The Sovereign in the First World War

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The Sovereign in the First World War

Before the First World War, The Sovereign was a firmly established part of circulating currency in Britain. In fact, The Sovereign in its modern form, a 22-carat gold coin worth £1 (20 shillings), had been in use since 1817.

But almost 100 years later, by the outbreak of the First World War, gold played a less significant role in domestic circulation. The Sovereign had already survived several attempts at its withdrawal, but even the ‘chief coin of the world’ could not survive the effects of this war.

Within days of the outbreak of the First World War on 4 August 1914, the Government, in need of funds for military action, urged the public to hand in its gold Sovereigns. The precious metal would be used to pay off international debt, support the Bank of England’s reserves and fund Britain’s war effort. The need was great and only a day after the outbreak of war, the then-Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George, underlined the importance and urgency of the nation’s need for gold in a speech to the House of Commons:

‘Anyone who, from selfish motives of greed or from excessive caution or cowardice, goes out of his way to attempt to withdraw sums of gold and appropriate them to his own use – let it be clearly understood that he is assisting the enemies of his native land, and he is assisting them more effectively probably than if he were to take up arms’.

David Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer (1908 - 1915)

The Government issued two Treasury Notes on 7 August 1914, one to the value of £1, the other to the value of 10s, both of which would be used in place of gold Sovereigns.

Posters were issued claiming ‘The British Sovereign will win’ and called for the public to hand in gold Sovereigns at their nearest post office, in return for these new Treasury Notes or for War Loans.

 the british sovereign will win

The plea was answered, and it wasn’t long before these new notes replaced the gold coinage. By the summer of 1915, gold had all but disappeared from circulation. The impact of the campaign would not only bring to an end the domestic circulation of The Sovereign, but it also brought to an end the use of gold in circulation in Britain. Many more gold Sovereigns were made throughout the war, but these mostly became part of the gold reserve held by the Bank of England. By 1918, production of the gold Sovereign in the United Kingdom had ceased entirely and branch mints across the commonwealth lowered their production substantially, with only the Ottawa mint increasing its production.

The Sovereign First World War mintage figures

  Bombay Mint London Mint Melbourne Mint Ottawa Mint Perth Mint Sydney Mint
1913  0 24,539,672 2,323,180 3,717 0 2,249,000
1914 0 11,501,117 2,012,029 14,900 4,815,996 1,774,000
1915 0 20,295,280 1,637,839 0 4,373,596 1,346,000
1916 0 1,554,120 1,272,634 6,119 4,096,721 1,242,000
1917 0 1,014,714 934,469 58,875 4,110,286 1,666,000
1918 1,294,372 0 4,809,493 106,570 3,812,884 3,716,000
1919
0 0 514,257 135,957 2,995,216 1,835,000

At the outbreak of war, it’s estimated that there was £100,000,000 of gold coinage in circulation. By the end of the First World War in 1918, gold Sovereigns had all but been withdrawn and the active circulation of gold in Britain ceased. Following the war, The Sovereign never regained its place in domestic circulation and, with the exception of a few rare occasions, it wasn’t until 1957 that The Royal Mint began producing gold Sovereigns again in the United Kingdom, this time as a bullion coin.

1914 sovereign

The 1914 Sovereign marks the end of the golden age of The Sovereign. For historians, military enthusiasts and anyone with personal links to the events of 1914-1918, this beautiful coin is a fitting tribute to the brave men and women who served on the front line, as we remember the sacrifices they made and give thanks for the peace we enjoy today. 100 years later, the 2014 Proof Sovereign marks the centenary of that change, as The Sovereign enjoys a new modern role as the collector’s delight, or a gift of great distinction.

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