A history of the Half-Sovereign

What is a Half-Sovereign?

The Half-Sovereign is an English and British coin, which was the equivalent to half a pound sterling, ten shillings, or 120 old pence. Used often in jewellery – the Half-Sovereign ring – it has been seen as a commemorative coin due to its limited volume, but it actually has its own intrinsic value and rich history.

1489-1544: The gold Sovereign was first introduced back in 1489 under the reign of Henry VII, but the Half-Sovereign waited 55 years before making its debut in 1544 under Henry VIII. To this day, their rarity is due to their limited minting and the controlled release of those coins that are struck.

The Half-Sovereign has ducked in and out of history, staging at least two major disappearances and two triumphant comebacks.

1604: The half Sovereign was consistently struck for most monarchs until the early part of the reign of James I when both the Sovereign and Half-Sovereign were discontinued from 1604. The reign of Charles II, the ‘merry monarch’, saw the Half-Sovereign apparently superseded by the half-guinea, worth 10 shillings and sixpence (52.5p) against the 10-shilling value of the Half-Sovereign.

1803 to 1815: The convulsions of the Napoleonic Wars and their aftermath opened the door for a return of both the Sovereign and Half-Sovereign. A ‘bullion committee’ chaired by future Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel organised a major currency reform.

As The Royal Mint’s own history records:

“At first it was intended to re-introduce the 21-shilling guinea but it was found that ‘a very general wish prevails among the public in favour of a coinage of gold pieces of the value of 20 Shillings and 10 Shillings…’ Hence a new 20-shilling coin was born and given the old name of Sovereign.”

1893: On the reverse of the new Sovereign was the design featuring St George slaying the dragon, by a young Italian engraver, Benedetto Pistrucci. The Half-Sovereign, however, was to carry a Royal coat of arms until 1893, when it too was decorated by Pestrucci’s design, which remains on Half-Sovereigns to this day.

1915: In the early 20th century, the coin disappeared from circulation once again when Britain’s need for bullion with which to fight the First World War brought production of the coin at The Royal Mint to a halt. The Sovereign also went out of production two years later, but the fates of the larger and smaller coin diverged markedly.

 Some Sovereigns were struck and the coin went into temporary disuse until 1957, after which it returned to production, interrupted only by a six-year hiatus from 1968 to 1974.

1982: By contrast, the Half-Sovereign was not to reappear until the early 80s. Since then, it has been a popular gift at christenings and other special occasions and has been in demand for use in the manufacture of jewellery, as in the Half-Sovereign ring.

2015: The Half-Sovereign 2015 Brilliant Uncirculated is struck in 22 carat gold to the same precise Royal Mint standard as every Sovereign since 1817. It boasts Benedetto Pistrucci’s classic representation of St George on the reverse, and every coin comes with a numbered Certificate of Authenticity and an accompanying booklet.

Despite its timeless appeal to collectors, the Half-Sovereign’s value is emerging as having a store of worth in its own right. With the inclusion of the Half-Sovereign on The Royal Mint Bullion platform, you can go online to buy and sell the Half-Sovereign round the clock, 365 days a year in complete confidence.

As with other legal-tender gold bullion coins, the Half-Sovereign is free of both VAT and of Capital Gains Tax on any profit made from their sale.

Few would want the Half-Sovereign fully to lose that elusive, rare quality that is so much part of its attraction. But obtaining this most enticing of British gold bullion coins has just become a little easier.

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