The Ansell Sovereign was create by George Frederick Ansell (4th March 1826 – 21st December 1880). He was an acclaimed British inventor, chemist and author of the Royal Mint. Ansell excelled academically, and originally looked to be set for a promising career in the medical industry.
However, the young Ansell’s appreciation for precious metals became apparent when he abandoned his surgeon apprenticeship to join the Royal College of Chemistry. This paid off for the young George, as in November 1856, he was approached by Thomas Graham. This culminated in him being offered a career as the head of the rolling room, where he would remain at this job for the next ten years.
However, after a long and prestigious career at the mint, Ansell left due to disagreements on the everyday running of the organisation. Despite this, The Coinage Act of 1970 is seen as a response to his criticisms and evidence of his enduring legacy at the institution.
1859 Ansell Sovereign
Perhaps the idea that garnered Ansell the most amount of prestige, was the 1859 Sovereign he created. This all began with an unassuming rejected shipment of gold coin alloy in 1859. The Mint rejected this shipment due to its high standard of quality it believed were needed in the process of striking coins. Ansell seized the opportunity to use this failed shipment as the test subject for his alloy metallurgy experiments.
Peculiarly, Ansell’s experiment was an overwhelming success that resulted in a coin even sturdier than the traditional sovereign design. It is said that coin was so resolute, it was unable to be broken by men armed with pliers.
Unsurprisingly, this new sovereign design was minted with the face of the then sovereign, Queen Victoria. To differentiate Ansell’s 1859 Sovereigns from those of the same date but from different dies. Engravers added and extra band to the ribbon that holds back Victoria’s hair, this can be seen in the image below.
Due to this design, the coin is sometimes known as the ‘brittle sovereign’, attributed due to the origin of its creative metals. Overall, around 167,539 sovereigns using Ansell’s alloy were to be minted. The average cost for collectors today costs around £3,000 to £4,000 depending on condition.
Further research of this coin will be conducted by Gilchrist in the years to come.