Queen Victoria 1887 Gold Sovereign Sydney Mint
Obverse: Queen Victoria Jubilee Head - Legend One
Reverse: St George & Dragon - Short tail; Long JEB
Reference Numbers: S# 3868A; Mc# 174; DISH# S.4
Struck from a rarer pair of dies for this obverse date.
Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee - the 50th anniversary of her reign, was celebrated in England on June 20th and 21st in 1887, and also in a series of events throughout Australia on the same dates.
Special proof sets of coins were struck at the Royal Mint in London to mark the occasion, however it was explicitly stated by telegram from London that:
“The Royal Mint do not intend to forward to the colonies any of the new coins that have been designed in honour of the Queen’s Jubilee.”
Permission however, was given for the designs on the gold sovereigns and half sovereigns struck by the branch mints at Sydney and Melbourne to change to the new “Jubilee” portrait, as designed by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm. Newspaper publicity from the period shows that production of Jubilee sovereigns began at the Sydney Mint on Monday, June 18th, 1887:
“A new coinage of sovereigns and half-sovereigns was commenced at the Mint on Monday, 18th instant, when his Excellency the Governor and Lady Carrington paid a visit to the establishment to start the process, and to witness the striking of the first piece.” Sydney Morning Herald, 23 June 1887, page 11.
Not only is the 1887 Sydney a historic coin by virtue of being the first in the series, it is also far and away the rarest date of the fourteen sovereigns that are in the Jubilee Head series. It is a truly enigmatic coin, one whose rarity is not easily explained by the mintage figure alone.
The total of sovereigns at the Sydney Mint in 1887 came to a total of 2,002,000 coins, while the mintage of sovereigns at the Melbourne Mint in the same year was 2,855,000, so clearly the total number of sovereigns struck does not explain why this coin is so rare.
When we check the production figures presumed for the sovereigns featuring the Jubilee Head obverse, the numbers are 1,002,000 for Sydney, and 940,000 for Melbourne. Even this minor difference in mintage figures does not explain why the 1887 Sydney Jubilee is exponentially rarer than the 1887 Melbourne Jubilee.
Recent research by the British numismatist David Iverson showed that the Sydney Mint received just 6 obverse dies with the Jubilee Head in 1887. Correspondence between the Sydney Mint and the Royal Mint in London indicated Sydney was producing 62,000 sovereigns from each pair of dies it used, leaving us with a maximum total mintage of 372,000 for the 6 pairs of sovereign dies.
These calculations now go some way to explaining why the 1887 Sydney Jubilee Head sovereign is the key date to the Jubilee Head sovereign set.
The detailed study by David Iverson on the different obverse dies used in the production of sovereigns at the Sydney Mint in 1887 has yielded five different dies so far, it is possible that a sixth is yet to be discovered.
Staff at the Royal Mint in London were under a great deal of time pressure to get the Jubilee Head sovereign dies prepared for the Sydney Mint in time for Victoria's Golden Jubilee on June 20th and 21st in 1887. Contemporary notes in the die ledger at the Royal Mint record that the designer's initials were added to each die manually "The J.E.B. Was put onto each obv. Die by Poplett." This explains the variations in the designer's initials that today's collector are all too aware of.
Each of the different obverse dies has slightly different placement of the three letters concerned, as well as the three stops that follow each letter. Although the 1887 Sydney Jubilee Head sovereign is rare no matter which dies it has been struck from, coins struck with certain obverse dies are slightly rarer again.
Identification of the 1887 Sydney Jubilee Head Sovereign Varieties
Being able to accurately attribute the exact obverse die that was used to strike any particular 1887 Sydney Jubilee Head sovereign is, in my opinion, one of the most challenging tasks in Australian numismatics. Each of the six elements involved (the three letters and the three stops) can be incredibly difficult to locate in relation to each other, however it is not impossible to achieve with some study. The following comments may be used to identify the "Small and Spread" JEB variety, which has been allocated the DISH S.2 reference number:
Long JEB (DISH S.4)
The base of the J sits above the base of the 1st stop;
The 1st stop sits above the base of the truncation;
The spine of “E” is aligned with the spine of the “J”;
The base of the "E" sits on a line drawn between the 1st and 2nd stops;
The 2nd stop sits on the edge of the base of the truncation;
The base of the "B" is bisected by a line drawn between the 2nd and 3rd stops;
The 3rd stop sits on the edge of the base of the truncation.
Rarity in Superior Condition
The 1887 Sydney Jubilee Head sovereign is one that turns up perhaps once every few years in mint state. Auction records indicate that there can be gaps of several years between appearances of this coin in mint state at auction - pity the poor collector wanting to finish a date set of Jubilee sovereigns in mint state within a reasonable period of time!
This particular example is one of the very few UNC coins to turn up in recent years. It has fabulous surfaces, sharp details all over, and an attractive straw-yellow patina.
It is a superior example of the key date to the Jubilee series, one that will in demand with date collectors for ever more.
In addition to that, this particular example was struck from an obverse die that is rarer still than most other sovereigns of this type.
Click the PCGS icon below to verify the certificate details for this coin directly on the PCGS website.
PCGS Certificate Number: 37390313
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