Breaking with Tradition – The Edward VIII Sovereign | The Royal Mint

Breaking with Tradition – The Edward VIII Sovereign

Categories: commemorate

Forced to choose between love and duty, Edward VIII abdicated in December 1936, meaning coinage bearing his portrait never went into circulation. The only pieces produced by The Royal Mint were pattern coins and these were created in extremely limited numbers.

Amongst the rarest is the 1937 Edward VIII Sovereign. Only a handful of these Sovereigns are known to exist and the majority are held in national collections. The Royal Mint Museum has three, with one on long-term loan at the British Museum, and the Royal Collection also has a specimen. Another piece is thought to be in private hands, making the example recently sourced by Royal Mint Collector Services one of the few Sovereigns of Edward VIII to reach the open market.

Benedetto Pistrucci’s classic St George and the dragon is portrayed on the reverse, while the obverse features Humphrey Paget’s handsome portrait of the king. Both Paget and William McMillan, a Royal Academician, were asked to prepare uncrowned effigies of the king. When the designs were submitted, The Royal Mint Advisory Committee couldn’t choose between them. Unable to reach a consensus, they asked for the opinion of the king himself. Although McMillan’s portrait was a technically better sculpture, it was rather stern and the king chose Paget’s portrait which was rather more flattering.

Since the reign of Charles II in the seventeenth century, each new monarch’s effigy faced in the opposite direction to that of their predecessor. George V faced left meaning Edward VIII’s effigy should have faced right, but he was insistent on breaking this long-standing tradition. Edward VIII favoured his left side, and felt that the inclusion of his parting in the portrait would break up what would otherwise be a solid fringe of hair. Indulging the king was a highly unusual step and along with the scarcity of these Sovereigns, this quirk only serves to make them even more fascinating to numismatists.  


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