The World’s rarest Gold Sovereigns Part 4: Edward II-George V
Updated: Aug 4, 2020
The only Sovereign from the reign of Edward VII which seems to me eligible for inclusion in this work is the 1908C specimen from Ottawa mint, Canada. Some (including Spink) regard it as a Proof issue (which would preclude it from entering here). The strike was “Satin Proof” finish according to almost all publications. Others including Michael Marsh (author of “The Gold Sovereign” in his original publication think there are two types, a Specimen (of Satin finish presumably) and a currency issue. I quote from his book (page 81) “....and issued shows that only 633 sovereigns were in fact issued, and they would as the Statement suggests have been currency coins......my records show just 6 examples (for the Specimen coin) and for the currency coin I have notes of just 4 in many years”. Indeed the image of a 1908C sovereign in his book shows a what appears to be well circulated coin (page 85). However all this has been omitted from the revised edition of 2017 and a new image shows a Satin Proof. The mintage was 633 coins possibly the lowest of the entire series and rates R6. Rare nevertheless and deserves to be included here. Below a coin from PCGS pop report.
1908C (PCGS image)
As with Victoria George V presents a challenge when it comes down the rarest issues. For this reason I will list the very rare with a brief description where appropriate and perhaps at the end you can make out the Rarest.
Royal mint London
The only truly rare coin from the Metropolis is of course the 1917 issue. Rated R5 (5-10 known) this may have to change soon as 16 register with NGC and 19 with PCGS! The story of the 1917 is well documented and I will just go ahead and include an example from the PCGS pop report.
1917 London (PCGS image)
The Bentley Collection coin (lot 363 part 1) made £11,000 hammer and was sold in the Room to Spink. The World record apparently is a NGC certified coin (65) which sold for $50,400 all in (heritage April 2019).
Pretoria, South Africa mint has produced two of the rarest of the series. The first year of issue 1923 is also the lowest mintage. A tiny 719 pieces (revised M.Marsh edition of 2017 incorrectly states 406). The World record is a MS66 specimen which sold for $49,937 (Heritage January 2013). Baldwin’s Bentley example made £11,000 (lot 920 part 2 September 2012). Rated R6 3-4 examples known (but already 9 on PCGS and 12 on NGC) Some may be resubmitted or crossed over but nowhere near 3-4 so possibly R5? Below is the 66 from PCGS.
1923SA (PCGS image)
The 1924SA issue has a mintage of 2,660 and a rarity rating R5 (5-10). This may have to be reviewed when a new revision is necessary as a quick look at the populations of the certifying companies reveals an astonishing 33 in PCGS and 42 in NGC! Still a rare issue by all means. Below is an example from PCGS.
1924SA (PCGS image)
From Ottawa Canada comes the next big rarity the legendary 1916C Sovereign perhaps the most sought after Canadian coin. With a mintage of 6,119 (almost twice that of the 1913C) and a rarity rating of R5 is still a very rare coin. I note however 45 examples with both certifying companies. Why it is so elusive is a mystery not even Steve Hill could explain in his cataloguing of the Bentley Collection.
I have been told a story by Stephen Fenton of the 1916 London issue Sovereign which in the 60s rated as rare as a 1841 and of equal value in the Spink book (£100 if I recall). Until bags full of 1916 Sovereigns were discovered in a London Bank vault. These things have been known to occur albeit very rarely and I am not suggesting anything here. Perhaps they were left unsold and melted which is the most probable explanation. The Bentley example sold in 2012 part 2 for £19,000 hammer (£23,560 all in perhaps a record in 2012). The World record of $156,000 was set as recently as a year ago (August 2019 Heritage) a MS66 example.
1916C (PCGS image)
Now on to the Australian mints and I will deal with Melbourne first. Here two coins clearly stand out the rarest and are 1921 and 1922. The M.Marsh ratings here have got it all wrong though. R3 and R2 respectively. How so? These are two coins I have never handled and are very seldom encountered anywhere in the World. Incidentally the same book gives similar ratings R3 for the 1929M and R2 for the 1931M! A quick comparison of the populations on PCGS and NGC reveals 11 1921Ms in mixed grades in both companies and 16 1922Ms. The numbers for 1929M and 1931M are 47 and 87 respectively so draw your own conclusions.
1921M PCGS images 1922M
The Bentley specimens made £13,000 and £11,000 hammer respectively (lots 834 & 835 part 2 September 2012). The World record is $38,400 (2018) 1921M and $22,350 (2013) 1922M.
The Sydney mint has some significant rarities in fact I will list 3 as top rarities, 2 of which (1922 & 1926) I have never been fortunate enough to own with the third the 1920S the World’s most expensive and rarest Sovereign (£780,000 all in 2012) but now recently surpassed by another British legend the 1937 Edward VIII Sovereign (£1M). More about this at another article.
So first the 1922S Sovereign. With a mintage of 578K not exactly a rare issue however these are troublesome times and Sovereigns are left unsold ending up in melt pots. The same principle applies for the Melbourne issues of 1921 and 1922 above. Marsh gives a R3 rating but more like R5 (PCGS show 8 coins, NGC none). The Bentley specimen sold £14,500 hammer (lot 738 part 2 September 2012) and the World record is $26,400 (2018 Heritage).
1922S (PCGS image)
The second currency rarity from Sydney is the 1926 dated coin. When reviewing the rarities I was under the impression the 1926S is rarer than the 1922S above however if the populations are any indication of rarity 23 and 8 are the numbers respectively. So perhaps R4 now. The Bentley sold for £19,000 hammer (lot 742 part 2 Sept. 2012). The World record is $47,000 (Heritage 2016).
1926S (PCGS image)
I have now reached the end with the jewel in the Crown. The rarest of the rare. Here is how Steve Hill described it in the Bentley catalogue (lot 736 hammer £650,000):" Struck from a rusted reverse die as usual for this rarest of the rare currency issues from the Sydney mint, tiny scratch on face of St George, with a few other light handling marks, tiny reverse rim nick and another tiny nick on the obverse, otherwise practically as struck, of the highest rarity and the crowning piece in the collection.” For further reading click here. Incredible as it may seem only two years later another great collection of Sovereigns appeared on the market with another 1920S and this was sold by Baldwin’s of St.James’s (Stephen Fenton). Auction 25 March 2014 lot 5 (hammer £437,500). With updated information probably not available 2 years earlier S.Fenton gives his version of the 1920S story. He reckons the total number of coins surviving or struck is 7 or 9. Read about it here.
The Bentley Collection 1920S
The George Collection 1920S
Notice the same reverse “rusted” dies.
I was in the room (The Council Chamber, 3 Robert Street, Adelphi, London) for the Bentley Collection part 2, 27 September 2012. It was early afternoon and already well in to the auction. Dimitri Loulakakis was sitting alone at a table to the front and right of the Auctioneer Graham Byfield. Steve Hill was to the left close to the entrance door and on the phone (to Australia as it turned out later). Ian Goldbart was standing close by, emotionless. At the very back of the room last row of seats and slightly squeezed were two Gentlemen unknown to me and between them British dealer Malcolm Bord. I was somewhere in the middle and the room was not crowded at all. Lot 736 was estimated at £300,000-400,000 and biding started at £260,000. There were two bidders in the room and one on Steve’s phone. The two Gentlemen at the back (brothers it turned out in their mis60s) soon took the bidding to £500,000 and the other bidder dropped out. Then the phone bidder kicked in and bid £550,000. There was a hesitation. They chatted a little between them and with Malcolm Bord and eventually went for it £600,000. I thought that was it. They did it. But no. Steve Hill whispers on the phone "600 against you" and soon rises his hand and calls £650,000. The two brothers look at each other and both shake their heads “No”. My heart was pounding. When Graham finally brought the hammer down the bang made me jump. A great rarity the World’s rarest Sovereign had just been repatriated to homeland Australia. Immediately the two brothers and Malcolm Bord looking worn down left the room in applause. I later heard they had an equally large collection of Sovereigns and they were only missing the 1920S. Their disappointment was such that they decided to sell it.
This concludes my research. Thanks for reading.