Australian Gold Sovereigns Mint Guide.

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Perth Mint. On the West Coast of Australia, the Perth Mint was set up. This is the only one of the original mints still in operation. The Perth mint used the letter p in production. The discovery of gold was first officially recorded in Western Australia in 1884, and in the fiercely independent style typical of many West Australians over the years, WA’s first Governor soon pushed for the establishment of a Mint in Perth.
Sydney Mint the Sydney Mint is now a museum but used the letter S as a mint mark. The discovery of gold at Bathurst saw the Sydney Mint open on May 14th, 1855. As the first official Mint established on Australian soil, the Sydney Mint holds a place of prime importance in Australian numismatics.
Melbourne Mint All about the Melbourne Mint and the Ballarat Goldfields. Although a Mint did not operate in Victoria until 1872, the Legislative Council of Victoria vigorously lobbied with Sydney & Adelaide for the right to operate one as early as the 1850s. As time passed, the increasing amounts of gold being dug out of the rich goldfields of Western Victoria somewhat forced the issue, and the Melbourne Mint opened on June 12th, 1872.

The First Gold Australian Coin to appear was the Adelaide Pound which was minted directly from nuggets and gold dust from Bendigo and Barrarat. (An Adelaide Iingot was actually prior but was not in fact a coin) These are exceptionally rare coins and only a few exist.

Australia 1852 Adelaide Pound,
National Numismatic Collection, National Museum of American History

The main reason for minting Gold Sovereigns in Australia was economic – it was more cost effective to make sovereigns at the Royal Mint Branch near the source of the gold than to ship gold to England and then mint coins and ship them back again to Australia.

Coins were minted in:

Unusually, no denomination was printed or engraved on the coins. The Sovereign had a value of £1 sterling (the equivalent at the time of the value of the gold in the coin). Each coin weighed 0.2354 troy oz just under ¼ of an ounce.

This made it really popular in commerce in all countries where the British traded.

However, in the 1920s, the price of gold rose to well over 20 shillings and people began hoarding or melting down sovereigns for their gold content. The mint stopped producing gold Sovereigns in 1931 and by 1933 production of sovereigns worldwide ceased.

They are still used as instantly recognizable portable funds and many armed forces carry then as a means of escaping in foreign territory. This was commonplace during World War II.

Australian Sovereigns are some of the rarest Sovereigns obtainable.

The earliest Sovereign was the Young Head Victoria – the reverse design of which was taken directly from the English Shilling (a common currency at that time in Australia) and with a slightly different Young Head of Queen Victoria.

This is known as the Type 1 Australian Sovereign. This was minted at the Sydney Mint in 1855 and 1856 and had a mintmark S below the wreath on the reverse. It had a silver content of 8.33 %.

The type 2 Sovereign had definitely a more Australian feel about it. It had an Acacia Wreath on the reverse and was used all over the world including in India, S. America, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) Canada and London.

Some type 2 Sovereigns have an unusual golden look to them as the silver content was replaced with copper. Many of the type 2 Sovereigns had a shield reverse instead of the George & Dragon that was used in England as this was more hard wearing. These were often exported to Ceylon and India.

Most Young head designs were minted with the George & Dragon reverse however and these are more commonly found.

The Shield Reverse Young Head Sovereigns were minted concurrently with the St George Reverse Sovereigns by both the Sydney and Melbourne Mints.
Slaying a dragon was not acceptable in India so the sovereigns were minted with a shield on the reverse.
Mintage figure are difficult to ascertain as many sovereigns were re-struck  or melted down when they became worn
No Sovereigns were minted in 1876.

  • Australian Jubilee Sovereigns are fairly common and most dates are easy to find in circulated condition. In Uncirculated condition however many of these are quite rare.
  • Veiled Head Sovereigns were used until Queen Victorias death in 1901 Perth Mint marked 1899 are the rarest sovereigns in this design and are a good investment in the higher grades.
  • King Edward VII Sovereigns are easily obtained in Uncirculated condition and reasonably affordable.
  • King George Vth Sovereigns are readily obtainable even in Uncirculated condition but some mintmarks are difficult or even impossible to obtain (the 1920 Sydney Mint example is very rare)

Australian Sovereigns have in the past been a great investment – especially as a more complete collection. The usual qualities of a collectable coin should be observed – rare coins should only increase in value. Sovereigns only fetch really high or record prices in the very best condition available.

Grading coins is truly essential with any sovereigns other than bullion coins.

A collector’s market is only marginally influenced by current gold prices – many Gold Sovereigns are worth far more than gold price already!

Australian Gold Sovereign Reverses.

Australian Gold Sovereigns ST GEORGE Reverse.

The St George reverse design we see on Australia’s gold sovereigns was first introduced during the reign of King George III in 1817. A certain Sir Joseph Banks suggested that the St George & Dragon theme would do well to remind the world of Britain’s victory over Napoleon in the battle of Waterloo in 1815.

There are numerous stories explaining the myth of St George and the dragon, and even more as to how he came to be the patron saint of England. One that is more prevalent is that he was a Greek soldier who saved the citizens of an ancient village by slaying a beast that had been terrorizing them for some time – after slaying the dragon he devoted his life to serving God. The English adopted him as patron saint during medieval times, sometime during the crusades.

The designer & engraver brought to the Royal Mint “to make models for the dyes for the new coinage” was an Italian engraver by the name of Benedetto Pistrucci, “an artist of the greatest celebrity”. His depiction of St George as a naked Greek warrior is widely recognized as one of the most enduring numismatic symbols of all time. A brief description of the design follows:

“The saintly knight is mounted on horseback, his left hand holding the bridle reign. He wears a crested helmet with a plume of hair floating behind. A chlamys flows freely behind him, and is fastened in front by a fibula. On his right shoulder is a battens for suspending the gladius. His feet and lower legs are protected by armor, except for the toes, which are unprotected. The horse appears to half advance; half shrink from the dragon at its feet. St George has broken his lance in wounding the winged monster, and a portion of the lance remains in the animal’s body.”

To the untrained eye, it may seem that this design remained unchanged in its use on Australian sovereigns between 1871 and 1931, however a number of minor details were altered over the years. It is difficult for anyone who has not carefully studied the wide range of years in existence to distinguish them, and when the majority of collectors examine a sovereign with the St George reverse, there are a certain number of points which are examined closely for strike & wear. From top to bottom, they are:

1. The crest of St George’s helmet;
2. St George’s chest, together with the strap & pin fastening his cloak;
3. The bridle as it crosses the horse’s neck;
4. The muscle separation in St George’s upper thigh;
5. The horse’s forequarters & rump;
6. The “bloodline” in the sword;
7. The upper band across St George’s boot;
8. The dragon’s torso below it’s neck.

The above points should not be regarded as a definitive list upon which to grade the quality of a St George reverse sovereign, however it does provide a useful starting point. A minor loss of detail on any of these points should not lead the novice collector to assume that the coin is worn, even to a minor degree. Collectors should keep in mind that each of the Australian mints often produced hundreds of thousands of sovereigns a week, and that there can be not insignificant differences in the depth to which this design was struck onto the metal blanks. Differences are evident from mint to mint, from year to year, and even in some instances from the start to the finish in a coin’s production run, or in the life of a pair of dies.

It should be said that it is very difficult for the novice collector to accurately determine whether a loss of detail on any of these points is due to wear, damage or merely strike. However a collector knowing where to examine a sovereign first at least has a starting point from which to discuss a sovereign’s grade.

Australian Gold Sovereigns Shield Reverse.

The shield reverse is the second of the two reverse designs found on Australian gold sovereigns between 1871 and 1887, and is something of an enigma to Australian collectors. Not many are clear on why two designs were used during this period, and none are certain of the exact numbers issued. The design can best be described by the Master of the Royal Mint, when writing to Queen Victoria regarding its proposal in 1837: “…. the Ensigns Armorial of the United Kingdom …. Contained in a plain shield, surmounted by the Royal Crown and encircled with a Laurel Wreath, with the inscription BRITANNIARUM REGINA FID DEF, having the united Rose, Thistle and Shamrock placed under the shield.”

This shield design was also used on London Mint sovereigns between 1838 and 1874, and the design described above was adapted slightly from that first seen on the new coinage of King George IV in 1825. Interestingly, the vast majority of, if not all shield sovereigns struck were exported to India. Evidently, there were some objections there to the St George reverse design on religious grounds. St George being the patron saint of England, in their opinion his image on coinage nigh constituted idol worship – taboo in a number of Eastern religions. To ease the situation, pragmatically “the Master of the Sydney Mint had instructions from the Royal Mint to use the St. George type reverse, and to only strike sovereigns with the shield reverse to special order, mostly for export to India.” Another less sensational explanation for the use of this reverse type in India is that “the people there had become accustomed to that pattern.”

Although India has been a voracious consumer of gold over the years, its demand was not such that the entire output of Australian sovereigns would have been sent there. Indeed, in the only two dates in which the shield mintage is known exactly – 1882 & 1883 Melbourne – shields comprise between a mere 15% & 20% of the total amount struck. Although the exact number of shields & St George reverses struck each year would have fluctuated, it is a general rule that shields are the scarcer of the two types. Collectors having difficulty obtaining some of the Melbourne dates would certainly back that up. To finish either a date or complete set of shield sovereigns is a significant achievement indeed, and one that is seen perhaps only once every few years.

The nature of this design is such that shield sovereigns tend to be marginally concave on the reverse – because it is to a small extent protected by the rims, it can be difficult for the novice to accurately distinguish between different grades. For the same reason, shields are generally well struck. As with all coins however, some small differences will occur. From top to bottom, some of the more prominent points however are:

  • 1. The orb at the peak of the crown, the gems directly below this point, and the cross directly below the gems;
  • 2. The diamonds across the base of the crown, and also the fur directly at the base;
  • 3. The edge and separators of the shield;
  • 4. The upper edges of certain leaves comprising the surrounding wreath;
  • 5. The faces on the lions in the upper left and lower right quartiles of the shield;
  • 6. The bust and torso of the angel in the lower left quartile of the shield.

It should be said that it is very difficult for the novice collector to accurately determine whether a loss of detail on any of these points is due to wear, damage or merely strike. However, a collector knowing where to examine a sovereign first at least has a starting point from which to discuss a sovereign’s grade.

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