The 2016 Sovereign – James Butler Portrait: What Makes It Unique?

The 2016 Sovereign – James Butler Portrait has captivated the numismatic world, blending regal history with modern craftsmanship. This sovereign, representing Britain’s rich heritage, celebrates artistic excellence and marks a significant moment in coin collecting. Paired with Butler’s distinctive portrayal, it offers a fresh perspective on the storied narrative of St George and the dragon, deeply rooted in British coinage’s aesthetic and symbolic ethos.

This article explores the historical context of the sovereign coin and the Royal Mint’s role in its lineage. It examines the 2016 edition featuring James Butler’s portrait, highlighting its uniqueness in numismatics. By delving into Butler’s craftsmanship and the coin’s significance in collector’s and investor’s markets, readers gain insights into its artistic and financial value. Additionally, it touches upon collecting and investing in sovereign coins, revealing the allure of these historical treasures. Through historical profundity and present-day relevance, this narrative illuminates The 2016 Sovereign – James Butler Portrait’s unique appeal, ensuring enthusiasts and novices appreciate its place in coinage history.

Historical Context of the Sovereign Coin

Origin and Evolution

The Sovereign coin, a symbol of British economic stability, was first introduced during the reign of Henry VII on 28th October 1489. This initiative was part of a broader effort to establish a new gold currency that signified the monarchy’s power and the nation’s recovered stability post the wars of the period. Over the centuries, each succeeding monarch has issued their own versions of the Sovereign, thereby reinforcing the coin’s link to royal authority and national strength.

Significant changes came following the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, leading to a comprehensive review of Britain’s coinage. The outcome was the reintroduction of the Sovereign in 1817, replacing the 21-shilling guinea with a 20-shilling gold coin, which was more aligned with public preference at the time. This modern Sovereign was lighter and featured a new design by the renowned gem engraver Benedetto Pistrucci, depicting St George and the dragon.

Significance in British Numismatic History

Its admiration led to its selection once more for the reverse of the coin during Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, and it has since featured on Sovereigns of every monarch, establishing itself as a staple representation of the coin.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the Sovereign saw extensive use both within Britain and internationally, further cementing its role as a cornerstone of trade and economic exchange.

The Sovereign’s journey from a tool of commerce to a cherished collector’s item underscores its enduring legacy in the annals of British coinage, reflecting the nation’s rich history and the evolution of its monetary practices.

The 2016 Sovereign

Special Features

The commemorative features of the 2016 Sovereign distinguish it, marking it as a collector’s item of significant value. James Butler designed a special obverse portrait of Her Majesty The Queen for this edition, making it notable. The Queen’s 90th birthday inspired the commissioning of this portrait, rendering it rare as it was exclusively used for the Proof Sovereigns of that year. In 2016, only 9,675 gold proof Sovereigns were struck, with 7,495 offered in this presentation format, further enhancing its rarity and desirability among collectors.

Design Details

The coin maintains the traditional weight and composition that has been consistent for centuries, weighing 7.98 grams and made from 22 carat gold. The design intricacies extend to the reverse side, which features the iconic image of St George slaying the dragon, a design crafted by the Italian artist Benedetto Pistrucci. This design has been synonymous with the Sovereign since its inception and continues to be a hallmark of its rich heritage.

Moreover, the proof finish of the 2016 Sovereign involves hand-finished dies and multiple strikings, a meticulous process that ensures an unmatched level of detail. This allows the intricate designs, both of Butler’s portrait and Pistrucci’s St George, to be appreciated in their full glory, making the coin not just a piece of legal tender but a work of art.

The 2016 Sovereign - James Butler Portrait reverse

James Butler’s Portrait

About the Artist

James Butler, an esteemed British sculptor, made significant contributions to the field of art with an extensive career marked by numerous public commissions and private collections globally. Educated at prestigious institutions such as Maidstone School of Art, St Martin’s School of Art, and the Royal College of Art in London, Butler honed his skills in sculpture and drawing. His professional journey includes a decade of stone carving, where he worked on notable projects like the Queen’s Beasts at Kew Gardens and the restoration of the Albert Memorial. His teaching stint at the City and Guilds of London Art School further solidified his role in shaping aspiring artists. Butler’s artistic influence is evident in his various sculptures, ranging from monumental civic works to intimate depictions of dancers and children, drawing inspiration from renowned sculptors like Rodin and Degas.

Unique Characteristics of the Portrait

The 2016 Sovereign featured a special obverse portrait of Her Majesty The Queen, crafted by James Butler to commemorate her 90th birthday. This portrait, distinct from the circulating coinage, was intended as a celebratory and affectionate depiction, reflecting Butler’s desire to capture the Queen’s likeness in a respectful yet intimate manner. The portrait showcases Butler’s meticulous attention to detail and his ability to convey depth and personality through his sculptural technique. This specific work not only highlights his skill as a sculptor but also his capacity to embed significant cultural and historical narratives within his art, making it a valuable addition to the Royal Mint’s collection and a cherished piece among numismatics enthusiasts.

Collecting and Investing

Market Value

The numismatics community highly seeks The Royal Mint’s commemorative coins, such as The 2016 Sovereign featuring James Butler’s portrait. These coins are crafted not for circulation but to commemorate significant national events, contributing to their scarcity and enhanced value. They come in various striking standards like Gold Proof, Silver Proof, and Brilliant Uncirculated, with limited minting numbers. For instance, the Gold and Silver Proof coins are particularly rare, making them not only collectibles but also valuable investments. The fact that these coins are VAT-free and exempt from Capital Gains Tax further bolsters their appeal as a prudent investment choice.

Why It’s a Collector’s Item

The allure of The 2016 Sovereign extends beyond its economic value. This coin is a piece of art, featuring a limited release portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by James Butler, which is exclusive to this series and will not appear on circulating coinage. The meticulous craftsmanship involved in its creation, where each coin is struck with high precision and multiple blows to ensure clarity, elevates its status among collectors. Additionally, the historical significance of the Sovereign coin, combined with the artistic merit of Butler’s portrait and the traditional St George and the dragon design, makes it a must-have for collectors. The rarity of specific issues, such as the 2014 Sovereign which had a very low mintage, also plays a crucial role in determining a coin’s collectability and market value. These factors make The 2016 Sovereign a prized possession in the world of numismatics.


Throughout this article, we have journeyed through the prestigious history of the Sovereign coin, uncovering its evolution and significance in British numismatics. The 2016 edition, adorned with James Butler’s portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, stands as a testament to the fusion of historical depth and artistic innovation, marking a notable moment in the saga of British coinage. This special sovereign weaves together the threads of royal heraldry, numismatic art, and investment value, offering collectors and enthusiasts a piece imbued with cultural and monetary significance. The exploration of its design, the artist’s contributions, and its collector’s appeal underscores the multifaceted allure of this coin, reaffirming its coveted status among numismatic treasures.

As we reflect upon the impact of The 2016 Sovereign – James Butler Portrait, it’s clear that its uniqueness transcends the realms of currency to occupy a special place in the hearts of those who value the intersection of history, artistry, and investment. This sovereign not only enriches the tapestry of coin collecting but also invites further appreciation and study of the Royal Mint’s enduring legacy and the fascinating world of numismatics. In doing so, it encapsulates a piece of Britain’s regal and numismatic heritage, ensuring its lasting appeal and significance for generations to come.

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