First up … a bit of history. Australia’s gold coinage history began in 1855 with the introduction of the Sydney Mint design. It was a style that rejected the protocols of London and that imparted a uniquely Australian flavour into the nation’s first official gold coinage. For the first - and only time - the word AUSTRALIA appeared on the reverse of our sovereigns.
A young portrait of Queen Victoria appeared on the obverse with a braid in her hair. This design, known as the Type I design, appeared in only the years 1855 and 1856.
The Australian flavour of the nation’s gold coinage was strengthened in 1857 when the design was altered to incorporate a sprig of Australia’s native flower, the banksia, in the Queen’s hair. This is referred to as the Type II portrait design and it ran from 1857 until 1870 inclusive.
This 1861 Sydney Mint Sovereign features the Type II portrait design.
If we consider for a moment the Type II design (1857 – 1870) we see that year 1865 is a defining point. Those coins struck in 1865 and earlier are extremely rare in choice quality. Those struck in 1866 and after, up until 1870, are relatively readily available, even in choice quality
Our experiences affirm this statement. We can count on the fingers of two hands the number of Sydney Mint Sovereigns that we have sold that were struck between 1857 and 1865 and that were in Choice Uncirculated, a reflection of their extremely limited availability at this quality level.
So what is a portrait set? And why would this coin make a good choice for a Portrait Set?
Answer. The quality.
A complete sovereign collection is comprised of nearly 200 coins and that’s overwhelming for even the most financial of collectors. And potentially frustrating given the time that it would take to complete.
That’s why so many collectors take the short cut of completing a portrait set. The sense of completeness is definitely there. And the financial burden is substantially reduced.
The Australian Sovereign series ran from 1855 to 1931 and during this time eight different portraits were used, five of Queen Victoria, one of Edward VII and two of George V.
So a complete portrait set of Australian sovereigns involves only eight coins.
The acquisition of this 1861 Sovereign takes care of the Type II portrait design, crossing one element off the above list, in the superb quality level of Choice Uncirculated.