Editor's note: this is the third part of a story about the British
gold sovereign, which celebrates a milestone anniversary in 2017.
Senior Editor Jeff Starck's story about the coin and its history
appears in the January 2017 monthly Coin World.
the sovereign is a chiefly British coin, the arc of the Empire means
that many mints outside of the United Kingdom have struck the modern
coin during its lifespan.
Melbourne, Perth and Sydney Mints in Australia, the Ottawa Mint in
Canada, the Bombay and Calcutta Mints in India and Pretoria Mint in
South Africa all left their mark, that is, Mint mark, on the sovereign.
several notable instances, this cooperation led to great rarities that
are prized today.
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experts don’t agree on the reasons, the 1916-C gold sovereign struck
at Canada’s Ottawa Mint is extremely rare.
Canada had already adopted the $5 and $10 coins in 1912, the Ottawa
Mint could still strike sovereigns if depositors requested the coins,
though there was little demand for the pound in circulation.
Ottawa Mint struck 6,111 sovereigns in 1916 and an increasing number
in subsequent years, until it stopped striking them after 1919.
struck at the Ottawa Mint are identical to those struck in London
except for a C Mint mark, designating their Canadian origin, above the
date on the reverse.
gold sovereigns (denominated £1) struck at the Ottawa Mint between
1908 and 1919 “occupy a controversial position in Canadian
numismatics,” according to W.K. Cross in Canadian Coins, Vol. One,
Numismatic Issues 2011 (a catalog commonly called by the name of
its original publisher, James Charlton). “Some argue that these pieces
are Canadian and must be collected as part of the Canadian series,
while others claim that they are British and are separate from the
decimal series of the Dominion of Canada.”
1916-C sovereign is the most elusive for sovereign collectors around
the world. The stories about this rarity mystify the coin world.
the only thing known about the coin is how many were made.
to James A. Haxby, in Striking Impressions, the Royal Canadian Mint
and Canadian Coinage (published in 1983), “a small number of
sovereigns, 6,111 in numbers, was struck” in 1916.
number of survivors and the reasons for their scarcity remain unknown
to the numismatic community. There is no debate, however, that they
are rare, the key to the short series of Ottawa Mint sovereigns. Haxby
wrote that “fewer than 10 are known to exist today. Most of the
original mintage apparently made its way to the U.S. Treasury where it
was eventually melted down.”
experts have suggested as many as 29 examples are extant, with a high
estimate of about 50 pieces.
somewhat in line with Haxby, also offers a theory on the 1916-C
sovereign’s scarcity today: “Most of the small mintage may have been
melted, accounting for the rarity, although this is by no means an
tale, a rumor, proffers “that the mintage was lost at sea on its way
to England during World War I,” Cross wrote.
rumor isn’t logical, though, because “if there was to be a gold
exchange between Canada and England in 1916, the gold needed only to
be deposited with the New York Federal Reserve for the account of
Great Britain, and not subjected to a perilous sea voyage during a
time of war,” Cross wrote.
truth may never be known, and it seems not to matter.
Geoff Bell Auctions offered an example in 2011, graded as Mint State
64 by Professional Coin Grading Service, the coin had an estimate of
$50,000 to $60,000 Canadian, though it failed to sell.
sovereign rarity, from the Sydney Mint, is often touted as the
greatest gold rarity of the British Empire.
examples of the 1920-S issue are known today, despite its having a
recorded mintage of 360,000 piece (researchers believe that count
includes 1919-dated pieces).
different examples of the 1920-S sovereign appeared at auction in four
years, concluding with the May 19, 2015, sale by St. James’s Auctions
of the reported finest known example for £480,000 ($753,211 U.S.),
including 20 percent buyer’s fee.
2012 another example of the 1920-S sovereign was sold as part of the
Bentley Collection. Steve Hill (then of A.H. Baldwin & Sons Ltd.,)
which conducted the Bentley auction, suggested that the 1920-S coins
were made for some “special event,” but what that event was is not
Bentley Collection piece (described as “practically as struck”)
realized a hammer price of £780,000 ($1,261,520 in U.S. funds).
third example, from the George Collection and described as “virtually
as struck” sold for £542,500 ($904,472 U.S.) in a March 2014 auction
by St. James’s Auctions.
of the four known examples is in a museum and two are now in private collections.