The 1856 Sydney Mint Sovereign is a great rarity. And it's a fact that in the upper quality levels it is as difficult - if not more difficult - to acquire than the 1855 Sovereign.
And yet the mintages of both coins would suggest otherwise. (1855 – 502,000. 1856 – 981,000.)
The industry has always acknowledged the scarcity of the 1856 Sovereign.
Both the '55 and '56 sovereigns have shared the same catalogue value for decades, declaring them equally as important.
On the 9th August 1853 Queen Victoria approved an Order in Council prepared by the British Government to establish Australia’s very first mint at or near Sydney, in New South Wales.
Two years later the designs had been approved. Dies produced at the Royal Mint London, and dated 1855, were despatched to the Sydney Mint which had been established on the site of the old Rum Hospital in Macquarie Street.
The mint began receiving gold on May 14, 1855, and issued its first sovereigns soon after on June 23. Records indicate that 502,000 sovereigns were struck in the Sydney Mint’s first year of operation.
Though the reverse side featured a uniquely Australian design, with the words Australia and Sydney Mint featured boldly, the obverse side was similar to English coins with the plain, ribboned head of Queen Victoria. (Referred to as the Type 1 portrait design.)
The reverse design has fascinated historians and collectors alike for decades. The coins were inscribed with the national name, Australia, even though the country was operating as separate colonies. Australia did not operate under a single government until Federation in 1901.
The Australian flavour of the nation’s gold coinage was strengthened in 1857 when the design was altered to incorporate a sprig of banksia in the Queen’s hair. (Referred to as the Type 2 portrait design.)
This touch of colonial pride seems to have gone unnoticed in London for a number of years until, in 1871, approval for the Sydney Mint design was abruptly revoked and Australian Sovereigns once again took on the traditional British flavour.
Not only was the banksia removed from Queen Victoria’s hair, but two new reverse designs were also introduced – the traditional British St George and the Dragon, and a shield design, which ran in parallel.