To hold one, you had to be noble – Queen Elizabeth I

Most people at this time would never have a chance to see this coin. The Elizabeth I Sovereign (1584-6) was considered such a remarkable coin that it was rarely seen outside of noble circles. Unlike most gold and silver coins, which changed hands often, the Elizabeth I Sovereign was reserved for appearances in Court and special occasions. In some instances, a Sovereign was given personally by the queen to respected playwrights and actors after a performance – a gift never to be spent in the lifetime of the recipient.

This coin was the jewel of Renaissance coinage, minted from nearly pure gold (.995 fine). It was a statement piece; one of the largest coins of its time and showing intricate detail. They often have bent or wavy flans, cracked and dented because of the purity of the metal. Their introduction was a turning point from the economic uncertainty and questionable money in circulation towards the end of her father’s rule. Almost the moment it was minted, the queen began to restore her currency to renown. The word of this coin spread far and wide.

Those abroad came to see the Elizabeth I Sovereign as emblematic of her reign. To have one signified wealth and power. To hold one was an honour. This particular example is an Elizabeth I (1584-6) Fine Sovereign, sixth issue, mm. Escallop. The face shows the crowned figure of the queen enthroned, holding an orb and sceptre, portcullis at her feet. The reverse shows a shield of arms in the centre of a full-blown rose. Made from almost pure gold, it weighs a respectable 15.3gms.

The significance of this particular Sovereign coin is summarised in A New History of Royal Mint by E. C. Challis: “Elizabeth’s ‘notable conversion of the base monyes to the prestinat state of sterlings’ has rightly been regarded from her own day to this as an important achievement, one which, as Camden put it, ‘turned to her greater, yea greatest, glory.’” In the present day, the Elizabeth I Sovereign is a reminder of hope and prosperity, even in uncertain times. To acquire such a coin is as much a privilege now as it was when it was minted 435 years ago.

Elizabeth I (1584-6), Fine Sovereign

Being the largest coin in terms of size and denomination the Elizabeth I Sovereign has always been highly sought after and prized by the connoisseur of collectors. The intricate and elaborate design make it one of the most aesthetically pleasing British hammered gold coins ever produced. Very few collectors will ever have the privilege to own one of these remarkable coins, demonstrated by the impressive price increases over the years. In 2003 a pleasing example could be acquired for around £6000, that same coin now would command in excess of £30,000.

Other examples from this reign…