1 - The Proof Sovereign 1817 -1887
(Originally written in 2008 this article is currently being revised)
Welcome to the first in our series on the proof sovereign a coin produced specifically for collectors and not for circulation. The minting process differs from that of standard coins as they are struck more than once and in some cases 4 times to achieve a very high definition finish. The most familiar proof type are those which exhibit frosted detail with mirrored fields, these are prepared with highly polished dies and chemicals on the die face to produce the frosting effect. Proof Sovereigns produced for Edward VII and George V are known as matt proofs, here the process differs with the dies undergoing roughening by sand blasting to produce the matt finish, there is no frosting effect.
Grading of a proof sovereign is different too, a coin in perfect as struck condition is referred to as Fleur-de-coin (FDC) and means absolutely flawless or perfect. Since these coin were specifically struck for the purpose of collecting you should expect this for all proof coins struck in the reign of HM Queen Elizabeth 2 as standard. Those struck prior to our present queen will be more difficult to find in absolute FDC condition as these were not originally sealed in capsules and although housed in presentation cases were open to the air and handling. Probably the best way of grading these is by utilising the US system which grades PF or PR 60-70, we will talk about grading in future articles but PR-70 is perfection even a newly struck coin may not achieve this with PR-60 being an example with very significant hairlines.
I have restricted my look at these to those commonly listed but the collector should be aware that proofs exist for many other years predominantly of extremely low mintages and with rarity ratings of ‘highest rarity’ (Marsh 7). In addition to these very rare proofs pattern and trial sovereigns have also been produced.
The first proof sovereigns to be produced were that of George III and featured the original Benedetto Pistrucci St George and Dragon reverse with St George slaying the dragon with a club rather then the later sword. The coins of 1817, 1818 and 1820 are all struck with polished dies and exhibit frosted detail and have milled edges, they are all extremely rare with rarity ratings between 5-6. Unlike the circulation versions these are very seldom seen and are likely to be sold in main auction houses.
S.3799 King George IV (Bare Head) : 1826 Proof £2 two pound coin.
The first Proof sovereign of George IV was the 1821 and was again a milled coin, these are Rare but do turn up from time to time, beware that there are a number of modern copies of these in the market place, and care should be taken before parting with a considerable sum. In 1925 George IV commissioned a completely new set of coins dropping the Pistrucci reverse in favour of the shield and seeing fit to have a somewhat flattering new effigy of himself on the obverse. There are proof sovereigns for both 1825 and 1826, with the former having 2 versions that of the milled and plain edge varieties, both are of similar rarity. The 1826 proof sovereign was originally issued in commemorative sets containing 11 coins from £5 to farthing, most now broken up with the sovereign being obtainable with minimal hairlines.
William IV ascended to the thrown in 1830 and a limited number of coins were produced but these were mostly trial or pattern coins and it is likely that the plain edge proof quoted in the latest edition of ‘the Coins of England & United Kingdom’ for this year was actually a pattern rather then a official proof. 1831 sees both the milled plain edge versions with the plain being the far more often seen and for one with minimal hairlines as shown here.
S.3829B : King William IV 1831 plain edge 2nd head type proof sovereign.
1832 sees another proof known to exist and is the first bust variety, Marsh has a Rarity rating of 7 (highest rarity) for this truly illusive coin. It should be remembered that valuations on extremely rare coins take the form of prices realised at auction and that may have been several years ago. Queen Victoria’s reign started with a host of Proof, Pattern and Trial sovereigns, the principle examples being 1838 and 1839. Both years exist in plain edge and milled form. The 1838 is significantly rarer than its 1839 counterpart and milled edged versions are seldom seen.
S.3829B : Queen Victoria 1839 plain edge proof sovereign.
Other Proof Sovereigns of the London Shield series include, 1853, 1863, 1864, 1869,1871,1880,1886 and 1887 (at least 2 examples with one residing in the Ashmolean Museum Oxford UK), all of which range from extremely rare upwards.
1871 saw the reintroduction of the classic Pistrucci St George and Dragon reverse and along with it a number of proof issues. 1871 first issue Young Head with long tail, buried WW within truncation and Large BP, has again milled and plain edge versions with the former up to double the price of the plain edge. The long tail first issue young head did not last long and was replaced in 1871 by the short tail small BP variety, unlike the currency coinage proofs are far rarer in the later issue with only the plain edge quoted by Spink, however there is also a milled version of this coin. Other Proof sovereigns of the Young head London series includes 1878 one of which is housed within the Royal Mint collection. 1879, 1880 and 1886 which again can be found within the Ashmolean Museum collection. All of these lesser known proofs will have significant 5 figure prices tags.
It has to be stated that many of these coins have not been sold on the open market for some considerable amount of time and would raise a lot of interest should they become available? The coins shown in this article are high end grades of @PR62-PR64 and show minimal hairlines, examples better than these may well cost the collector significantly more.