The name "sovereign" comes from the majestic and impressive size and portraiture of the coin, the earliest of which showed the king facing, seated on a throne, while the reverse shows the Royal coat of arms on a shield surrounded by a Tudor double rose.
Original sovereigns were 23 carat (96%) gold and weighed 240 grains or one-half of a troy ounce (15.6 grams). Henry VIII reduced the purity to 22 carats (92%). The weight of the sovereign was repeatedly lowered until when it was revived after the Great Recoinage law of 1816, the gold content was fixed at the present 113 grains (7.322 g), equivalent to 0.2354 Troy ounces. Sovereigns were discontinued after 1604, being replaced by Unites, and later by Laurels, and then guineas.
Production of sovereigns restarted in 1817, their reverse design being a portrayal of Saint George killing a dragon, engraved by Benedetto Pistrucci. This same design is still in use on British gold sovereigns, although other reverse designs have also been used during the reigns of William IV, Victoria, George IV, and Elizabeth II. It is estimated that in circulation, a sovereign could have a lifespan of up to 15 years before it fell below the "least current weight", that is, the minimum amount of gold below which it ceased to be legal tender.
Sovereigns were produced in large quantities until World War I, at which time the UK came off the gold standard. From then until 1932, sovereigns were produced only at branch mints at Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Bombay, Ottawa, and Pretoria (except for some in 1925 produced in London). The last regular issue was in 1932 (at Pretoria). Production resumed in 1957.
Sovereigns were produced most years as bullion until 1982. From there to 1999, proof coinage only versions were produced, but since 2000, bullion sovereigns have been minted. Modern sovereigns are minted at the Royal Mint in Pontyclun, Mid-Glamorgan, Wales.
MODERN SOVERIGNS (1817-2008)
Specifications For all modern gold sovereigns, i.e. from 1817
Diameter: 22.05 mm.
Thickness (Depth) 1.0 to 1.4 mms.
Weight: 7.9881 grams.
Alloy: 22 carat gold = 0.917 parts per 1000.
Actual gold content = 7.3224 grams or 0.235421 troy ounces.
Date first issued in current format: 1817
First date ever issued: 1489
Edge : Reeded