1 - HM Queen Elizabeth II Sovereign 1953-2009
(Originally written in 2008 this article is currently being revised)
To date there have been 3 different portrait designs for currency coins of the series which confuses a few new collectors as the current sovereign bares the fifth head design of Ian Rank-Broadley. The initials IRB are to be found on all UK coinage from 1998-2009. The very first sovereigns struck of Queen Elizabeth’s reign were dated 1953 and only a very few were struck in proof form, no currency type coins exist and the proof itself is only held in national collections so it is not one which is expected to come to the market place. I mention this very special coin as its portrait design by Mary Gillick remained exactly the same for the first year of the currency type issue in 1957 but due to changes in the Commonwealth the words BRITT.OMN had been removed from the obverse. So by the time the public got their first look at the sovereign we were already on the 2nd bust.
Mary Gillick’s second portrait design also known as the pre-decimal head sovereign was produced from 1957-1959 and 1962-1968, 1960-61 do not exist. The 1957 has a finer edge milling often referred to as graining and to simplify means that it has more milling then 1958 onwards. Like all QEII currency sovereigns none are rare, although we quite often find they live in batches and we struggle to find a date then they all turn-up together. The 1959 is probably the scarcest of all pre-decimal sovereigns with its mintage a relatively small 1,385,228 and not being helped by its 50th anniversary this year making it a nice present for many, so don’t be surprised if dealers are looking for a few pounds more for these. However one of the most difficult things to achieve is a coin totally free of bag marks as these are considered common most have been bagged up in bank vaults being moved by fork lift trucks etc, so it’s worth have a good look for the best you can find.
In 1966 the UK made a decision to adopt decimal coinage from 1971 and it was clear that the UK’s new coinage demands could not be met at the historic Tower Mint in London. The decision was made to build a new mint in Llantrisant South Wales and to cease production of UK coins in London. The new mint was officially opened by Her Majesty on 17th December 1968 but the Tower mint remained in operation until 1975. This brings us on nicely to the third portrait type or Decimal head by Arnold Machin as it is affectionately known which restarted sovereign production after a 6 year gap in 1974. There are no sovereigns dated 1975 and the clue here is that on November 10th 1975 the Tower mint struck its very last coin that being a sovereign dated 1974. Third head sovereigns were struck at the Llantrisant mint for the following year of 1976 then 78-82, there are no sovereigns dated 1977 it’s a fair bet that as 1974 they continued to use dies of the previous year. The 1982 being slightly more illusive but not scarce and you should not be asked to part with too much extra cash to purchase it. Unlike the pre-decimal sovereign it is not difficult to find these in top BUNC condition free of bag marks.
No more currency sovereigns were produced until the year 2000 although proof sovereigns were struck for every year between 1982-1999 for the collectors market with mintages of 10,000 or less, many have become highly sought after. We will return to the area of proof sovereigns in later issues but they are worth a mention here as their growing popularity in the late 1990’s along with the introduction of the internet to the populous really forced the mint’s hand into reintroducing the currency type from 2000. It should also be mentioned that the proof series contained the 4th head type a portrait designed by Raphael David Maklouf that never appeared on the currency type coin as it ran from 1985-1997.
The reintroduction of the currency type sovereign in 2000 proved popular and the series which shows the fifth portrait has continued every year since and looks set to continue for the foreseeable future. The first thing to note about the post millennia coins is that mintages are not at levels previously seen with 250,000 for 2000 being considered high and just 100,000 for 2001 being closer to the modern norm. You should be able to find all of the dates without too much trouble in BUNC condition. Be aware that both the 2002 Shield and 2005 contemporary designed reverse coins are becoming harder to find and do not sit on dealers shelves as they did a year of so back. So you would be advised to have these on your shopping list as the value and availability is only going one way. The 2007 sovereign caused some controversially within the industry and with some collectors as the dies were for the first time prepared by computer aided machine which resulted in a coin with very low relief. In fact it is so noticeable that customers were asking to exchange their examples for ones which were better struck, which we had to explain was not possible as every single one was the same. Although requests were made to the Royal mint to consider restriking the 2007 sovereign it was not, however 2008 saw a big improvement and 2009 is better still.