12 - The Queen Victoria George & Dragon Sovereign 1871-1887 (Melbourne / Sydney)
Branch Mints Sydney / Melbourne
The branch mints of Sydney and Melbourne had very different starts to life, the Sydney mint opened 14th May 1855, and had been striking the Australian design sovereigns prior to the introduction of the British style Shield and new Young Head coins, making the transition in production quite straight forward with 1871 seeing a total mintage of 2,814,000 sovereigns at Sydney, while the Melbourne mint didn't manage to strike a single coin. The new Melbourne mint was originally proposed to start operation in 1870, but was beset with problems, with the most notable being the loss of the Rangoon which sunk in Ceylon with the loss of all 1871 Melbourne dies which has been specially prepared in London. As we have discussed previously some dies for the Shield type sovereign dated 1871 were salvaged, these were over struck with a '2' to produce what we know as the 1872/1 sovereign Marsh 59A. Melbourne did eventually open 12th June 1872 and managed to produce a total of 748,180 sovereigns of which the majority appear to be that of the shield type. In a change from the shield type sovereign the mintmark 'S' denoting Sydney and 'M' denoting Melbourne now appear on the obverse under the truncation.
1871-S Sydney first year of issue Large B'P' variety Sovereign.
The branch mint sovereigns of this series do not turn up too many particularly rare coins, however finding examples of extremely fine and above for any of the years is not an easy task. It’s not difficult to put together an entire date run from a batch of a 100 or so bullion sovereigns by utilising both mints but the quality is likely to be no better than about very fine to good very fine if you are lucky. Having been through literally thousands of Young head sovereigns and only ever found a handful of really nice examples. It is likely that even the most avid collector with need reasonably deep pockets and will find the task of assembling an extremely fine - about uncirculated example of each branch mint sovereign from these series a very long and pain staking process. Having said this the easiest to find in top grade will be 1884/5/6 with @EF starting at @£600 and anything close to UNC as much as double this figure. Unlike the Shield series of both mints which still throws up really quite nice and high grade 1870s the further you go back with the young head the more difficult and expensive it will become with perhaps some as much as four figures.
Before we move on to the rarer sovereigns of this series and look at the few varieties there are, what we have suggested to our customers over the past few years who have expressed an interest in this series is to purchase a date run or collect lesser grade examples initially. This policy has worked out well as it allows the collector to have examples of all coins whilst taking advantage of any gains in the gold value, some have seen their initial collections double in value over the past 10 years. For some this will be an adequate collection but for those who seek top examples the process then becomes one of improvement throughout the set as the collector finds them and indeed we offer part exchange on all coins simply because we require them for the next collector. We certainly have collectors who are close to extremely fine on all young head sovereigns but know of no one who has managed anything close to completing a near uncirculated set. Its worth noting that even the Bentley collection 'one of the finest' sovereign collections bought to market did not manage top grades in all years. .
The Rare first year of issue 1872-M Melbourne Struck St George & Dragon Sovereign.
Of the standard issue sovereigns from the 2 branch mints only 3 really raise their heads as rare or scarce the 1871 and 1879 Sydney and 1872 Melbourne struck coins. The 1871S comes in 2 types, large B.P with short tail and the later introduced small B.P in exergue with long tail. The earlier short tail type being slightly harder to find with good very fine examples of either being in the region of £400-£500 with the top grades being exponentially more difficult to find and as previously mentioned a rapid increase in price, extremely fine - about uncirculated probably setting back the collector £1500-£2500. The 1879S is the closest of all Sydney struck sovereigns of this series to have a classification of rare and with all the problems associated with finding high grade examples of the branch mints, is the most expensive. If I had one in something close to uncirculated, I would definitely be asking for a sum of @£3000, they are simply not out there in any number at all. The strange thing is that these 2 sovereigns can be found in bullion batches if you are lucky for not much more than gold value, but you guessed it the grades will be poor.
As we mentioned at the top of this article the Melbourne mint encountered considerable problems in its opening year including the loss of dies sent from London aboard the Rangoon. Although mintage figures for the Young head type are not known it is certain that these were heavily out numbered by the Shield reverse variety maybe as much as 10-1 or at least that is what we see today. This makes the 1872M Young Head the most difficult of all standard sovereigns from either mint within the series to find. It can be considered a coin worthy of rare status. Unlike the Sydney coins above is unlikely to be found in any bullion batches, with even low grade very fine examples starting at @£700 with a top graded uncirculated example being closer to £4000.
We finish with a look at the few varieties which exist within the series, again similar to those struck in London there appears the existence of long, short and not so long tails for many of the dates. When first writing these articles in 2008, only the short and long tail versions were catalogued, however since then the medium tail has been fully adopted and included in the standard catalogue of English coins. Refer to last months article on the London series Young Head for examples of each. This has lead to a number of corrections with some sovereigns previously catalogued such as 1879 / 1880 Melbourne with short tails, now being revised to medium tail.
|1871-1880 Buried W W in truncation.
|1880-1887 WW now complete in truncation.
One issue corrected by the mint from 1880 was a slightly revised truncation with the initials WW now being seen as complete rather than the buried or slightly cut off. Quite why the original rather poor design was allowed to run for quite so long is open to argument, the revisions took place on the London and Sydney sovereigns from 1880 with the Melbourne mint not showing its first complete WW example until 1882. There is some crossover with buried and complete WW initial coins 1880-1882.
The 1880 second 8/7 type does not appear in either the Sydney or Melbourne struck sovereigns and therefore seems confined to alterations made in London only.
|1884 No B.P. type variety.
|nWeakly Struck B.P. result of worn die.
As we conclude the Victorian young head sovereign series, it is important again to reiterate that branch mint sovereigns were much more widely used as currency, then their British counter parts making almost all years very difficult indeed to find in the best grades, with Australian struck half sovereigns being even more so.
1880/81/82 all appear in no B.P variety for both mints, although similarly to London struck coins some later examples may appear on first evidence to show no B.P but closer scrutiny often reveals the tell tail signs of very weakly struck initials. produced by worn or broken dies.