Within the drawers of The Royal Mint Museum lie many rare coins, and the 1937 Edward VIII Gold Proof Sovereign is certainly one of the rarer. Another, of the few in existence, recently made headlines when it went to auction and sold for a record £516,000 – the highest sum ever paid for a British coin! Surprisingly, the Edward VIII Sovereign wasn’t the only Sovereign to shock at this auction; a rare 1953 Elizabeth II Gold Proof Sovereign also fetched a staggering £384,000.
Edward VIII ascended the throne on 20 January 1936 following the death of his father; King George V. As normal procedure, The Royal Mint immediately began work on a coinage for the new King’s reign. Trial and experimental coins were struck during his time on the throne in preparation for circulation. However, less than a year after his accession, Edward VIII abdicated, committing the coins to the confines of collections – never to reach circulation.
Abdication wasn’t the first controversial act of Edward VIII to affect his coinage. Edward refused to follow the coinage tradition of alternating the direction in which the royal effigy faced. Preferring his left profile, Edward insisted his effigy faced left like that of his father, breaking a tradition that started some 300 years before, during the reign of Charles II.
The 1937 Edward VIII Gold Proof Sovereign is one of approximately 80,000 coins, including patterns and trial pieces, in The Royal Mint Museum’s collection. Medals and seals can also be found behind the doors of the museum along with plaster models, balances, weights and thousands of original sketches. The long-term goal of The Royal Mint Museum is to publish a catalogue of the collection online. Over the coming years the Museum will make the collection available one monarch at a time. In what is a rather unexpected coincidence, it is with the proposed coinage of Edward VIII that the Museum began the move online just a few weeks ago.
The British Gold Sovereign dates back to 1489 when King Henry VII created a ‘new money of gold’. The St George and the Dragon reverse design by Benedetto Pistrucci, as seen on the Edward VIII sovereign, has been a feature of The Sovereign for almost 200 years and features on the 2014 gold sovereign.