Coins of England and Great Britain

('Coins of the UK')

by Tony Clayton

One Pound (The Sovereign or Guinea)

15 shillings <<-- : -->> 30 shillings

Values of Guineas and Sovereigns
Pictures of Guineas and Sovereigns


The sovereign, valued at twenty shillings, was first issued by Henry VII in 1489, and was so called because the obverse shows the King enthroned in splendour.

Fluctuations in value took place at times. During the reign of Henry VIII between 1526 and 1544 the sovereign was valued at 22 shillings. In 1544 the weight was reduced, and the value reverted to 20 shillings. At the same time the reverse was changed, from the Royal Arms over a Tudor Rose to the Royal Arms with lion and dragon supporters and a crown above.

This coin was minted until 1553, during the reign of Edward VI.

Gold Pound

Between 1592 and 1602 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, a gold pound was minted to circulate alongside the scarcer Fine Sovereign. The latter was valued at thirty shillings at the time.

Sovereign (again)

James I minted the sovereign again at twenty shillings between 1603 and 1604, when it was superseded by the Unite.


This is really the sovereign under a different name. It was so called because the reverse legend, FACIAM EOS IN GENTAM UNAM (I will make them one nation) referred to King James' intention to unite England and Scotland. Jean Elsen & ses Fils S.A. have kindly loaned an image of a James I Unite

In 1612 the coin was revalued at twenty two shillings, and new issues were at that value until 1619.


In 1619 a lighter version of the Unite was produced with the King depicted with a laurel wreath, so the coin, now valued at twenty shillings again, became known as the laurel.

Unite (again)

Throughout the reign of Charles I a large number of gold unites were minted at the Tower Mint. They were also produced at some of the provincial mints during the Civil War. Those of Oxford are very rare, while those of Shrewsbury, Worcester, Truro, Bristol and Chester are extremely rare with some being unique.

An extremely rare unite was produced at Pontefract while under siege between 1648 and 1649.

The unite continued to be issued by the Commonwealth and was last minted during the reign of Charles II.

Silver Pound

Between 1642 and 1644 Shrewsbury and Oxford Mints produced large silver pound coins. These are the largest silver coins produced in the United Kingdom, having a diameter of about 48-52 mm. The Oxford pound of 1644 is particularly attractive.


The term broad was actually applied after the introduction of the guinea in 1663 to describe the earlier gold coins of the same value which were broader and thinner than the guinea. These coins, from the reign of James I onwards, were still in circulation at that time.

Nowadays in numismatic circles the designation is only given to a milled coin that was struck by Thomas Simon in 1656, depicting The Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell. There is some reason to believe that it may have only been a pattern rather than a circulation issue.


This is a long and complicated series. It has been dealt with here as the term guinea originally referred to the place in Africa from which much of the metal was obtained, rather than as a denomination. Its value fluctuated from the original 20 shillings, and it was not fixed at 21 shillings until late in 1717.

The following coins are scarce (unmarked, on the basis of a value in Fine of between 500 and 999 UK pounds according to Coincraft), or rare (marked (r) and valued at over 1000 UK pounds in Fine)

Charles II: 1663 plain, 1664 elephant (r), 1668 elephant, 1674 elephant & castle, 1677 elephant, 1678 elephant
James II: 1686 elephant & castle
William & Mary: 1693 elephant, 1693 elephant & castle
William III: 1696 elephant & castle, 1699 elephant & castle, 1701 elephant & castle (r)
Anne: 1703 VIGO (very rare), 1707 elephant & castle, 1707 later obverse, 1708

As between 1717 and the final minting of the guinea in 1813 its value was fixed at 21 shillings, it is recorded separately here from the earlier issues which were technically 20 shillings, even though the value fluctuated, reaching as as high as 30 shillings.

After the issue of the sovereign in 1817, the guinea was retained as 'money of account' until very recent times. In other words the term was used without a coin being in circulation, principally in Auction Rooms and in Horse Racing.

The issues of the three Georges were extensive. Taking each reign in turn:

George I

Issued continuously from 1714 to 1727. Coins with the elephant and castle were issued in 1721, 1722 and 1726. They are all more scarce than the normal plain issues of those dates. A very rare 1716 guinea has recently been discovered with the reverse shields rotated so that the date is at the Hanoverian Shield instead of the Anglo-Scottish shield. There are several types of the obverse in this series.

George II

There were several design changes. The coin was issued from 1727 to 1741, in 1743, from 1745 to 1753, in 1755 & 1756 and from 1758 to 1760. Some of those dated 1745 have LIMA below the head to indicate that they were part of the treasure captured by Admiral Anson, and a few years have EIC for East India Company under the bust. The guineas of 1741 and 1743 are rare, while the LIMA coin is scarce.

George III

All George III guineas weigh 8.4 grams and have a diameter of 24 mm.

There are three main designs. The first was issued from 1761 to 1786, omitting only 1762 and 1780. The shield on the reverse was ornate. The obverse portrait changed a couple of times in this period.

The second, with a rather ugly design, became known as the spade guinea because of the spade-like shape of the shield, and it is now the cheapest of all the guineas. It was issued from 1787 to 1799. Minting stopped because the war with France had forced the price of gold up.

Many brass imitations of this coin were used for gaming. They are easily distinguished as the legends are incorrect. The correct wording on the reverse of the guinea is M B F ET H REX F D B ET L D S R I A T ET E (date)

The final version, minted in 1813, was very different in design. It was issued to supply Wellington with gold to pay for supplies in the Peninsular War.


A new coin valued at 20 shillings, weighing 8.0 grams, 22 mm in diameter and called the Sovereign was issued initially in 1817 as part of the Great Recoinage. It took a little while to become popular, and the issue of 1819 is very rare. Despite Royal Mint records indicating that 3574 sovereigns dated 1819 were struck, only five specimens are known at present.

Once the new denominations had been put into circulation, a set of coin weights including those for guineas and sovereigns was minted by the Royal Mint in brass in 1821.

The coin was issued virtually every year from 1817 until 1917, when they were more or less replaced by banknotes. The coin was so popular that it has been extensively forged.

There are two designs for George IV. The first, issued from 1821 to 1825, has a large laureate head of the King on the obverse, and St.George and the Dragon on the reverse. The second, issued from 1825 to 1830, has a smaller head and a shield reverse. Both have milled edges. The 1828 sovereign is rare, and an extremely rare version of the 1824 sovereign with edge lettering is in the Royal Mint museum.

Plain edge proofs were produced for sets in 1831 at the start of the reign of William IV.

The Victorian series is enormous. Not only are there die numbers for many years, but the coin was produced with both shield and George & dragon reverses at not only the Royal Mint but also at Melbourne and Sydney Mints in Australia (plus Perth later), also with both reverses! Coincraft lists no less than 228 different Victorian sovereigns including proofs but not including the different die numbers. The location of the mintmark on sovereigns of all reigns with the St.George and Dragon reverse is shown on this illustration.

In 1887 the obverse was changed to the Jubilee design, and the only reverse used was that of St. George. However, there are several varieties. Not only are there versions minted in Australia at Melbourne and Sydney, but also there are two main obverse types (colon far from crown and colon close) and in addition there are variations in the designer's initials on the truncation of the head. Furthermore, the reverse changed in 1891 with the horse getting a longer tail.

An article by David Iverson in the March 2014 issue of Coin News gives full details of these variations.

In the reign of Edward VII the Ottawa Mint added its contribution as well. The 1908C satin Proof is a rare coin, while two other Canadian issues of this reign are scarce. The 1908S proof is particularly rare. Click here for a picture of an Edward VII sovereign.

The sovereign was minted every year between 1911 and 1932 somewhere in the Commonwealth. The last regular issue of the Royal Mint of 1917 was mainly melted down. However, the issue dated 1925 continued to be minted for many years. India minted sovereigns at the Bombay Mint in 1918, and Pretoria (mint mark SA) between 1923 and 1932. Canada stopped minting them in 1919. The coin was replaced by paper money.

Click here for a picture of a George V sovereign.

Please note that the Values page does now give information for coins from the Commonwealth mints.

George VI only issued proof sovereigns in 1937. These have a plain edge instead of the usual milled edge.

The Elizabeth II proofs of 1953 were not released to the public and are extremely rare.

Because of extensive forging of sovereigns in the Middle East, minting of sovereigns for bullion purposes restarted in 1957, and continued until 1982. Some of the forgeries are of good quality, and care must be taken when purchasing this denomination for numismatic purposes.

From 1983 until recently, the only sovereigns minted were proofs for collectors, but bullion versions are now minted once again. In the Gold Bullion Marketplace the sovereign has been replaced by 'coins' weighing one Troy ounce or fractions thereof.

Pound Coin

This nickel-brass piece is dealt with along with the other decimal coins.

A Quid

The slang term for a pound was (and still is) a 'quid'. The origin of this term is unknown for certain - the Latin word 'quiddam' means 'something', and 'quid' can mean 'anything'.


See my Main Coins Index page for acknowledgements


15 shillings <<-- : -->> 30 shillings
Main Index
Modern Post-1983 Circulating One Pound coins.
Values Index
Values of Guineas and Sovereigns.
Values of modern One Pound coins.
Pictures of the Sovereign and Guinea
Pictures Index

Help and Advice

Coins of UK - One Pound
Copyright reserved by the author, Tony Clayton
v43 29th May 2017
Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional