Celebrating 200 years of the Pistrucci Sovereign
31 Oct 2016
The Royal Mint has launched The Sovereign 2017 collection to mark the 200th anniversary of the world famous coin which was reborn in 1817. Following on from the sell-out of the 2016 Sovereign, this year’s collection is expected to be particularly well received.
While The Sovereign’s full story is more than five centuries old, it was subject to a lengthy pause after production ceased early in the 17th Century, during the reign of James I. But then, 200 years ago, as part of a great reform of UK coinage undertaken after the Napoleonic Wars the Sovereign was born again, setting new gold standards for accuracy and beauty that defined a currency.
It went on to become known as ‘the chief coin of the world’ during the 19th century and, while its role has changed over the years that followed, it maintains a global reputation for accuracy, integrity and beautiful design, traded widely on the global bullion markets and coveted by collectors.
A large part of The Sovereign’s charm and reputation is built on its iconic design; Benedetto Pistrucci’s neo-classical interpretation of St George and the Dragon. First introduced in 1817, it has remained a constant throughout the Sovereign’s evolving story, appearing on the majority of annual issues since its debut and more recently only replaced on very rare occasion. For this 200th anniversary in 2017, we return to Pistrucci’s original ‘garter’ design, struck with tools that were carefully re-mastered from the 1817 originals.
Commenting on the impressive lifespan and character of the coin, Dr Kevin Clancy, Director of The Royal Mint Museum, said: “The Sovereign has endured for centuries, and the fact that it is anchored almost as much in the heart as in the purse has defined its character and made it immeasurably more than money.”
The story behind the Pistrucci Sovereign
In the early eighteenth century the effects of the Napoleonic Wars and a shortage of silver meant that the United Kingdom’s circulating coinage was in poor condition. The re-coinage and exchange of 1816-17 would transform the nation’s coins, and it meant greater scrutiny and efficiency than ever before. The Royal Mint had moved to a new location in Tower Hill, equipped to meet the new demands with modern steam-powered machinery.
Alongside this activity, legislation would formalise the Gold Standard, setting out the coins to be produced, and the standard to which they would be struck. One key change was to reinstate the 20-shilling piece but this time the coin of 20 shillings would be known as the pound, or Sovereign. Circulated alongside the 21-shilling gold guinea for a time, it was essential that The Sovereign was distinctive enough from the existing gold coin.
The reverse design chosen was the instantly recognisable St George and the dragon created by Benedetto Pistrucci, now acknowledged across the world as a masterpiece. While The Sovereign has deviated from the iconic St George at times, it always returns to this 200-year-old design.
Benedetto Pistrucci and his iconic design
Benedetto Pistrucci came to London in 1815 under the patronage of the Prince Regent. He was relatively unknown in Britain but his reputation attracted interest and he quickly found sponsors and supporters of his work. Soon after his arrival, his engraver’s talent was recognised, as he was given the prestigious task of creating the designs for the new gold and silver coins of George III.
Pistrucci’s St George and the dragon design has become synonymous with The Sovereign. He created an interpretation that defied the medieval image of St George, instead opting for a Greek interpretation, bare and muscular, not weighed down with the usual chain mail and armour.
The original inscription created for The Sovereign when it was revived in 1817 has been revisited for this celebratory, anniversary edition of The Sovereign for 2017. The Latin, ‘HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE’ meaning ‘Evil unto him that thinks evil of it’ is a phrase that has featured on the coat of the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom for centuries.
The obverse design—Jody Clark
Since joining The Royal Mint, coin designer Jody Clark has worked on many notable projects. He created the fifth definitive coinage portrait of Her Majesty The Queen that was introduced in 2015. He also created designs for the medals struck to celebrate the 2014 Ryder Cup and the NATO Summit, and his contemporary interpretation of Britannia featured on the 2014 edition of the Britannia coin.
Jody said: “I liked all four of the previous portraits, each one strong in its own way. I hope that I’ve done The Queen justice and captured her as I intended, in a fitting representation. The news that my design had been chosen was quite overwhelming and I still can’t quite believe that my portrait will feature on millions of coins. They’ll be everywhere and are likely to be around forever.”
The 2017 Sovereign collection
Every coin in The Sovereign 2017 collection is struck in 22 carat gold. The accompanying Certificate of Authenticity confirms that each coin has been struck by The Royal Mint, 200 years on from when those Sovereigns bearing Pistrucci’s masterpiece were first issued. The booklet created for the range reveals the story of The Sovereign’s revival, its links with the Gold Standard and includes excerpts from Dr Kevin Clancy’s book A History of The Sovereign Chief Coin of the World, a Royal Mint Museum Publication.