When King George VI died in February 1952, Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II, Head of the Commonwealth and queen regnant of seven independent Commonwealth countries: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon. She has reigned through major constitutional changes, such as devolution in the United Kingdom, Canadian patriation, and the decolonisation of Africa. Between 1956 and 1992, the number of her realms varied as territories gained independence and realms, including South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon (renamed Sri Lanka), became republics. Her many historic visits and meetings include a state visit to the Republic of Ireland and visits to or from five popes. Significant events have included her coronation in 1953 and the celebrations of her Silver, Golden, and Diamond Jubilees in 1977, 2002, and 2012 respectively. In 2017, she became the first British monarch to reach a Sapphire Jubilee. She is the longest-lived and longest-reigning British monarch as well as the world's longest-reigning queen regnant and female head of state, the oldest and longest-reigning current monarch and the oldest and longest-serving current head of state.
Sovereign gold coins – an investment that embodies more than 500 years of British history
When England’s King Henry VII authorised the mintage of the sovereign gold coin in 1489, little did he know that more than five centuries later the gold sovereign would still be minted by Britain’s Royal Mint. This makes the British gold sovereign the oldest continuously produced gold coin in the world. The sovereign represents over half a millennium of history, and in this entire period it has kept an almost unified consistency of purity and quality, which has earned it the reputation of being extremely trustworthy. The gold sovereign is today cherished by collectors because of its historical significance; it is desired as a gift by those who recognise its elegance and value; and it is sought after by those who want their wealth to be secure, liquid and portable.
The sovereign – a famous gold coin of the English royalty
The history of the sovereign began in the Middle Age, when precious metal coinage played an important role in spreading the fame of the ruling English sovereign. To show off his greatness, King Henry VII had the original gold sovereigns struck in almost 24 karat gold weighing half a troy ounce, depicting the King, enthroned majestically on the obverse side of the coin. Although too pure and valuable to be used in daily commerce, they were instead handed out as gifts to visiting high-ranking officials. As time passed, the technical specifications of the gold sovereign coin changed, creating a more durable alloy which standardised the gold content to 91.6%, or 22 karats. These changes helped to fuel its wider acceptance as a circulating coin, and due to its reach in promoting the sovereign of the realm, hence the name “sovereign”, it became the de facto coinage of English royalty. Kings and queens that ruled after King Henry VII continued in his footsteps by portraying their effigy on the obverse side of the sovereign gold coin, a tradition that is still practised, and which can be observed on the modern sovereign gold coin which portrays the effigy of the current “sovereign”, Queen Elizabeth II.
The gold sovereign – 22 karats of trust and accuracy
The sovereign gold coin gained its popularity not only because it portrayed a powerful ruler, although this probably helped, but it was rather the peerless uniformity of the gold coin that set the stage for its wider use in international trade. Every sovereign gold coin that was minted from 1817 onwards contained one pound's (£1) worth of gold, or 22 karat gold weighing 7.322 grams. The coin itself weighed exactly 7.98805 grams and was considered legal tender by English law so long as it did not weigh less than 7.9379 grams. The Royal Mint, which was the chief comptroller of the coinage, went so far in keeping the accuracy of the gold sovereign that it even made announcements to the public that they could have their underweight coins exchanged for newly minted ones. Another unique future of the gold sovereign was that it had no nominal face value, or denomination, since its value was exclusively tied to its fine gold content which at that time was valued at exactly £1.
The sovereign gold coin – buy, sell, and trade
This consistency of weight, purity, and value made the gold sovereign coin rapidly become one of the preferred gold coins in global trade and international settlements. Used by Chinese tea traders, Indian textile merchants, and American cotton sellers, gold sovereigns not only fulfilled the role of a stable currency, but acted as a promoter of British influence in the world. The sovereign gold coins became the currency of the British Empire, with minting outposts scattered around the globe in places like Perth in Australia, Bombay in India, and Pretoria in South Africa, just to name a few, ensuring that the supply of gold coins was always on hand for trade. By the early 1900s, more than 600 million sovereign gold coins had been minted and distributed throughout the world, reaching almost every corner of the earth. The sovereign had established itself as one of the foremost official monetary coins to influence world trade.
The gold sovereign – legal tender recognised throughout the British Empire
Britain’s victory over Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo in 1815 would leave her without any serious competitor, making her the undisputed leading power at that time. Unchallenged at sea, she quickly established trading outposts, colonies, dominions and possessions, and in the process adopted the role of global policeman to guard all her precious possessions. The sovereign gold coins played a key part in the advancement of Britain’s imperialism, as they helped to facilitate trade among its large number of protectorates. At the peak of Britain’s power in the early 1920s, the empire encompassed almost a quarter of the earth’s land area and contained almost a half a billion people. The British Empire was the largest empire ever to exist, earning it the phrase “the empire on which the sun never set”.
Sovereign gold coins – value rises
However, the unfortunate advent of the First World War made the United Kingdom abandon the gold standard and consequently its production of gold sovereigns. To fund the war, the British government even appealed to its citizens to give up their gold coins in exchange for war bonds, which resulted in a vast amount, by some estimates £100 million worth of gold sovereigns (€23 billion in today’s money), being handed over to the government. Although gold sovereigns helped Britain to win the war, their demonetisation would usher in the era of the paper pound, which would in the next century regrettably lose a great amount of its purchasing power. Just consider that a gold sovereign was worth £1 on the eve of WW1, while the same coin today is sold for around £200. Although some gold sovereigns were minted again in 1925, they ceased to be used in daily commerce, and their continuous production only resumed after 1957.
The Royal Mint
The Royal Mint is one of the oldest and most respected government institutions of Great Britain. Its long operating history, by some estimates over 1100 years, and coupled with its production of many of the world’s most famous coins, like the gold sovereign, has contributed to making it one of the best known and renowned mints in the world. Since 1279 when the mint established its operation in the Tower of London, it has been responsible for the production of coins of the United Kingdom. Its reputation for excellence and trust was further reinforced when Sir Isaac Newton became Master of the Royal Mint. During his tenure at the Royal Mint, he was responsible for moving the British pound to the gold standard.
Today the Royal Mint is not only responsible for minting coins used for circulation in the UK, but is likewise producing official coinage for more than 60 countries in the world. However, the most important and renowned coin ever to come out of its minting presses has without doubt been the sovereign gold coin which even today is being produced at its minting facility in the town of Llantrisant, Wales, UK. The accuracy and quality of the modern gold sovereign coin is the same as it was two hundred years ago, containing 22 karats of fine gold and weighing exactly 7.98805 grams. The popularity of the gold sovereign has likewise not changed, as confirmed in 2014 when the Royal Mint ran out of 2014 sovereign gold coins due to exceptional demand. The gold sovereign is without doubt one of the foremost gold coins ever to be produced and the fact that almost 100,000,000 sovereigns gold coins have been minted since 1957 is a testament to their excellence and trustworthiness. The reputation of the gold sovereign coin as “the chief coin of the world” will live on for centuries, as savvy investors will always prefer to keep a portion of their wealth in gold coins which are secure, liquid and trustworthy.