The 1887 Sydney Jubilee Head Sovereign - A Key Date In Any Grade

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.

1887 Sydney Jubilee Head Sovereign

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 mintage for sovereigns at the Sydney Mint in 1887 was a neat 1,000,000 coins, while the mintage of sovereigns at the Melbourne Mint in the same year was just 940,000. Despite this (albeit minor) difference in overall mintages, the 1887 Sydney Jubilee is exponentially rarer than the 1887 Melbourne.

One factor that makes an explanation difficult to obtain for this difference in rarity is that 1887 was a year of transition for Australia’s sovereigns - no less than three different obverse designs were used in 1887 - the Young Head portrait (St. George type); the Young Head portrait (Shield type), and the Jubilee portrait. Further to that, Mint staff only ever recorded an overall mintage figure for sovereigns, and were not in the habit of recoding a breakdown of mintages by design.

As the 1887 Sydney Jubilee is rarer than the 1887 Sydney Shield sovereign, and far rarer than the 1887 Sydney Young Head sovereign, we can only presume that the bulk of the production of sovereigns at the Sydney Mint was completed prior to June 18th.

Identification of the 1887 Sydney Jubilee Head Sovereign Varieties

Detailed study has been made of the different obverse dies used in the production of sovereigns at the Sydney Mint in 1887 - two have been identified so far. Although the 1887 Sydney is rare no matter which dies it has been struck from, coins struck with the “Normal” obverse die are slightly rarer again. The criteria for identifying each of the different 1887 Sydney obverse types are listed below:

Small and Spread JEB

  • The Spine of “E” tilts back towards the “J”;
  • The left of the “E” is distant from the first period.

Normal JEB

  • The spine of “E” is parallel with the “J”;
  • The left of the “E” is close to the 1st period.