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British Gold Sovereigns are one of the most sought after and coveted gold coins ever minted. Struck on five different continents, Gold Sovereigns are a world standard gold coin, recognized everywhere for its gold value.
On October 28, 1489 King Henry VII instructed the officers of his Royal Mint to produce "a new money of gold.'" By this point, England enjoyed circulating gold coinage for almost a century and a half; however, the new coin was to be the largest coin yet seen in England, both in size and value, and was to be called a Sovereign. It well merited such a splendid name, the obverse boasting an enthroned portrait of the king in full coronation regalia and the reverse depicting the royal arms, crowned and superimposed on a magnificent double rose to symbolize the union of York and Lancaster after the long-drawn-out War of the Roses. It was struck in turn by each of the Tudor monarchs, its issue coming to an end early in the reign of James I. A Sovereign would not to appear again for 200 years.
Following the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, a great reform of the coinage was undertaken and gold was adopted as the sole standard measure of value. A new gold 20 Shilling coin was born and given the old name of Sovereign. Almost half the weight and diameter of the original Sovereign, the new gold coin of 1817 more than matched its predecessor in the beauty of its design. The traditional heraldic reverse was abandoned in favor of an image of St. George and the dragon, designed by the Italian engraver Benedetto Pistrucci.
When minting of Sovereigns resumed in the present reign of Queen Elizabeth II there was no thought of its replacement. Therefore, it appeared on every bullion Sovereign of the twentieth century, relinquishing its place only three times in the Queen's reign: in 1989 for the special commemorative coins celebrating the 500th anniversary of the original Tudor Sovereign, in 2002 for the Queen's Golden Jubilee year, and again in 2005.
With the above exceptions, Gold Sovereigns and Half Sovereigns have been struck for nearly 200 years using the same design, and when fractional Gold Sovereigns were added to The Royal Mint's repertoire, they too, used Pistucci's famous reverse.