Although George V reigned until 1936 – 25 years – only five dates of half sovereign and eight dates of sovereign were ever struck in London.
The start of the First World War effectively marked the end of gold coins in daily circulation; within just days of the outbreak of hostilities in 1914, the British government issued Treasury Notes (banknotes) as currency and began with withdrawal of gold coin. By the summer of 1915 gold coins had all but vanished from circulation.
Although production of half sovereigns ceased in 1915 the sovereign continued to be minted until 1917. The coins were held as bank reserves and used to pay for war material. After the war ended, paper money continued to take the place of gold as circulating currency.
However in 1925, Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill controversially put Britain back onto the Gold Standard. The Bank of England seized the opportunity to send a lot of worn and damaged gold coins that had accumulated in its vaults to The Royal Mint for melting down and reminting onto new coins. The 1925 gold sovereign was struck – eight years after the last sovereign had been struck in 1917 – and it would turn out to be the last ever British currency sovereign, ending a 108-year tradition of circulating gold.
The coins were never released into circulation: although Britain was back on the Gold Standard, it was deemed imprudent to issue gold as coinage. However, the 1925 sovereigns had been struck – the ‘Churchill’ Sovereign – and lay in the vaults of the Bank of England.
It is possible these coins were given to those operating behind enemy lines in WWII as a form of emergency currency. After WWII, they were also re-struck in 1949, 1951 and 1952 as gold bullion markets placed sovereigns in considerable demand, in the hope that a supply of genuine coins would satisfy market demand and remove the premium that counterfeiters could earn.
However, this gave rise to a remarkable situation. The sovereign of 1925 carried the portrait of King George V, who had died over a decade earlier. Incredibly, this meant they were minted under the authority of a king who was no longer alive.
The 1925 sovereign is one of the twelve most important sovereigns as it is the last of its kind ever issued in London, and the story of its minting is unique in the history of British gold coinage.