1881 Gold Sovereign Melbourne – Shield

The 1881 Gold Sovereign Melbourne Mint - Victoria Young Head, Shield Reverse

Gold sovereigns from around this era probably have more varieties than most people realise. They can be made in London, Melbourne, Perth or Sydney and can also in the same year have combinations of St George or Shield backs.

On a finer scale the yound head can be large or small with hair variations; the horse can have a short, medium or long tail; and the engravers initials may or may not be present.

This is the Young Head Melbourne Sovereign with shield back. You can compare it with the 1881 Gold Sovereign Melbourne - St George.

The Reverse, by Jean B. Merlen, shows the Royal Coat of Arms inside a wreath. The small 'M' below the shield is a mint mark that indicates the coin has been minted at the Melbourne Mint, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Legend says BRITANNIARUM REGINA FID: DEF:

The Edge is milled.

The Obverse, by William Wyon, shows a Young Head Queen Victoria facing left, plain band and fillet in her hair. Date below. Initial W.W. in raised letter set in trucation of neck. Legend VICTORIA DEI GRATIA.

Image credit: Museums Victoria

Mintage: 2,234,800 (may include coins in sets)
Minted at The Melbourne Mint.
Remember 1881 ?
In UK, Monarch is Queen Victoria. Prime Minister is William Ewart Gladstone (Liberal). It is time of the First Boer War. 1881 is a census year in the United Kingdom. The Natural History Museum opens in London. In fiction, Sherlock Holmes meets Dr John H. Watson for the first time (later told in Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet).
In USA, For the second time in American history (after 1841), the USA had three Presidents in one calendar year starting with Rutherford B. Hayes, then on March 4th James A. Garfield (who died in September after being shot), and on September 19th Vice-President Chester A. Arthur took over the Presidency. Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell form the Oriental Telephone Company. It's a memorable year for Western fans: The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral occurs in Tombstone, Arizona; Billy the Kid is shot and killed by Pat Garrett; and Sioux Chief Sitting Bull leads in the Indian Wars.
Victoria (1837-1901)
Victoria was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death. From 1 May 1876, she adopted the additional title of Empress of India. Victoria ruled for 64 years, a record only recently surpassed by Queen Elizabeth II.
Victoria's parents were Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathern, and Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. She married Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who later became known as Prince Albert. Victoria had nine children, the eldest son succeeding her as Edward VII.

Victoria posed for a number of head portraits, but there are generally three major variants: Young Head (1838-1887) by William Wyon, RA; Jubilee Head (1887-1893) by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm and Old Head (1893-1901) by by Sir Thomas Brock.

General Description: Sovereigns
The 1881 Gold Sovereign Melbourne - Shield is an example of the Gold Sovereign and is one of the most ubiquitous of all coins and much sought after by both coin collectors and bullion investors. Sovereigns have been minted since 1817 (in Britain 1817-1917, 1925 and 1957 on). At coins fairs you often hear the dealers refer to these coins as Sovs.

Besides being minted in Britain, Sovereigns have been made in Australia (Melbourne, Sydney, Perth), India (then Bombay, now Mumbai), Canada (Ottowa) and South Africa (Pretoria) although these regional mints have not made sovereigns since 1932. The non-British coins carry a small mintmark ('S','M','P','I','C' or 'SA') just above the date. This 1881 Gold Sovereign Melbourne - Shield was minted at The Melbourne Mint.

The Obverse is the Monarch's head (Victoria) and the Reverse is most often St George and the Dragon, although other backs have been used and are of interest to collectors. The Reverse often gives the Sovs a new term, like "ShieldBacks".

Specifications for the Gold Sovereign
  • Weight: 7.9881g
  • Diameter: 22.05 mm
  • Thickness: 1.52 mm
  • Purity: 22 carat = 91.67% (11/12ths gold, 1/12th copper. Adding copper makes the coin more scratch and dent resistant)
  • Gold Content: 113 grains = 7.3224 g = 0.2354 troy ounce
  • Face value: £1 = 20 shillings
  • Monarch: Victoria


Up until 1604 there was a coin called the English gold sovereign and in 1816 when there was the "Great Recoinage" the name was revived. At that time standard gold (22 carat) was valued at £46 14s 6d per troy pound; this meant a £1 coin needed to weigh 123.2744783 grains or 7.988030269 g. The weight is still the same today.

As a historical note: to maintain the Gold Standard, in 1816 the value of silver was set at 66 shillings for one troy pound and silver coins were only legal for denominations up to £2.

The first sovereigns carried the head of King George III and the famous George and the Dragon design by Benedetto Pistrucci (29 May 1783 – 16 September 1855), an Italian engraver who became chief medallist at the Royal Mint.

With high value coins such as the 1881 Gold Sovereign Melbourne - Shield, collectors and bullion investors often worry about forgeries but actually gold coins are very difficult to forge due to gold's unique properties of density and colour. Gold is extremely dense and to use another metal and gold-plate it would result in a coin that is under-weight, over-diameter or half as thick, something that would be spotted very easily. More difficult to spot would be a bullion coin melted down and re-cast as a highly collectable date, but an expert can usually tell these too. You should always use reputable dealers.

Which Mint: The Melbourne Mint
The Melbourne Mint, Victoria, Australia, opened around 1872 and was originally a branch of the Royal Mint in London. From 1872 to 1916 the Melbourne Mint minted only gold sovereigns, but from 1927 to 1967 it produced all Australian coins.
Country of Origin: Australia
Australia is a country and continent surrounded by the Indian and Pacific oceans. Australia used pounds, shillings and pence until 1966, when it adopted the decimal system with the Australian dollar divided into 100 cents. The 1oz Silver coins are a particular favourite with collectors around the World and feature the famous Australian animals such as Kookaburra, Kangeroo and Kaola.
If you don't see a coin in the list below try the Sovereigns page on eBay UK

List of items on:

UK On eBay UK:
Full Sovereign 1881 Victoria M YH EF40 Gold Coin Melbourne 7,322g Fine Gold #4
Full Sovereign 1881 Victoria M YH EF40 Gold Coin Melbourne 7,322g Fine Gold #4
£ 453.82
Australia.  1881 Melbourne - Sovereign..   gVF - Part Lustre
Australia. 1881 Melbourne - Sovereign.. gVF - Part Lustre
£ 553.13
Australia.  1881 Melbourne - Half Sovereign.. aF/F
Australia. 1881 Melbourne - Half Sovereign.. aF/F
£ 411.30
Australia 1881M Gold 1 Sovereign NGC MS62 Victoria St. George Melbourne Mint
Australia 1881M Gold 1 Sovereign NGC MS62 Victoria St. George Melbourne Mint
£ 618.71
[#844745] Coin, Australia, Victoria, Sovereign, 1881, Melbourne, VF(30-35), Gold
[#844745] Coin, Australia, Victoria, Sovereign, 1881, Melbourne, VF(30-35), Gold
£ 570.00

List of items on: