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HoW Ed Winston Churchill: A True British Icon Brilliant Uncirculated Gold Quarter Sovereign Coin Official Elton John Free Coin The Sovereign 2023 Brilliant Uncirculated Gold Quarter Sovereign. A first in gold Sovereign history.

In 1817, Benedetto Pistrucci’s remarkable Saint George and the Dragon design helped secure the sovereign a reputation as one of the most recognizable coins in the world. Now, history has been made as, for the first time in two hundred years, a new sovereign design has been created by a Pistrucci family member.

Two hundred years ago, Britain was still reeling from the loss of its American colonies during the American Revolutionary War (1775–83) and just emerging from more than twenty years of war with France (1793–1815). Gold coins had disappeared almost entirely from circulation in Britain and what silver coins remained were so worn that many were little more than plain discs of metal. However, the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815 meant that Britain could finally turn its attention to reforming its crippled currency and central to the country’s new coinage was the sovereign.


Passionate and headstrong

The name of Britain’s new premier gold coin was no accident. Henry VII first introduced a sovereign in 1489, following the end of the Wars of the Roses (1455–85) symbolising peace and the hopes invested in the new Tudor royal dynasty. Likewise, the 1817 sovereign not only celebrated Britain’s victory in the Napoleonic Wars, but was also a symbol of the ambitions of the nation. And, just as the medieval sovereign had cemented the power and international standing of the Tudors, it was hoped that the new sovereign would bring prosperity and authority to Britain. In this, the sovereign more than fulfilled its promise, powering the British Empire and circulating throughout the colonies and beyond to become the most respected coin in the world.

The job of designing the reverse of the sovereign fell to Benedetto Pistrucci. Passionate and headstrong, the Italian was, to some, a controversial choice. Yet his talent was such that, in 1816, William Wellesley Pole, Master of the Mint, wrote to the Lords of the Treasury saying: ‘I have thought it desirable to employ Mr Pistrucci, an artist of the greatest celebrity and whose works place him above all competition as a gem engraver, to make models for the dyes of the new coinage.’ Pistrucci was given the position of Chief Medallist and commissioned to prepare the designs for the sovereign. The seeds for the sovereign’s Saint George and the Dragon motif had been planted shortly after Pistrucci arrived in London in 1815, when he was asked by Lady Spencer to create a wax model of the saint in the ‘Greek style’. 

Fight to become an artist

The commission must have delighted Pistrucci as an ardent student of Greek art, but the subject may also have appealed to him personally. After all, here he was, a judge’s son from Rome who’d battled to become an artist and whose path to England had been fraught with both physical danger and threat of damage to his reputation, sitting with the cream of London society having overcome all that might have derailed his career. Pistrucci was never above insinuating himself into the classical themes he explored in his art, and it is tempting to imagine that he saw himself as Saint George, slaying the dragon of his doubters and detractors.

When Pistrucci then suggested Saint George as a suitable subject for the sovereign’s reverse, Wellesley Pole was only too happy to concur. It was the perfect motif for the times, symbolizing both the nation’s victory and the power of the saint’s namesakes, King George III and George, the Prince Regent.

Pistrucci’s design for the sovereign was extraordinary. Influenced by the Parthenon marbles that had recently been brought to London by Lord Elgin, and taking inspiration from coins such as the famous ‘Gloria Romanorum’ issued by the Emperor Magnentius (303–353), Pistrucci’s work was unlike anything seen before on a British coin. It was certainly a radical change from the staid and traditional heraldic shield designs that had featured on the guinea since 1663. Never before had a British coin featured such a sense of energy and movement. Muscular and naked but for the cloak flying out behind him, Pistrucci’s Saint George was far removed from more romanticised versions of the saint. The smooth, solid flesh of the horse, contrasting beautifully with the spiky, writhing, and somewhat puny dragon, was the very embodiment of power and strength. It was a truly striking and inspirational image. No wonder that for 200 years Benedetto’s Saint George and the Dragon has captivated collectors around the world.

Step into my ancestor’s shoes

The Pistrucci name is inextricably linked to the sovereign and to its remarkable history as one of the world’s most famous coins. Yet Angela Benita Pistrucci, Benedetto’s great-greatgreat- grand niece, grew up largely unaware of her family’s illustrious history. As a child she was told that one of her ancestors worked at the Royal Mint but, with no mention made of what he did, Angela recalls how she ‘made up a story that he most likely worked in the basement shovelling the coal into the fire to melt the metal for the coins—being poor and from another country of course’. It was only as an adult researching her family history that Angela found out who her ancestor really was. She was amazed to discover that she and Benedetto shared a passion for cameos and relief sculpture. ‘I was in shock as I looked around my house seeing the very same art form of bas relief sculpture as seen in Benedetto’s design for the sovereign’, she tells me.

Even so, when Angela told her grandchildren in 2012 that she would one day design a coin, they laughed at their dear ‘Mimi’. It seemed an impossible dream that this self-taught artist from a small town in Canada should one day design a coin, let alone a coin as prestigious as the sovereign. As Angela says: ‘Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed that someday I would step into my ancestor’s shoes and design the sovereign’. Yet, in 2015 she was invited to do exactly that and create a new Saint George and the Dragon design for a 200th anniversary sovereign to be issued by the Government of Gibraltar and distributed exclusively by The London Mint Office. It was a daunting task. How do you begin to emulate, or even exceed, the success of a design as iconic as Pistrucci’s Saint George and the Dragon? For Angela, the answer lay in Rome.

Contemporary and classical

The result of her time there is a sovereign design that elegantly combines the contemporary and the classical, with more than a nod to the Pistrucci heritage. Angela has recast Benedetto’s Greek saint as a Roman soldier, although she has drawn on the composition of the 1817 sovereign in featuring the rearing horse, the rider pulled close to his horse’s neck, the twist of the dragon’s neck, plus the original spear (replaced by a sword from 1820) and the garter motto. Some of the details of the coin also bear an inherited trace of Benedetto’s style, particularly the twisting of the dragon’s tail, entangling Saint George’s horse, which recalls the sinuous, serpentine tails of the giants on Benedetto’s extraordinary Waterloo medal. When I suggest that perhaps she was influenced by Benedetto’s style, Angela laughingly replies, ‘I actually think the style belongs to me and he must have unconsciously copied me’. Yet, Angela admits that when she is struggling for inspiration she talks to Benedetto and asks for his direction. And, although she says he does not answer, looking at her 2017 Sovereign design, I can’t help but wonder if Benedetto hasn’t whispered just a few of his secrets into Angela’s ear.