Happy St George’s Day! As a coin collector, we’re sure that the image of St George and the dragon will be familiar to you – but how did England’s Patron Saint come to span 198 years on The Royal Mint’s flagship gold coin, The Sovereign?
St George has been the Patron Saint of England since Medieval times, and it was towards the end of that period, in 1489, that Henry VII instructed The Royal Mint to produce ‘a new money of gold’ – the original Sovereign.
However, it wasn’t until 1817 on modern Sovereigns that the classical image of St George and the dragon by Benedetto Pistrucci would first appear. The distinctive St George design was used on a new 22-carat gold coin valued at 20 shillings, or one pound, which was given the old ‘Sovereign’ name.
St George’s appearance on The Sovereign was not continuous: it was interrupted in 1825, when his image was replaced by more conventional heraldic designs, but he returned once more to the coin in 1871. This principal gold coin of the United Kingdom went on to become recognised and traded as currency across the globe, referred to as “the chief coin in the world”. By the turn of the century more than 100 million gold Sovereigns were estimated to be in general circulation in the United Kingdom alone.
The Royal Mint continued to strike circulating gold Sovereigns on a decreasing scale until 1917, by which time it had largely disappeared from circulation, as it was in demand for First World War ‘war effort’ funds.
When regular minting of Sovereigns resumed in 1957 there was no thought to replace the classic design, so Benedetto Pistrucci’s St George and the dragon design has appeared on every Proof and bullion Sovereign of Her Majesty The Queen’s current reign, with the exception of just four special occasions (1989 – the 500th anniversary of the original Tudor Sovereign, 2002 – The Queen’s Golden Jubilee year, in 2005, and in 2012 – The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee).
When St George met his end on 23 April 303 AD at the hands of the pagan Emperor Diocletian, he could not have imagined that almost 1,700 years later, he would not only be the Patron Saint of England, but also the iconic figure who has spanned 198 years on The Sovereign, the world’s oldest surviving coin still in production.
Are you already the proud owner of a Sovereign? Register yourself as an owner of a Sovereign on The Royal Mint’s Sovereign Register and enjoy benefits such as:
- Entry into a prize draw to win a Sovereign
- Entry into an annual prize draw to have an exclusive VIP behind-the-scenes tour of The Royal Mint
- Automatic pre-registration for notification of any Sovereign launches
- Invitation to exclusive discussion forums on The Sovereign
- Exclusive offers and free gifts with Sovereign purchases