Looking back in time to wartime Britain - The Royal Mint’s Centenary Sovereign Set

03 Aug 2015

The Royal Mint has paired The 1915 Sovereign with The Sovereign 2015, struck a century apart, and presented them in a limited edition First World War Centenary Sovereign Set to mark the role of the classic coin in wartime Britain. Only 150 of these two-coin sets will be available.

The Sovereign’s reputation is founded on nearly 500 years of history. It was first struck during the reign of Henry VII as a statement of the monarch’s power, cementing the position of the new king and his Tudor dynasty. The Sovereign went on to become known as the ‘chief coin of the world’ in the nineteenth century, recognised as a currency in countries around the world and enjoying an unprecedented golden age.

In 1915, as the full effects of war were beginning to hit home, production of The Sovereign continued. The Sovereign’s integrity was unrivalled throughout the world, but this era in British gold coinage was drawing to a close. The country, along with its allies, was involved in a global conflict that was to cut short an unprecedented golden age and reduce production of The Sovereign.

The Sovereign of 1915 is an original 22 carat gold coin bearing the head of King George V modelled by Bertram Mackennal - much admired by the king – with Benedetto Pistrucci’s classic St George and the dragon design on the reverse.

The 2015 Sovereign, struck in 22 carat gold, also features the Pistrucci design on its reverse and for the last time this bullion quality coin will bear the classic Ian Rank-Broadley FRBS portrait of Her Majesty The Queen, the granddaughter of George V, linking the two eras.

Designer’s inspiration

The tale of St George and the dragon was brought back to western Europe by crusaders returning from the Holy Land and would serve as inspiration to the renowned Italian engraver, Benedetto Pistrucci, commissioned by The Royal Mint to work on new designs for the re-coinage of 1816 – an intervention by the government to stabilise the unsettled currency after the economic fallout of The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. The Sovereign, last minted in the early seventeenth century, was set to be revived.

Pistrucci’s interest in St George had been aroused by Lady Spencer to whom he had been introduced by Sir Joseph Banks, the President of the Royal Society and friend of William Wellesley Pole, Master of the Mint. Her Ladyship showed Pistrucci a wax model of St George and asked him to make another ‘in the Greek style’. Lady Spencer had no time for a figure dressed in gothic armour, an appealing sentiment to the Italian, whose favourite maxim was said to be, ‘Study Greek originals day and night’. New editions of the coin featuring Pistrucci’s iconic design first appeared in 1817 and this depiction has endured.

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