Benedetto Pistrucci, the British Sovereign and Overuse Injuries

The year 2017 celebrates the 200 year design of the British Gold Sovereign created by renowned Italian gem and metal engraver Benedetto Pistrucci. His ‘St. George and the Dragon’ design has been relatively unchanged since its creation. The British Sovereign is considered the flagship of the Royal Mint and is one, if not the most recognized coin in the world. 

Despite the British Sovereign being so widely renowned, little is known about the occupational and health risks endured by Pistrucci. An exhaustive search by the authors has yielded little to no available information regarding overuse injuries that must inevitably have been endured by metal engravers. Pistrucci was reported to have worked 15 hours daily in his engraving work shop. Dr. Wang has seen countless studio artists with overuse injuries particularly in the neck, arms, and hands. Pistrucci must have suffered from persistent overuse syndromes that are not reported. To this day, the only legacy of his sacrifice for his art form is the enduring British Sovereign. 

The original British Sovereign originated centuries before Pistrucci was born. The British Sovereign was originally issued in 1489 when Henry VII won the throne after defeating Richard III in the War of Roses. Henry VII ordered the Master of the Royal Mint to create a new gold coin to start the Tutor dynasty. The obverse of the coin depicted the king in full coronation regalia and the reverse depicting the royal arms, crowned and superimposed on a magnificent double rose to symbolize the union of House York and House Lancaster after the War of Roses. The British Sovereign stopped minting in 1604 after the death of Elizabeth I and end of the Tutor Dynasty.

In 1817, the British Sovereign returned due to the Great Recoinage of 1816 as an attempt to restabilize the currency of Great Britain following economic difficulties precipitated by the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars.

Pistrucci was employed by the Royal Mint to engrave various coins and medals. As a foreigner, Pistrucci could not be appointed the position of Chief Engraver, even though the position was vacant and Pistrucci did all the duties. Pistrucci’s masterpiece, the British Sovereign design, depicts St. George (England’s patron saint) slaying a dragon with a spear on the reverse. Pistrucci choose a classic Greek look where George is naked (except for the Roman helmet and cape) and muscular. Later designs (2005 & 2012) depict George wearing a full suit of armor slaying the dragon. The obverse depicts George III wearing a laurel wreath crown, like the Caesars of Rome.

British Sovereigns are struck in the same 22 carat Crown Gold alloy as the first modern British Sovereign of 1817.  The technical specifications of the coin have also remained unchanged. The British Sovereign is a “protected coin” for the purposes of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, which is an act of the parliament of the United Kingdom which makes it illegal to make fake versions of the coin.

The Royal Mint has released three versions of the 2017 British Sovereign – the regular Sovereign, the half-Sovereign, and the quarter-sovereign. All versions come in Proof condition in a capsule stored in a beautiful glossed walnut presentation box. A numbered Certificate of Authenticity and booklet with information about the sovereign, Pistrucci, and his design are also included. And for the first time ever, you can register your British Sovereign purchase on the Royal Mint website where they will publish your name on a special book that will be published by the Royal Mint.