Gold Sovereigns are one of the longest running series of gold coins in the world. They are .2354 ounces of gold and are about the size of a U.S. nickel. The British have been minting them since 1489 when they issued a sovereign with a portrait of Henry VII. They were replaced by unites and guineas from 1604 to 1816 but returned in 1817 with a portrait of George III. He was the king of England when the United States won its independence. From George III until the present is considered the age of the modern sovereign. Since earlier sovereigns can be prohibitively expensive, modern sovereigns are the most widely collected.
- Collect by monarch. Gold sovereigns always feature a portrait of the reigning king or queen. The most basic way to collect gold sovereigns are by monarch. In the age of the modern sovereign the portraits are of George III, George IV, William IV, Victoria, Edward VII, George V, George VI and Elizabeth II. Collecting one of each king and queen is easy to do and within the resources of most collectors. Edward VIII was king for less than one year before he abdicated the throne. No sovereigns were made with his portrait. In 1989 a special sovereign was made to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the coin. It has the image of Queen Elizabeth II sitting on her throne instead of a portrait.
- Collect by reverse design. Most gold sovereigns have the reverse design of St George slaying the dragon. On several occasions through the years a shield reverse was used. There were different shields for George IV, William IV and Victoria. Elizabeth II has had a shield reverse in only two years. They were in 1989 for the 500th anniversary of the sovereign and in 2002. A different design of St George slaying the dragon was used on the 2005 sovereign. Collecting gold sovereigns by reverse design is simple and won’t cost much.
- Collect by portrait variations. Many of the kings and queens had several different portraits on gold sovereigns during their reigns. These variations are the next logical way to expand a gold sovereign collection. George VI had one portrait with a laureate on his head and one without. Victoria had four portraits: young head with date, young head without date, jubilee head, and old head. George V had a large head portrait and a small head portrait. Elizabeth II has five portraits: first portrait, decimal portrait (second), third portrait, sovereign portrait (1989 only), and fourth portrait.
- Collect by mint mark. In the past, some sovereigns were made at mints in British Commonwealth countries. A mint mark is a tiny letter indicating where the coin was made. On most sovereigns the mint mark is above the date. On some the mint mark is beneath the portrait or on the reverse. An “S” stands for Sydney, an “M” for Melbourne, a “P” for Perth, a “C” for Canada (Ottawa), an “I” for India (Bombay) and an “SA” for South Africa (Pretoria). It is relatively easy to collect one of each mint mark. If there is no mint mark then the sovereign was made in London. Since 1932 all sovereigns have been made in London.
- Collect by date. This is a very ambitious way to collect. Modern sovereigns were made most years since 1817. The only significant multi-year gaps occurred during the reigns of George V, George VI and Elizabeth II. Unfortunately, these are the least expensive sovereigns. The older and more expensive sovereigns were made just about every year. It will be very expensive to collect every year. Since some years are very rare, they may be impossible to buy at any price. The ultimate sovereign collection would include every year and every mint mark. Few collectors have ever achieved this.