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One of the longest running mints in British coin history is the full gold Sovereign.
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Originally minted in 23 carat gold during the reign of King Henry VII, the gold full Sovereign is still in production today with a few minor changes to its composition and characteristics.
During this time, there was only one time, a period of over 200 years from 1604 to 1817, when the coin was removed from production.
The first gold full Sovereign was issued in 1489 and weighed in at one half troy ounce of 95.83% pure gold. A distinguishing characteristic of the 1489 full Sovereign is the fact that the coins did not display a face value as it was primarily considered a "bullion" coin. The full Sovereign carries a nominal face value of one pound sterling (twenty shillings in pre-decimal currency).
The front face of the earliest full Sovereigns featured a portrait of the then current ruling monarch, seated on the throne. This portrait is the reason for the coins designation as "Sovereign". The back of these coins featured the Royal coat of arms, displayed on a shield, with a Tudor Double Rose design. While modern Sovereigns retain a portrait of the ruling monarch, the reverse design of the coin has changed and now depicts St.George slaying the dragon.
Over the passage of time, the full Sovereign has seen many changes in its composition. One of the most notable changes was its reduction of gold content when King Henry VIII reduced the gold's purity to 22 carat, a measurement that would later become standard for British and U.S. gold coinage. The full Sovereign also saw dramatic fluctuations in its actual weight until the year 1816, when the Great Recoinage Law of 1816 went into effect and set the weight of the full Sovereign at its current 113 grains or 0.2354 troy ounces. This change means that a full Sovereign minted today weighs less than half of what a full Sovereign from the time of King Henry VII of England would have weighed and has a proportionally lower gold content as well.
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