This may come as a surprise to some readers, but the British half sovereign gold coin is actually more sought after than the full sovereign. The main reason for that however, is that far fewer are minted and as such are considered rare collector’s items.
Up until the First World War, half sovereign coins were legal tender and trusted all over the world. The Royal Mint describes the early 1900’s as the golden age for sovereigns before it became a casualty of war. The coins value in Britain at the time was 20 shillings, four shillings more than the average wage.
Within days of the outbreak of the Great War, the Treasury had issued 10 shilling notes and requested owners of gold and silver to hand over their bullion to be made into bullets. Half gold sovereigns would not be seen again in Britain until 1982 although minted was continued in Perth until 1933.
A brief history of half sovereign coins
The first half sovereign coin was struck in 1489 as a gift to King Henry VII. They would not be used for common money however until 1544 when Henry VIII introduced them as legal tender. The coins survived for 60 years until James I abolished Tudor coins, and they would not resurface until the Great Coinage of 1817.
The Victorian era signalled a new breathe of life for British coins, the sovereign and half sovereign in particular. The average lifespan of these coins was a remarkable 15 years before they were deemed to have fallen below the legal standard weight.
In 1891, members of the general public were invited to hand over their damaged sovereigns in exchange for newly minted coins. At the same time sovereign coins struck before 1837 ceased to be legal tender. The old bullion was recycled to produce over 13.5 million new half sovereigns.
A new era for the half sovereign
In 1982, the Treasury took the decision to introduce the half sovereign back into circulation and 2.5 million coins were struck by the Royal Mint. Up until 2000, half sovereigns were only available as proof issue, but included the iconic image of Benedetto Pistrucci’s Saint George slaying the dragon.
The only years the George and dragon image has not appeared on the reverse of half sovereign coins since their reintroduction was 1989, to celebrate 500 years of Tudor reign and the first appearance of the half sovereign, 2002 to mark the Queen’s golden jubilee and the Queen Elizabeth II 2005 special edition coin which featured a comic image of George and Dragon.
Like other smaller bullion coins, the gold half sovereign carries a higher premium than full bullion, but given they are generally bought by collector’s there are enough buyers for merchants to justify the additional expense. That is a sign of how highly British half sovereign coins are regarded amongst experts and enthusiasts.
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