns for collectors known as ‘Proofs’, between 1985 – 1997. In 1989, the first commemorative sovereign in history was struck, celebrating the 500th anniversary of the very first (medieval) sovereign of King Henry VII. This was a one-year issue, and is the only time the word ‘sovereign’ has appeared on a British coin.
The fourth portrait by Ian Rank-Broadley was struck each year from 1998 to early 2015 in Proof quality with many years also minted in the lower BU quality. In 2002 a commemorative sovereign was struck for the Golden Jubilee featuring a shield design, the first of this design since Queen Victoria’s reign. In 2005, the St George and dragon design was adapted and reimagined by Timothy Noad. This was the first time in 190 years that the image of St George had been altered.
A further commemorative sovereign was struck in 2012 for the Diamond Jubilee, featuring yet another adaptation of St George slaying the dragon. The fifth portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by Jody Clark was introduced mid-2015, and has been struck in Proof and BU to present day. In 2016, a commemorative sovereign for the 90th Birthday of Her Majesty was struck for one-year only, featuring a portrait by James Butler.
In 2017 a commemorative sovereign was struck for the 200th anniversary of the modern British sovereign (1817 – 2017), featuring the original King George III era St George and the dragon design. It also features the year date on the portrait side, which has not happened since the reign of Queen Victoria. Queen Elizabeth II always faces to the right.
You can view our British sovereign ranges, by monarch, here. If you require any more information, do not hesitate to get in touch with one of our coin specialists on 0333 234 3103.