The sovereign is a gold coin of the United Kingdom, with a nominal value of one pound sterling. Prior to 1932 it was a fully circulating coin within Britain’s then Gold Standard currency. Today it is used as a bullion coin and is sometimes mounted in jewellery.
Named after the English gold sovereign, last minted in 1604, the name was revived with the Great Recoinage of 1816. Minting these new sovereigns began in 1817. The gold content was fixed by the coin act of 1816 at 1320/5607 (0.235420) troy ounces (7.322381 g), nearly equivalent to 113 grains. This weight has remained almost constant to the present day — rounding at 10-6 g took place on its legal redefinition in the decimalized rather than fractional system of coin weights.
Sovereigns have been minted in the United Kingdom from 1817 to 1917, in 1925, and from 1957 to the present. In the past Australia, Canada, and South Africa all occasionally minted the coins. Today, they are minted at the Royal Mint in Llantrisant, Wales, and under licence by MMTC-PAMP near Delhi, India.
See Australia Gold Sovereign page
The sovereign was unique among coins in that it had no denomination, or currency value printed on the coin. Its value was tied to the pound Sterling, which was tied to the gold standard of £3/17s/10 1/2d for a standard ounce of gold. They contain one pound’s (£1) worth of gold (20 shillings), or, 22 carat gold weighing 0.2354 troy oz, a fraction under 1/4 oz.
For this reason it rapidly became an accepted and preferred means of payment by the various merchants around the world, such as the Chinese silk traders, American tobacco sellers and Indian spice merchants.
When the price of gold rose in the 1920s, the gold in sovereigns was worth more than the coin’s face value. This value rose to 28 shillings in 1932. In 1931 general production of sovereigns ceased worldwide, and 1933 was the first time in more than a 100 years that no sovereigns were produced anywhere in the Empire.
Gold coins of Australia (1852 to 1931) were also struck from 22ct gold. The 1852 Adelaide Pound, Australia’s first gold coin, has an actual gold weight of 8.68 grams (Type 1) or 8.81 grams (Type 2). Australian Gold Sovereigns struck between 1855 and 1870 feature the”Sydney Mint” design. From 1871 through 1931 , Imperial Sovereigns minted in Australia are identical to those struck elsewhere, except for the distinctive Sydney (S), Melbourne (M) or Perth (P) Mintmark.
Australian Sovereigns are the rarest and most sought after Sovereigns in the world today, with institutions such as Rothschilds in London taking the time to piece together a complete collection.