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An impossible question?


RDHC

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Has anyone attempted to calculate the number of Victorian shield reverse sovereigns that still exist in the U.K. ?  Or would anyone care to make the attempt? (I am assuming that far, far more will be found here than in the rest of the world put together, but even that assumption could well be wrong.)

I guess that some sort of algorithm could be devised, though certainly not by me. There must be a fair amount of evidence to go upon, notably the figures available over the years from the various auction sites (allowing of course for the same coin(s) recurring there) and the number currently held by dealers (if they would co-operate). Then you would have to guesstimate how many there are likely to be currently in private hands that do not get put onto the open market very often, if at all (plus a few, but only a few perhaps, that remain undiscovered in attics and vaults).  We know of course that millions were shipped to the United States to pay for the 'Alabama' compensation in about 1870 or so, and, I assume, millions more to pay for US aid after WWI. Plus the fact that many (but not necessarily millions?) would have been recycled by the Victorian Mint because they were so worn as to be under the legal weight.

I expect that I have only scratched the surface of the possible factors in any calculation, but one important clue, as it seems to me, is that these sovereigns are apparently not entirely dependent on the bullion price of gold (their prices seem to be pretty buoyant over the last year despite the fall in gold's bullion price from its 2020 highs), though that is clearly a, or the key determinant of their price, which would suggest that there is a limited, though still very considerable, number of them available. Of course, demand for them has very probably risen over the years as more and more people become attracted to them as good investments or simply for their numismatic interest. So that would boost the price, irrespective of their actual number.

I'm very happy to be put right about anything that I have asserted or suggested. And I would welcome further enlightenment or guidance. Equally, you may tell me that I have raised something that is not really worth a moment's consideration. If the latter is the case, my apologies.

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Reckon the best that can be done is to arrive a maximum possible.  Number minted minus known melting, which im sure the mint records (though published?).  Exports as noted would also be reasonable to subtract.  After that difficult to see how anyone could confidently guesstimate how many have survived over a century.  

I recall seeing a similar attempt for silver morgans recently, full of assumptions and guesses without much in the way of justification. 

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The way I see it with older sovereigns and half sovereigns is that there was a period until relatively recently ( maybe 8 years ago ) where most gold coins sent to bullion dealers e.g. HGM were simply melted. Since then bullion buyers saw the opportunity to gain a few extra percentage points over scrap metal by selling back their coins. The market for gold coins rapidly grew and dealers started advertising on TV and forums like this spread the word. More suppliers came on the market and with on-line shopping these coins were deemed more valuable than just their weight in precious metals. Therefore the loss of older coins essentially ended say 5 - 8 years ago and few are now sent to their grave.

Who has all the coins ?
Dealers want to shift inventory so I assume the bulk is with private investors like us.
Governments, banks and any other institutions tend to hold good delivery bars so coins aren't of interest.

Private investors will fall in to several categories -
(a) older wise savers and investors probably well past retirement and holding their loot for their 'middle-ageing' kids or grandchildrens' inheritance.
(b) middle aged people who are about to inherit their treasure and will most likely sell to get a quick return. Most will not know any better than to sell to 'we buy any gold' and I guess these buyers of gold will sell on to the bigger bullion dealers who in turn will keep the coins for the resale market.
(c) others e.g. forum members who believe the slow ramp in scarcity will ensure not only growth in value due to demand and rareity but also a steady increase in spot of gold.

Personally I believe there are not as many Victorian sovereigns as later era based on the assumption that category (a) has already seen 2 generation cycles and maybe also (b).
Looking at the prices being asked by most sellers, a higher price would definitely attract more sellers from (b) and sometimes (c). Many dealers seem unable to shift their often overpriced coins so maybe (c) is sitting on the fence.

Looking back the best time to have purchased reverse shields was 8 - 10 years ago before the bullion dealers saw new demand for collectible coins rather than just any piece of old gold.
Figuring out the numbers will be impossible I'm afraid.
 

Edited by Pete
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1 hour ago, Martlet said:

Reckon the best that can be done is to arrive a maximum possible.  Number minted minus known melting, which im sure the mint records (though published?).  Exports as noted would also be reasonable to subtract.  After that difficult to see how anyone could confidently guesstimate how many have survived over a century.  

I recall seeing a similar attempt for silver morgans recently, full of assumptions and guesses without much in the way of justification. 

Thank you. Yes, the MInt records would be a great starting point, but the Mint does not seem inclined to be very helpful about its recent mintages, so probably the same would be true for its historic records, if indeed they still exist or ever existed.

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2 hours ago, Pete said:

The way I see it with older sovereigns and half sovereigns is that there was a period until relatively recently ( maybe 8 years ago ) where most gold coins sent to bullion dealers e.g. HGM were simply melted. Since then bullion buyers saw the opportunity to gain a few extra percentage points over scrap metal by selling back their coins. The market for gold coins rapidly grew and dealers started advertising on TV and forums like this spread the word. More suppliers came on the market and with on-line shopping these coins were deemed more valuable than just their weight in precious metals. Therefore the loss of older coins essentially ended say 5 - 8 years ago and few are now sent to their grave.

Who has all the coins ?
Dealers want to shift inventory so I assume the bulk is with private investors like us.
Governments, banks and any other institutions tend to hold good delivery bars so coins aren't of interest.

Private investors will fall in to several categories -
(a) older wise savers and investors probably well past retirement and holding their loot for their 'middle-ageing' kids or grandchildrens' inheritance.
(b) middle aged people who are about to inherit their treasure and will most likely sell to get a quick return. Most will not know any better than to sell to 'we buy any gold' and I guess these buyers of gold will sell on to the bigger bullion dealers who in turn will keep the coins for the resale market.
(c) others e.g. forum members who believe the slow ramp in scarcity will ensure not only growth in value due to demand and rareity but also a steady increase in spot of gold.

Personally I believe there are not as many Victorian sovereigns as later era based on the assumption that category (a) has already seen 2 generation cycles and maybe also (b).
Looking at the prices being asked by most sellers, a higher price would definitely attract more sellers from (b) and sometimes (c). Many dealers seem unable to shift their often overpriced coins so maybe (c) is sitting on the fence.

Looking back the best time to have purchased reverse shields was 8 - 10 years ago before the bullion dealers saw new demand for collectible coins rather than just any piece of old gold.
Figuring out the numbers will be impossible I'm afraid.
 

Thank you very much. That is an invaluable historical perspective on the question and an excellent breakdown of the  categories of buyers and how they are likely to behave. And I do agree that dealers' asking prices seem to be optimistic. 

I have since done some more research and the 'Alabama' compensation amounted to $15.5 million when the dollar was pretty steady at 5 dollars to £1 sterling, and the US Government demanded payment in new (or presumably new-ish) sovereigns to avoid taking old, under weight ones. At that time all the relevant English-minted sovereigns would have been shield reverse ones, so that is a large number of the type lost for good.

I can't find any gold figures for the post WWI payments, which anyway dragged on for decades I believe, and by that time I expect gold bars would have been the norm, not sovereigns.

Incidentally, I remember seeing some sovereigns from the 'Douro' ship wreck that dated from only a few years before the wreck and they showed surprising signs of wear (irrespective of salt water damage), which would suggest that mid-Victorian sovereigns had a hard life as circulating legal tender and that they might not last long before being melted down by the Mint. Another pointer perhaps to the same conclusion is that there seem to be rather few shield reverse sovereigns in poor condition that are  offered for sale nowadays. 'Fine' or worse coins are quite rare compared to the better classifications, which presumably are not, on the whole, under weight or not by much.

I reckon that the recently increased interest/demand for these attractive coins (which you highlight) has operated on quite a limited supply, even if that cannot be accurately calculated.

   

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The sum of all Sovereigns minted in the previous Marsh according to my spreadsheet is..... 1,083,190,348

I have all of the Marsh tables in spreadsheet form which is very useful.

I am sure it is possible to apply a broad metric to come up with a ballpark number.

Best

Dicker

 

Not my circus, not my monkeys

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54 minutes ago, dicker said:

Shields make up 222,296,338 of these.

Best

Dicker

 

That sure is a powerful large number of these coins. You would think that they would be more plentiful and their prices lower than they are today unless there had been a truly fearful casualty rate for them over the last 180 years or so, which must be the case somehow or other.

Many thanks for the information.

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I strongly suspect that there are caches of Sovereigns sitting in vaults, not catalogued, but that is a tiny fraction off the number above.  

There are certainly caches of Sovereigns in as yet unlocated ship wrecks.

Additionally, it has never been clear to me if the BoE melted Victoria Sovereigns of older years after her death to mint new coins of her successor.  

It may just be my limited knowledge and experience, but I see a lot of Aussie half sovereigns that are almost slick and definitely underweight.  Again, I don’t know if that is because London had a stricter weight policy or was something to do with the branch mints.  I don’t see this as much with Sovs, mostly the halves.

Not my circus, not my monkeys

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1 hour ago, dicker said:

I strongly suspect that there are caches of Sovereigns sitting in vaults, not catalogued, but that is a tiny fraction off the number above.  

There are certainly caches of Sovereigns in as yet unlocated ship wrecks.

Additionally, it has never been clear to me if the BoE melted Victoria Sovereigns of older years after her death to mint new coins of her successor.  

It may just be my limited knowledge and experience, but I see a lot of Aussie half sovereigns that are almost slick and definitely underweight.  Again, I don’t know if that is because London had a stricter weight policy or was something to do with the branch mints.  I don’t see this as much with Sovs, mostly the halves.

All good points. Clearly many unknowns or unknowables in this equation. I suppose the half-sovereigns got more use than their elder sisters, much as Victorian pennies would get much more handling than crowns or florins. 

I think that any Victorian coin can turn up in the most unlikely of places. For example, my first wife worked for a while in the local library in the 1970s and  once exchanged the modern equivalent for an 1864 shilling that someone had paid in as a library fine. I seized upon it as  for me it was redolent of the end of the Palmerston era (he was still Prime Minister until 1865). It is only  about 'good fine' in quality, but imagine someone keeping it for decades in a jar or tin or bureau and then taking it to the library one day.

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From my perspective,  I think the price of shields has eased in the last year or two except for very good specimens, especially rare ones of course.

They were very good to hold for the 5 or so years before that with a nice increase in value.

Nowadays, standard years in average to slightly less grade don't command much premium over general bullion type coins.

I have heard of a lot of caches held overseas being repatriated in recent years.

It would be intersting to hear what @LawrenceChardhas to say on this subject.

Profile picture with thanks to Carl Vernon

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27 minutes ago, sovereignsteve said:

From my perspective,  I think the price of shields has eased in the last year or two except for very good specimens, especially rare ones of course.

They were very good to hold for the 5 or so years before that with a nice increase in value.

Nowadays, standard years in average to slightly less grade don't command much premium over general bullion type coins.

I have heard of a lot of caches held overseas being repatriated in recent years.

It would be intersting to hear what @LawrenceChardhas to say on this subject.

We do sometimes get offered quantities of "bullion" Victoria shield sovereigns, but these are usually from non-UK fellow dealers who happen to have accumulated a modest stock over a period of time.

I cannot remember being offered a large quantity from any overseas or UK cache, although it is likely there will be some caches of them around. If any large caches come onto the market, I would be very surprised if there were some many that it flooded the market. Anyone holding a large number of shields for a long time would be most unlikely to "dump" them suddenly. Bearing this in mind, I think the growing collector interest in gold sovereigns will continue to absorb the numbers which do come onto the market.

There was the Douro cargo of course, containing somewhere around 25,000 sovereigns, but I don't recall what proportion of these were shields.

 

Chards

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23 hours ago, RDHC said:

Has anyone attempted to calculate the number of Victorian shield reverse sovereigns that still exist in the U.K. ?  Or would anyone care to make the attempt? (I am assuming that far, far more will be found here than in the rest of the world put together, but even that assumption could well be wrong.)

I guess that some sort of algorithm could be devised, though certainly not by me. There must be a fair amount of evidence to go upon, notably the figures available over the years from the various auction sites (allowing of course for the same coin(s) recurring there) and the number currently held by dealers (if they would co-operate). Then you would have to guesstimate how many there are likely to be currently in private hands that do not get put onto the open market very often, if at all (plus a few, but only a few perhaps, that remain undiscovered in attics and vaults).  We know of course that millions were shipped to the United States to pay for the 'Alabama' compensation in about 1870 or so, and, I assume, millions more to pay for US aid after WWI. Plus the fact that many (but not necessarily millions?) would have been recycled by the Victorian Mint because they were so worn as to be under the legal weight.

I expect that I have only scratched the surface of the possible factors in any calculation, but one important clue, as it seems to me, is that these sovereigns are apparently not entirely dependent on the bullion price of gold (their prices seem to be pretty buoyant over the last year despite the fall in gold's bullion price from its 2020 highs), though that is clearly a, or the key determinant of their price, which would suggest that there is a limited, though still very considerable, number of them available. Of course, demand for them has very probably risen over the years as more and more people become attracted to them as good investments or simply for their numismatic interest. So that would boost the price, irrespective of their actual number.

I'm very happy to be put right about anything that I have asserted or suggested. And I would welcome further enlightenment or guidance. Equally, you may tell me that I have raised something that is not really worth a moment's consideration. If the latter is the case, my apologies.

It's not "an impossible question", as you did manage to ask¬†it!¬†ūüėé

Even the answer is quite easy:

"Has anyone attempted to calculate the number of Victorian shield reverse sovereigns that still exist in the U.K. ?"

No!¬†ūüėé

But I notice there are two questions:

"Or would anyone care to make the attempt?"

No!ūüėé

(Although I could be wrong, someone out there might relish the challenge.)

Sure in the above, I was being pedantic and having a little fun, but on a more serious note:

" (I am assuming that far, far more will be found here than in the rest of the world put together, but even that assumption could well be wrong.)"

I feel sure that there will be far more held outside the UK than in the UK. While we might have more per head of population, the Rest of the World has a far higher population, and far more wealth than the UK. A guess might be by a factor of 10 or more (for shield sovereigns).

"I guess that some sort of algorithm could be devised, though certainly not by me."

More calculation than algorithm.

"There must be a fair amount of evidence to go upon"

I think Royal Mint reports, or internal documents, show quantities of coins withdrawn from circulation, usually for being worn and underweight. I think there are existing estimates of the number of gold sovereigns still extant.

The next part of the problem is to estimate what proportion of melted or remaining sovereigns were shields. Up to 1870 this is easy, except some would have been pre-Victoria. From 1871 it would get more difficult.

I also think the number in private individuals hands, or possibly in some bank reserves, will be much greater than the number in dealers' hands.

The attrition approach would be simpler, and probably much more reliable, than trying to attempt some kind of census of remaining coins.

" Equally, you may tell me that I have raised something that is not really worth a moment's consideration. If the latter is the case, my apologies."

It is definitely worth thinking about, and someone may have the time and inclination to work on it. It might be a good piece of research for a doctoral thesis.

I don't think there is the slightest need to apologise for raising an interesting question.

You could try asking the Royal Mint.

I can think of three likely results:

1) You don't get an answer.

2) You get a useless or uninformative answer.

3) They surprise us all, and provide an informed and useful answer.

 

Chards

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I agree, It's mission-impossible!  One other reason would be the numbers absorbed into the jewelry trade. In India gold sovereigns were hoarded in vast quantities to be used as Wedding gifts etc (Shield Sovs. in particular) Photo shows 1/2 & Full Sovs. embedded into an elaborate necklace.

 

 

IMG_2563 (1).jpg

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5 hours ago, Britannia47 said:

I agree, It's mission-impossible!  One other reason would be the numbers absorbed into the jewelry trade. In India gold sovereigns were hoarded in vast quantities to be used as Wedding gifts etc (Shield Sovs. in particular) Photo shows 1/2 & Full Sovs. embedded into an elaborate necklace.

 

 

IMG_2563 (1).jpg

Quite tastefully done, I think.

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6 hours ago, Britannia47 said:

I agree, It's mission-impossible!  One other reason would be the numbers absorbed into the jewelry trade. In India gold sovereigns were hoarded in vast quantities to be used as Wedding gifts etc (Shield Sovs. in particular) Photo shows 1/2 & Full Sovs. embedded into an elaborate necklace.

 

 

IMG_2563 (1).jpg

Oh yes, nice, I'd wear thatūüėĀ

Profile picture with thanks to Carl Vernon

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