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George V, sovereign, 1920S, bare head l., rev. St. George and the dragon, S raised on ground-line above date, horse with long tail (S.4003; McD.264; KM.29; Fr.38; Marsh 280), some light surface marks, virtually as struck, mint mark bold, with famous die combination featuring a pickled or rusted reverse die
*ex Jacob Garrard, April 1920. Thence by descent to daughter / granddaughter
ex Noble Numismatics Sydney, Australia, Sale 50, 20-22 March 1996, lot 1470
Private treaty into ‘George’ collection by Monetarium Australia Pty Ltd.
This is a legendary offering which includes recently discovered information that may help to solve the ‘enigma’ partially explained in the Bentley sale catalogue’s description of that collection’s 1920 Sydney sovereign. In that sale, the coin was called the rarest of all issues of the sovereign series, rarer even than the famed 1819 sovereign struck at London, of which some 10-12 examples exist compared to perhaps 4-5 (one impounded in the Royal Australian Mint Collection) of the 1920 Sydney issue. Of the 4 pieces for which sales have been traced, apparently the finest known, called a Specimen in the Quartermaster Collection sale of 2009, seems to have been struck at a later date (1926) from a reverse die that was cleared of the residue which protected it during the long sea voyage from England to Australia. This residue accounts for the ‘pickled’ or slightly rough appearance of the reverse, a characteristic of all other known examples. The normal satiny gold texture exists on the obverse of all. The Bentley sale cataloguer concluded by suggesting that this coin’s great rarity did not arise from any melting of the reported mintage at Sydney for the year (which he believed represented coins dated 1919 but struck in January and June 1920 at Sydney) but instead that no pieces were struck during 1920 bearing the date and S mint mark except because of some ‘special event’ in the year which was unknown at the time of the Bentley sale.
The provenance of the presently offered coin dates precisely to April 1920 and may well explain that ‘special event’ and the coin’s great rarity. Researcher Barrie Winsor of Australia has identified the family who placed a special order for sovereigns dated 1920 at the Sydney Mint in 1920. A prominent New South Wales politician and trade unionist. Mr Jacob Garrard (Note 1) ordered and purchased the sovereigns from the Mint in order to present them to his children when he and his wife, Rebecca, celebrated their golden wedding anniversary on 15 April 1920. Barrie Winsor has interviewed some of the Garrard descendants to confirm the facts and has also seen photographs of the family taken during the anniversary meetings (see below). Five sons and two daughters were the subjects of the gifts; the exact number of sovereigns minted for the Garrards remains unknown, nor is it known if each of the sons and daughters received a coin (both daughters but only two sons survived Jacob Garrard when he passed away on 5 November 1931). The mintage presumably could not have been more than 7 sovereigns, or 9 if one each was retained by the parents.
Aside from the wretched condition of the reverse dies received after the long sea voyage, which apparently caused Mint officials to decide against their use, why were fresh dies not ordered? Why is the coin so rare? The answer appears to be that the post-WWI metals market fluctuations rendered coinage of gold impractical. The report of the Royal Mint issued on 31 December 1920 notes that the quoted value of gold per troy ounce as of 5 February 1920 was 127s 4d per ounce (Note 2). This meant that the cost of minting a single gold sovereign with a face value of 20 shillings was over 30 shillings. The Royal Min