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During the height of the British Empire, the most widely distributed gold coin was the British Gold Sovereign.
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These gold coins were spread to almost every corner of the earth and were the predominant media for monetary exchanges from 1818 to the early 1900's. As the British Empire expanded, the mint locations for these small coins reached such diverse locations as Pretoria, Bombay, Ottawa, Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney to insure that there was always an ample supply of British Gold Sovereigns on hand for trade.
The British Gold Sovereign inherits both its name and design from the Royal Household of Britain. The hundreds of millions of Gold Sovereigns minted, from the time of King Henry VII of England in 1489 to the current Gold Sovereigns produced this year, bear the image of the then-current ruler of the country on the face and the reverse side of the coins are decorated with the Royal coat of arms on a shield surrounded by a Tudor double rose, a depiction of Pestrucci’s St. George slaying the Dragon or one of the unique designs created during the reigns of William IV, Victoria, George IV, and Elizabeth II. Due to the royal portrait on the face, the coins were named sovereigns.
The original British Gold Sovereigns were made of 23 carat gold and weighed in at 240 grains but, during the time of King Henry VIII, the purity of the coin was reduced to 22 carat gold, which is the gold coin standard in both the United States and in the United Kingdom. This alloy, known as crown gold, is 22 parts gold and 2 parts copper and the alloy has remained unchanged since that time with the brief exception of 1887, when silver was used in place of the copper on the mixture. Over the course of history, the weight of the British Gold Sovereign was repeatedly lowered until 1816 when the Great Recoinage Law set the weight of the British Gold Sovereign at precisely 113 grains, where it has remained for almost two centuries.
For a period of just over two hundred years, from 1604 to 1817, the British Gold Sovereign was removed from production and was replaced by a number of coins, including Unites, Laurels and Broads, and eventually Guineas.
Even though more than a billion of the gold coins were minted throughout history, this number is not a true representation of the availability of these coins because it was common practice for Victorian banks to remove worn coins from circulation to have them melted down and recoined. In addition to this practice, it was also common for foreign governments to melt the coins and reform them into gold bars or ingots. Due to these practices, the true representation of British Gold Sovereigns is impossible to decipher as the modern British Gold Sovereign could conceivably be made of gold from earlier coins which have been destroyed.
The modern day British Gold Sovereigns are minted only at the Royal Mint in Llantrisant, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Wales since the year 2000. These coins are created under the watchful eye of the Ministry of Defence Police in a sealed area of the Mint.
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