1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sovereign

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SOVEREIGN, originally an adjective, meaning “supreme,” especially having supreme or paramount power. The word in Middle English was soverain or sovcreyn, and was taken through Old French from Low Latin superanus, chief, principal. The intrusive “g,” which is due to a popular confusion of the termination of the word with “reign,” dates, according to Skeat, from about 1570. The form “sovran,” borrowed by Milton from Italian sovrano, soprano, is chiefly found as a poetical usage. As a substantive “sovereign” is applied to the supreme head of a state (see Sovereignty), and to the standard English gold coin, worth 20 shillings or £1 (see Pound). The gold sovereign was first struck in the reign of Henry VII. (1489); it was of gold of the standard fineness (994·8) and weighed 240 grains. It bore the figure of the king crowned, in royal mantle, seated on the throne, and holding the sceptre and orb. The sovereign was coined in successive reigns until that of James I., when the name “unite” was given to the coin to mark the union of the two kingdoms. The gold coinage of the kingdom was, until 1816, a secondary part of the monetary system, but in that year the silver standard was discontinued and a gold standard adopted. The sovereign was chosen the new unit of the currency, and the first issue took place in 1817. Its weight was fixed at 123·274 grains; its fineness at 916·66 or twenty-two carats. These standards of weight and fineness are those still in force. At the same time was issued the half-sovereign, of weight in proportion. The weight of 934½ sovereigns is exactly equivalent to twenty Troy pounds, and the weight of each individual sovereign is calculated on this basis. The sovereign is eleven-twelfths pure gold and one-twelfth alloy, copper being usual. The light colour of early Australian sovereigns was due to the use of silver instead of copper. Five-pound pieces were coined in the reigns of Queen Victoria and Edward VII. They were also authorized in the reign of George III. (as were two-pound pieces), but the dies were not completed before the death of that sovereign. Specimens were, however, subsequently struck. There were also some pattern pieces struck in the reign of George IV. Two-pound pieces were issued in the reign of George IV.; they were struck in the reign of William IV., but not issued for circulation; they are current coins of the reigns of Victoria and Edward VII. (See also Mint; Money.)