Sovereign mint marks
To distinguish between each of the many Royal Mint locations across the British Empire, gold Sovereigns were for many years marked with a letter symbolising the city or country of their origin. Most gold Sovereign coins were produced in London, and since the 1970s in Llantrisant, South Wales. These coins are unmarked, but many had a small mark above year of production to indicate their origin.
On some rarer coins these mint marks appear beneath a monarch's neck, a wreath or a shield, as shown below. These were only present on Sovereigns featuring the Young Head portrait of Queen Victoria.
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London & Llantrisant: 1817 – 1917, 1925, 1957 – 2018
No Mint Mark
Gold Sovereigns were chiefly minted in London. Production lasted from 1817 to 1917 during the First World War, though the Sovereign was substituted for paper money during the war due to a run on gold through public fear. The Royal Mint did continue to produce the coins, though to a much lesser degree and only to be kept as part of Britain’s gold reserves – which in turn were used to pay war debts to the United States.
Post-war the coin was briefly brought back to life in 1925 by the Gold Standard Act, pushed for by Chancellor Winston Churchill, but this was a short-lived episode. The Royal Mint then didn’t produce gold Sovereigns until 1953, for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, but these were museum pieces only.
In 1957, driven by the demand for gold Sovereigns in the Middle East, the Royal Mint once again began to mint the quarter-ounce gold coins and, in the mid-1970s, switch production to their South Wales facility.
Australia: 1855 – 1931
S (Sydney), M (Melbourne), P (Perth)
It was the discovery of gold on the island that led to Australia having such a large involvement in minting British gold Sovereigns. The discovery made it very cost effective in terms of shipping and insurance costs for the Mint to mine and refine the gold in the same area, which led to the first refinery in Sydney and subsequent ones on Melbourne and Perth.
Gold Sovereigns made by each of these refineries bear the corresponding letter above the year of their creation:
- Sydney (1855 – 1926) = S
- Melbourne (1872 – 1931) = M
- Perth (1899 – 1931) = P
Before 1887 the Australian-produced gold Sovereigns had their own local designs but all since that date then carried the George and Dragon design by Pistrucci.
I (For India; minted in Bombay)
The Royal Mint franchised a mint to open in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1918. The refinery only produced sovereigns for one year, bearing the initial I for India, but in that time they made just shy of 1.3 million of the coins bearing then-monarch George V’s portrait.
Canada: 1908 – 1919
C (For Canada, minted in Ottawa)
The Ottawa mint, also known as the Canada mint, used gold mined in British Columbia and the Yukon for its Sovereigns. Coins made at this mint bear the letter C for Canada, in much the same fashion as India’s initial.
The Canada mint was opened in 1908 and produced gold Sovereigns until 1919 (excluding 1912) but production was limited. The mint only made 628,152 Sovereigns in that time – far less than Bombay’s one-year total.
The Royal Mint heavily used the Ottawa plant to smelt down Sovereign coins from Britain’s gold reserves. These were made into gold bullion bars and delivered to the US government as payment for First World War debts.
The Ottawa mint became the Royal Canadian Mint in 1931 but still is still the same classic castle-style headquarters today.
South Africa: 1923 – 1932
SA (For South Africa, minted in Pretoria)
Britain opened a branch of the Royal Mint in South Africa following the Boer War’s resolution. The gold Sovereign was no longer in circulation as currency in the UK at this point, but it was still used overseas quite heavily.
1923 was a test year, with only 423 Sovereigns minted, but by the end of the nine-year production run over 83.4 million gold Sovereigns had been produced in South Africa. In 1941 the branch separated from the Royal Mint to become the South African Mint.