10 - The Queen Victoria Shield Reverse Sovereign 1871-1887 (Australian Branch Mints)
The branch mints of Sydney and Melbourne both originally due to start striking shield and the new George & Dragon reverse sovereigns in 1871 add some very rare and difficult coins to the shield series with Melbourne sovereigns being far more challenging. The coins are of the same design as the London with the addition of the mintmark ‘M’ or ‘S’ in place of the die number. Dies were prepared at the London Mint and shipped to the new mints with those destined for Sydney arriving on time without mishap, however those dispatched to the brand new mint of Melbourne were not so lucky. The first 100 dies all bearing the date 1871 left Southampton on route to Ceylon where they would be transferred to the steamer Rangoon to complete their onward journey to Melbourne. However the ship struck a rock upon leaving harbour and sunk, all passengers and a very few bags of mail were saved. Although too late for any 1871 Melbourne sovereigns to be struck evidence suggests that at least some made it to the new mint which almost certainly gave rise to the extremely rare1872/1 Melbourne sovereign which we will return to shortly.
Royal Mint Sydney Australia the first branch mint.
The Sydney mint open since 1855 and already striking the Australian sovereign had no such problems striking 2,814,000. Readers should note that figure includes the new George & Dragon reverse sovereign as individual mintages figures were not kept for any of the years both types were struck for Sydney or Melbounre mints.
The 1871-S Sydney Struck Victoria Shield reverse sovereign
The 1871S is not too difficult to find in grades of up to near extremely fine, but like almost all Australian sovereigns will start to prove challenging for best examples. For the very highest grades expect to pay towards @£1000 with entry level GVF examples being closer to £400. The rest of the 1870s Sydney series are all similarly priced none are likely to cause the collector any major difficulty in finding in good grade. Note no Sydney Shield type sovereigns were produced in 1874 and 1876, and there are no significant varieties known.
The 1880s see some quite elusive dates even in the Sydney series, this is primarily due to the lack of availability of their Melbourne counterparts and what was relatively low mintage figures, typically no more than 1.5million. The influx of the modern collector (post 2000) and Australian demand has seen 1880 / 1881 / 1882 / 1883 and 1887S all more difficult to find and as a consequence you may find yourself needing to pay a little more for these and take a little longer searching when compared to the previous decades sovereigns. 1884 / 85 / 86 are easier to find and expect to pick up some quite nice examples for @£400-£500 but again expect near uncirculated or better to be difficult to find and these could quite easily push beyond the £1000 mark. The early 1880's most certainly will and true extremely fine to @uncirculated could well set the collector back closer to £1500. 1887S is probably the most difficult Sydney shield sovereign to find with entry level examples of very fine from £500-£600 and the very best closer to £2000.
Before leaving the Sydney mint we must mention the one variety of the series, the 1880 inverted A in place of V in Victoria. This coin simply the result of a very short sighted die setter mistaking the A for a V. A very rare coin with a very limited run before the error was picked up which spoilt an otherwise error free Sydney Shield series.
I have seen a few examples of this variety, and would expect the collector to have to part with a minimum of £2000 for grades of Fine - Good fine up to £10,000 for the very best near uncirculated examples of which there are very few. The average very fine grade examples will sit in the middle £4000-£6000.
Royal Mint Melbourne branch June 1872
The Melbourne Shield series provides collectors with considerably more problems with only 1884/85 being on par with their Sydney counterparts. The rest are all at minimum challenging and at worst practically impossible to find with large price tags to match.
New dies dated 1872 arrived in time from London for the new planned opening of the Melbourne branch June 1872. However all did not go well as the dies failed to produce anywhere near the quantity of coins expected producing just 8000 pieces per die resulting in a total production including St George and Dragon type from Melbourne’s first year of 748,000. Although not as rare as its St George counterpart it is not an easy coin to find especially in grades of extremely fine and better. A good very fine should be found at @£450 which represents good value with such a low mintage year and extremely fine or better from @£1000 - £1500. In September of 1872 the die situation was becoming dire with London blaming Melbourne for the failing dies due to poor placement in the presses. We know that some 1871 dies had arrived as these were altered and used in an attempt to raise production and this action gave rise to the very rare 1872/1 sovereign. New dies were received from London in October so production of the somewhat botched coins was halted probably after only one or 2 weeks, the quantity struck is not known but their occurrence today suggest it was very low indeed. Values for these work out about double that of the standard 1872 range from @£600 for Fine to @£3500 for about EF but you will not see very many and asking prices could well be above these.
1874M sees the only other Melbourne shield of the decade and again is not the easiest to find and not helped by any production in Sydney and the Very Rare London struck coins. This is a coin which has come under pressure from new collectors looking to fill the 1874 slot and as such prices certainly match those of 1872 if not slightly higher. This is certainly a coin that I rate with just 1,373,298 struck in total at Melbourne for 1872 and that being shared with its George & Dragon counterpart
1880M is a very rare coin, don’t let the 3 million mintage figure fool you as almost all of these have long since been melted down. Marsh has this coin rated as just R2 but I would say R3 is more appropriate with values to match. A decent good very fine example can be had for £2000-£3000 with the very best grades setting the collector back £5000-£8000, don’t expect to get these on the cheap.
1881/82M now both quite elusive, with 1881M the tougher of the 2, expect to pay @£400-£500 for good very fine and as much as £3000 for anything around uncirculated. 1881-1887 also sees a slightly amended portrait with its most defining feature being that of a much higher fringe hairline, on earlier portraits the hairline can be seen starting much closer to the 'I' in Victoria, the new portrait pushes this to almost the centre of 'A'. The 1882 is only classed as scarce but again due to the influx of the modern collector not now that easy to find, expect to pay prices not far off that of the 1881M.
1883M does not get any easier for the collector and if anything maybe as difficult to find as the 1880M and as such values maybe approaching similar levels, I have seen two 1880M sovereigns and no 1883M sovereigns in the past year, and with a tiny mintage of just 427,450 its not surprising these are getting scarcer.
1884 and 1885M provide the hard pressed collector with some respite as these are the easiest of all Melbourne shield sovereigns to find with values and occurrence very similar to that of their Sydney counterparts.
1886 and 1887 both have substantial 4 figure price tags with 1887M the slightly more often seen coming in @£5000-£7000 for extremely fine and don’t be surprised to have to part with up to double that for the 1886M, both are considerably rare coins rated at R3 by Marsh and rightly so. Its also interesting to note that both branch mints actually struck 3 different design sovereigns in 1887, the Shield / George & Dragon reverse coins along with the new golden Jubilee portrait sovereign.