The World’s rarest Gold Sovereigns Part 2: Queen Victoria Royal mint London
Updated: Aug 4
Even writing the title has given me chills. Queen Victoria ascended the Throne of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on 20 June 1837 at a very young age of 18. In her long reign of 64 years the Royal mint London together with the Colonial mints of Australia produced a great number of Gold Sovereigns some of which rank among the rarest and most interesting of the series. It is for this reason that I will list the very rare rather than declaring the winner outright.
The Pattern Sovereign of 1837 (image Baldwin's)
Victoria. Royal Mint London.
Starting with the Royal mint London the first rare coin surely must be the 1838 "Narrow Shield". Below is lot 38 part 1 of the Bentley collection sold in the room to British dealer Mark Rasmussen for £18,000 hammer and was described as "best example in private hands". Indeed. It later graded MS63 PCGS.
1838 narrow Shield (PCGS image)
Some interesting notes here from the cataloguer Steve Hill: "This interesting variety of reverse was only discovered a few decades ago and is perhaps an unused proposal die that was too valuable not to use. The main differences are really the lesser amount of leaves in the wreath and their arrangement and the differently rendered crown on the narrower shield. This unusual reverse found its way onto the current Sovereign of 1838, it may well be the work of an apprentice engraver working under Merlen".
Next in line is the legendary 1841 issue. With one of the smallest mintages of 124,000 it is probably the best known and perhaps most sought after Victoria rarity of the series. The World's record price was set in December 2011 when a superb specimen sold to a private collector for a total of £34,800 (Bonhams 14 December 2011 lot 272). Below is an example from PCGS pop report.
1841 (PCGS image)
Another "Narrow Shield" Sovereign this time the 1843 is naturally included in the top rare. Steve Hill writes: "The reason for striking the 1843 “narrow shield” is perhaps lost to history, but the legacy are these extremely rare narrow shield pieces most of which survive in lower grade. The Bentley Collection example is one of the finest extant". Below is lot45 of part 1 8 May 2012. Sold in the room to British dealer Mark Rasmussen for £17,000 hammer. It is now graded by PCGS MS61 and the only mint state example.
Both the 1838 and 1843 "Narrow Shield" rate R3 (extremely rare). In my view the 1838 is much rarer than the 1843 and I would give it a R5 (5-10 examples).
1843 narrow Shield (PCGS image)
The 1848 Sovereign is a relatively common coin. However there are two distinct varieties for the year.The "first" head and the "second" larger head. The first smaller head design was used from 1838 and it was decided to switch to a larger version within the year. It is unknown how many were struck before the change over occurred. A truly remarkably rare coin and the slightly blurred image below (iPhone image) is one I found recently and the only specimen I have ever handled. Seriously underrated in books and hardly recognisable in auctions and certification companies where it is often confused with the "second" bust thus contaminating both population and auction results, a fact I discovered writing this blog. Just visit pcgs page where 10 show up but clicking on it the results in fact show the "second" common type. I deliberately opted for a larger image to enable all to spot the difference. The distance between G in GRATIA and Victoria's bun is larger (the head is smaller).
Next in line (always remember I have excluded patterns, proofs and errors) is a very interesting Sovereign the result of a mint experiment on brittle gold by a Chemist George Ansell. Rated R4 in 2017 but probably R3 nowadays as additional specimens have emerged. The PCGS pop report alone shows 40 examples in mixed grades but I have included it here because it is inevitably a legend of the series. Below one example of this report.
1859 Ansell (PCGS image)
Now I will come to a very intriguing Sovereign. The 1863 die 827 on truncation. Read more about it here. There are two versions one with die 22 below the wreath and one without. The latter is definitely a lot rarer. Rated R6 (R5 the die 22). A very underrated coin in all my years I have seen and handled one of each. There were two examples in the Bentley Collection. One was with die 22, it was described as "extremely fine" and hammered £11,000 (lot 106 part 1 8 May 2012). The other a much lower quality coin was without a die and was described as “about very fine”.The hammer fell at £15,000 a clear indication (if one was needed) of the rarity (lot 1017 part3 8 May 2013). Below is an example of the R6 on PCGS pop report.
1863 die 827 (PCGS image)
Bentley Collection lot 1017 (image Baldwin’s)
I thought it was interesting to add the comments of cataloguer and milled coinage expert Steve Hill: "The intriguing “827”variety first came to light in 1954 when an 827 numbered truncation with die number 22 reverse appeared in the Hatton Hoard of gold found in Derbyshire. This initial coin ended up in the British Museum Collection. The variety here is termed the “first” variety of the “827” Sovereign without a die number on the reverse. The “second” die number 22 variety was sold in part one of the Bentley Collection for £11,000 hammer. These first variety 827 die number Sovereigns are thought to have been produced and struck from a first batch of re-melted “scissel” and scrap emanating from some Rothschild brittle ingots delivered to the Mint circa November-December 1863. Of the very few specimens known, the Bentley specimen is amongst the finer. For further reading about the 827 Sovereigns see Spink Numismatic Circular, October 1977, page 421, article by G P Dyer”.
The last rarity of the Shield back Sovereigns of the RM London coincides with the last year of issue, the 1874 Sovereign. Now rated R4 and perhaps not as rare as some above it is nevertheless part of the legendary rare issues of the series and my research would be incomplete without it. It comes with a die and known are 28,32 and 33 although other die numbers have been reported. Below is an example from PCGS pop report.
1874 die 32 (PCGS image)
And I have reached the end of Royal mint London struck Shield back Sovereigns which I consider Rare. The only St.George reverse coin which makes it to the list here is in fact the lowest mintage of all Victoria Sovereigns and this includes the Australian mints. With a tiny figure of just 20,013 even these words are probably an understatement. Rated as R4 the coin does turn up more frequently than one would expect so I don’t know what to make of it. Still a very rare coin. A nearly EF example in Bentley sold for £2600 below the estimate (3-4000). However in recent years it has started to pick up (record is $15,600 for a au55 coin sold by Heritage auctions in 2017) although prices have stabilised lower again more recently. Below is an example from PCGS.
1879 St.George (PCGS image)