9 - The Queen Victoria Shield Reverse Sovereign 1863-74 (London)
1863 marks the end of the S.3852D (Marsh Type 1A) sovereign and the introduction of the famous Die number coins (Marsh Type 1B), with exception of a brief reappearance in 1872 for reasons we shall discuss later in this article.
1863 (Marsh Type 1A) does not leave us without one last Roman I variety which does seem to mark its farewell as it is not seen again in the Type1B sovereign die number series or any of the later branch mint sovereigns. This is not a true roman I but the result of '1 over inverted 1' which is classified by Coins of England as simply a Roman I. There are a few of these around in low grade with a price band of £600-£700 for examples approaching fine/very fine, anything better will be nearer the £1000 mark.
Without doubt the most interesting sovereigns of 1863 were that of the ‘827’ type coins. It is understood that these were struck from 'scissel', a lovely word but what is it? Essentially this is scrap gold left over from the coin punching process which is re-melted into a new ingot, and used for further coin production. It is also thought that this gold was mixed with some brittle gold the mint had received from Rothschild in late 1863. Its highly possible the figure '827' relates to the ingot number used in their production, and from the delivery date of the gold, we can assume the few that were struck were so @December of 1863. The '827' sovereign exists in 2 forms, the outgoing Type 1A (Marsh No46A), or non die type sovereign, the digits appear on truncation in place of the usual 'ww' (Marsh No48A), and on the Type1B new die number series coin always associated with Die No#22.
What is interesting about the 1863 sovereign is that it appears clear that both the non die number and new die number sovereigns were being struck together throughout the year. The official 1863 total sovereign mintage is 5,921,669 it is not further split to provide numbers of each type, but we can make a reasonable guess. A theory that doesn't hold to badly for most of the series is one of around one die per 100,000 sovereigns. Its not perfect but given my records show roughly 60/40 occurrence of each type, and the usage of 24 verified die numbers, does suggest around 3.5 million no die number and around 2.5 million die number type sovereigns were actually produced.
It was becoming clear by 1863 that quality at the Royal Mint had undergone a significant down turn over recent years with more and more errors creeping into the final product. Something had to change, and there is no doubt that the introduction of the new Die No type sovereign was to address this issue. Although we don't know the exact details of how the decision was reached, or the specifics of Die number usage, we do know this had a major impact on quality and accuracy of sovereigns produced after this date. Almost overnight errors were eradicated with just one recorded error for the entire series being that of the 1866 '5 over last 5' in date, which only occurs with the associated Die No17.
Of the remaining sovereigns of the decade no specific varieties have been catalogued to date. Although there are some very slight anomalies and small corrections evident in the very extensive Bentley Collection publication, none have been deemed as worthy of particular note. Before moving into the 1870s a short note to state that the 1867 sovereign does not exist none were struck. If you wish to cover this date then your only alternative would be sovereigns of the Australian Sydney Mint.
The new decade sees the final 5 years of the London Struck shield reverse sovereign and 1870 sees both now established incuse W W initials without stops on truncation . and return to the W.W. initials with stops in relief type not seen since 1855. The incuse type is out numbered around 3 to 1 by the newly reintroduced relief type, and collectors maybe asked to pay a little more, but not too much. In general the 1870 in any guise is little more difficult to find compared to the 1871-1873 coins which all turn up regularly in reasonable grades, £400-£1000 for grades of around very fine to something approaching uncirculated is not unreasonable for any of the Die number series sovereigns with 1870 and the earlier dates fetching a little more in top grades and the later ones slightly less.
A word about 1872 sovereigns, the huge mintage of 13,486,708 compared to previous years and the largest total produced in any one year up to that date. Almost certainly required the need to use the older non die number type dies (Marsh Type 1A) as the mint just didn't have enough new ones to allow for these production figures. Although there are no recorded mintage figures for each type, we know there were 110 different die number dies were used in addition to the reintroduction of the stored no die type, looks to be split at about a ratio of 6:4 in favour of the die number version. This is further complicated by the introduction of the new St George & Dragon young head sovereign from 1871 for which mintage figures are also included in just the one annual total by the Royal Mint.
In the previous year 1871, a total of 8.7 million sovereigns were produced with *75 dies and the following year 1873 saw 2.4 million struck with just *27 dies. Given that these figures do now include all the St George reverse sovereigns, it appears clear that dies may only have been producing half that of those earlier in the series. I feel that there are clues in there that with further research may shed more light on the specific reasoning behind the introduction of die numbers, and may allow for a better understanding of mintage totals across type?
The Very Rare 1874 London Struck Shield Sovereign with the most often seen Die #32
This brings us on nicely to one of the rarest standard struck sovereigns, and key dates of the series the 1874. Simply the result of production for only part of the year which lead to just 520,713 being produced for the entire year which also included the new George & Dragon reverse coins which were by now becoming the predominant sovereign design. Marsh quotes 7 known die numbers, however the Bentley collection could only manage 3, the most often seen Die #32 and the exceedingly rare #28 / #33. It seems unlikely that the other 4 dies numbers quoted by Marsh actually exist, and until such time as one surfaces must go down as erroneous. This is a very expensive coin I any grade with very fine examples being £8,000-£10,000, examples sold in the Bentley collection now look very cheap indeed.