Grading the Gold Sovereign (Part I)

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The highest zones of a coin’s design wear away first. In order to assess a coin's grade, examining these zones with a good eye and a magnifying glass is essential. Nevertheless, for the uninitiated, determining the wear zones of Australia's sovereigns sometimes requires a bright lamp, a couple dozen sovereigns for comparison, and a good deal of patience. In point of fact, I have done some of the work for you and highlighted the wear zones on all* the main sovereign types; a short commentary accompanies each illustration.


Sydney Mint (1857 - 1870)

On the obverse, Victoria’s wreaths generally wear first. Lustre remains in the legends of above average coins. The reverse of the Sydney Mint sovereign is generally hardwearing. However, its open fields are susceptible to detracting marks and other imperfections. The crown and its devices, as well as the pair of encircling wreaths are the first to show wear. Coins in Very Fine generally exhibit lustre about the wreathes and in the legend.


Shield Reverse (1871 - 1887)

The Shield obverse wears in similar pattern to the St George obverse. Contrastingly, the reverse is hard wearing, and tends to wear generally evenly when it does. Lustre usually predominates the reverse, even on pieces in Fine. The Harp of Ireland (highlighted) wears first; however, that zone on the shield is poorly struck on some dates. Unfortunately, eBay does not allow more than ten images per guide, so I had to cull the image of the Shield obverse. Nevertheless, the wear zones on the Shield obverse are similar to those on the St George Young Head obverse (image below) except that the Victoria’s bun on the Shield obverse is not as susceptible to wear.


St George Reverse (1871 - 1887)

As a relatively flat and simple design, the Young Head obverse wears somewhat evenly, beginning with those zones highlighted. Lustre remains in the legends in average coins. Contrastingly, the reverse shows considerable signs of wear after some time in circulation, beginning with St George’s chest and the dragon’s prominent wing. On both ‘verses, fields are relatively susceptible to detracting marks.


Jubilee Head (1887 - 1893)

An intricate designed coupled with a rather filling effigy results in an obverse that wears very easily indeed. Australian Jubilee sovereigns are also notorious for bagmarks; genuine Choice Uncirculated pieces are scarcer than their Uncirculated Young Heads cousins. At the end of their lives, Jubilees are so worn that only Queen Victoria’s worn-down silhouette is visible.


Veiled Head (1893 - 1901)

The Veiled Head obverse wears in zones as indicated above. Because the effigy fills much of the obverse, the design wears somewhat easily. Sometimes Veiled Heads exhibit light wear on Victoria’s cheek, accompanied by detracting marks and other imperfections. The Veiled Head is also called the Old Head and Widow Head by some collectors.


Edward VII (1902 - 1910)

The obverses of sovereigns minted during the reign of Edward VII are shallowly struck, and feature the smoothed-skinned and lightly-bearded head of the King; these obverses wear rather evenly. The first zone to exhibit wear is the tip of the King’s beard as well as the base of his neck. The hair follows suit quickly, as do the eyebrows.


George V Standard and Small Head (1911 - 1931)

The first place to look at a Large Head George V obverse is the tip of the effigy’s moustache. If it is flat, the coin has most likely been in circulation and experienced some wear. The same can be said for the Small Head, which exhibits wear with greater ease than its predecessor. Average coins are worn from the tip of the effigy’s moustache and right over the king’s side burns.

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*Unfortunately, I did not have a Type I Sydney Mint sovereign on me at the time of writing; I therefore have not included it in this article; I expect to put it in soon.


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