What is a Sovereign Coin?

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What is a Sovereign Coin?

The sovereign coin is a coin, most commonly made out of coin, which has been produced in England and the United Kingdom at various times throughout history. Many different types of sovereign have been minted, including sovereigns and half sovereigns, and the coins can feature a variety of designs depending on the monarch they were minted under and the time and place in which they were produced.

Sovereign coins often have face value of a few pounds, but they are primarily used as bullion coins, as the value of the precious metal the coins contain far exceeds that of their face value. Sovereigns were produced for circulation throughout much of history, with later sovereigns being produced as bullion of proof coinage. A wide range of sovereigns are available on eBay.

Sovereign Coin Design

The sovereign coin has featured a number of different markings and design throughout the history of its production.

The English Sovereign

The first gold sovereigns were struck in 1489 under King Henry VII, and these early hammered coins are the earliest examples of the gold sovereign. These coins were large, weighing about half a 'troy ounce', and featuring a large portrait of the monarch. The coins were intended as competitors with the French bullion coins of the era. The reverse side of the coin showed the Royal Arms of England and the Tudor Double Rose. These coins were intended primarily as bullion, and while they had a nominal value of around one pound, their primary value was in the gold present. These coins are rare, due to their age and limited period of production.

The Victorian Sovereign

The sovereign did not re-emerge in Britain until the reign of Queen Victoria, and the Victorian Sovereign is one of the more popular, and easier to obtain, types of sovereign. A great number of these coins were produced for use in circulation, and featured a number of designs over the Queen's 64 year reign.

* The earliest sovereigns of this era featured a portrait of the Queen at a young age, with the reverse showing the Royal Arms one a shield. Beneath the shield were the rose, thistle, and shamrock, representing England, Scotland, and Ireland.

* 1871 saw the release of a new coin, which retained the image of the young queen, but on the reverse, featured a Saint George and the Dragon design, replacing the shield.

* 1887 saw the introduction of an updated portrait of the now much older Queen, to celebrate the golden jubilee. In 1893, this was replaced with the portrait of the Queen wearing a veil.

The Edwardian Sovereign

Though the reign of King Edward VII reigned for a comparatively short 9 years, over a hundred million Edwardian sovereigns and half sovereigns were minted in Britain and throughout the Empire. Only one type of Sovereign was minted during the Kings reign, and featured a right facing portrait of King Edward VII.

The Georgian Sovereign

The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 meant the end of gold currency in circulation in the UK, with banks instead issuing notes. The Royal Mint produced a number of Georgian gold sovereigns featuring a left facing portrait of King George V, to rebuild its stock of gold coinage, in 1925. Some colonial mints continued to produce gold sovereigns until around 1932.

Elizabethan Sovereigns

It was not until the 1950's, after the two World Wars and the Great Depression, the gold sovereigns would again be produced. Elizabethan sovereigns continue to be produced, and do not enter circulation as currency, their use being as bullion coins for investment. Sovereigns produced between 1956 to 1968 feature a portrait of a young Queen Elizabeth II, created by the first female sculptor to sculpt a monarch, with a similar design being used throughout production of the modern sovereign.

Half Sovereign Coins

Half sovereigns were minted alongside sovereigns throughout much of their production. These coins were around half the size of the sovereigns, and bear similar designs to sovereigns of the same era. The half sovereign had a face value of around ten shillings, half of the one pound worth of the sovereign, and was designed to bridge the gap between the sovereign and the silver crown coin, worth a quarter of a pound.

Like sovereign coins, half sovereigns are used as bullion since in the end of the gold standard, and contain gold worth much more than their face value. Far fewer half sovereigns were minted than sovereign coins, and these smaller coins can be much harder to obtain than full sized sovereigns.

Colonial Sovereigns

Many sovereigns were minted during the time of the British Empire, and mints were eventually established within gold rich colonies. These sovereigns can appear identical to the sovereigns produced within the UK, and have the same specifications and gold content. Colonial sovereigns are identifiable by a letter positioned on the reverse side of the coin.

* Coins marked with an 'S' were minted in Sydney, Australia.

* Coins marked with a 'P' were minted in Perth, Australia.

* Coins marked with an 'M' were produced in Melbourne, Australia.

* Coins marked with an 'I' are from Bombay (modern day Mumbai), India.

* Coins marked with a 'C' were minted in Ottowa, Canada.

* Coins marked with an 'SA' were minted in South Africa.

Gold Fineness

* The fineness of the gold in bullion coins is a key characteristic. While other types of bullion, such as bars and ingots, take a great deal of their value for their gold fineness and weight, coins such as sovereigns often have additional value due to rarity, and the value placed on them by collectors.

* The fineness of gold is measured in carats. The very earliest English gold sovereigns were around 23 carats, meaning out of 24 parts, 23 were gold. Most sovereigns since then have been made of around 22 carat gold. For reference, 9 to 10 carat gold is often used for more inexpensive jewellery, while 24 carat gold refers to gold that is as pure as possible.

Sovereign Specifications

Every gold sovereign produced since 1817 had to conform with the coin act of 1816. This lays out key specifications the coins must meet, such as thickness, weight, and gold content.

* Gold sovereigns have to be 7.988052g in weight, though this may deviate depending on any wear on the coin.

* Sovereigns must be of 22.05mm in diameter and 1.52mm in thickness.

* These sovereigns were required to be of 22 carat gold.

Bullion Grades

Gold sovereigns, coins and other types of bullion are often divided into grades, based upon how much wear the items show. This can be of particular relevance to coins, which can derive a significant amount of value from their markings. Higher grade sovereigns will have more intact and discernible markings, which can make identifying them easier. More recently minted coins are often of a higher grade, while older sovereigns are likely to have sustained a greater deal of wear.

* Almost good bullion is the lowest grade of bullion, and these items will show a considerable amount of wear. The markings may be all but indiscernible, making it difficult to ascertain details about the item. The very oldest sovereigns may be at this grade.

* Good bullion still has some remnants of legible markings present on the item, but still shows a considerable amount of wear. Coins can be considered as good grade, even if the rims, the raised areas around the edge of the coin, are no longer present.

* Very good grade bullion can be similar to good grade bullion, but must have largely intact markings. In order to be counted in this category, the rims of a coin must still be present.

* Fine and very fine bullion are in good condition, with very major blemishes and intact, legible markings. Many sovereigns fall into this category, particular more recent coins, and older well maintained sovereigns.

* Uncirculated bullion will be almost perfect, showing few if any signs of wear. Many of the newer coins minted exclusively for use as bullion are of this grade, and it can be easy to discern the origin of the coin from its markings. Choice and perfect uncirculated bullion are even higher grades, and newly produced sovereigns may be in this grade.

How to Buy a Sovereign Coin on eBay

* A wide variety of different types of bullion, including bars, ingots and sovereign coins can be found on eBay. Sovereign coins can be found in the Collectables & Antiques section, in the British section of the Coins category. Items can be categorised by price, condition, and distance to seller, as well as by the monarch the sovereign was minted under. The Auction and Buy it Now buying options are also available, offering flexibility in how a sovereign coin may be purchased.

* Key information about a sovereign, such as the type of coin, is often prominently displayed in the item listing, making it easy to quickly see if it meets any requirements. Further information about an item is available on the item page, including information about the seller such as item ratings and feedback reviews. This helps to ensure a purchase can be made in confidence. It is also possible to ask the seller a question here.

* If a particular sovereign coin is required, it may be easier and more effective to use the search function available at the top of every page. Searches can be made within specific categories, or to cover the entire site. Further information on effective use of the search function can be found on the Search Tips page.


Gold sovereigns have long been a popular choice among those looking to invest in bullion, as well as collectors of rare and valuable coins. A wide variety of sovereign coins from different eras and regions are available on eBay.

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