The World’s rarest Gold Sovereigns Part 1: George III-William IV
Updated: Aug 4
I have been asked many times in the past as "what is the World's rarest Sovereign" as I am sure have most dealers or advanced collectors in their life long career. This “research” is my version of the story in which during four parts I will bring all the facts together as I know them and list all the known rarities for every reign.
So fast rewind to 1816 and the great Act of Coinage (22 June 1816) when it all begun. In it, it was established the weight of the modern Gold Sovereign of 7.98g and 22mm in diameter with a face value of 1 Pound or 20 Shillings. These dimensions still stand to this day. Patterns begun to emerge in the Royal mint in 1816 but the first modern Gold Sovereign was struck on 5 July 1817 in the reign of George III.
Pattern Gold Sovereign of 1816
So I am going to look in to each reign separately and try to establish the rarest Sovereign of each. I am going to look specifically at currency issues i.e. those struck for circulation purposes as opposed to those struck for either presentation or Proofs. Although I will not look in to errors (of which the vast majority is intentional anyway), I will definitely include peculiar varieties which made it in to circulation but little is known about them. Please note I am only considering rarity as a single de facto dimension of known examples and not a conditional rarity (a dimension which measures rarity by way of preservation). It is for this reason that many common coins may be more valuable than some rarer types of lower quality.
George III. Royal mint London.
There are only 4 currency Sovereigns in this reign as George passed away on 21 January 1820. By far the rarest here is of course the elusive 1819 with a tiny mintage of 3,574. The example below sold in part 3 of the Bentley collection as lot 941 in May 2013 for a £155,000 hammer. It was sold in the room to British Dealer S.Fenton.
George IV. Royal mint London.
George IV reigned for 10 years with the first Sovereign struck in 1821. The rarest here is of course the 1828. Below is another example of the legendary Bentley collection, this time part 1 lot 21 8 May 2012. Sold in the room for £11,000 hammer.
With a calendar year production of 386,182 examples why is the 1828 so rare? I quote S.Hill cataloguer of the Bentley collection:
"The reason why the 1828 Sovereign is so rare is not widely known and it came down to economics at the Royal Mint. To make a new dated die is an intensive and laborious process, in both time and cost, and considering the average longevity of a die, the Mint considered itself very lucky at the dawn of 1828 when it found a number of 1827 obverse dies were still in perfectly good wor king order. Therefore, rather than make new dies for 1828 immediately, it was decided to wait until the supply of 1827 dated dies dwindled. This did not finally occur until November of 1828 as it seems there was only a low demand for gold sovereigns this year. It was only in December that 1828 Sovereigns started to be minted and this probably did not last long into 1829, therefore the actual number made dated 1828 can be considered to be a fraction of the calendar year mintage quoted above, perhaps a mere twelfth as an educated estimate”.
William IV. Royal mint London.
Although patterns or Proofs dated 1830 exist, the first currency Sovereign for this reign was minted in 1831. The rarest here is the 1831 “second bust” variety”. This so called second bust (more easily recognisable by the nose pointing to I of BRITANNIAR but also with coarser hair) was used from 1832. So apparently an obverse die of 1832 was used in which the date 1831 was punched and used to strike this coin. A much rarer coin than the 1836 with N struck in the Shield (for unknown reasons). It is in my view also rarer than the 1832 “first bust” variety although both coins have a rarity rating of R5 in M.Marsh’s publication (as revised by S.Hill). Over the years I have seen and handled at least 5 1832s of this variety but none of the 1831. Below is the 1831 specimen sold in part 1 of the Bentley collection. It was lot 26 and hammered £5,800.
A little note here: I did say at the beginning I will not include errors as most are found to have occurred deliberately anyway. So what is the 1836 with the letter N punched in the reverse Shield then? Steve Hill thinks it is struck in error (part of his description of lot 31 in part 1 of the Bentley Collection). However in Michael Marsh’s 2017 revised edition of the Gold Sovereign G.P.Dyer (ex curator of the Royal Mint) is quoted as saying the N has been deliberately placed but gives no clues as to why this happened. Although I tend to agree with this view you are welcome to form your own idea. It is for this reason I have not regarded this variety although definitely with a rating of R4 it ranks 3rd.
All images courtesy Baldwin's