The James Bond Gold Piece

Because You Never Know when 50 Gold Sovereigns Might Come In Handy

A nostalgia trip gets us thinking

While watching From Russia With Love recently, our president was amazed to see something in the movie he had long forgotten---The James Bond Gold Piece! Near the beginning of the movie Q delivers a special black briefcase to Bond. Hidden in the case are 40 rounds of ammunition; a flat throwing knife; an AR-7 folding sniper's rifle (.25 caliber, with an infrared telescopic site); and---imbedded in 2 straps hidden inside the lining of the case---50 gold sovereigns.

Bond doesn't see any potential use for these coins at the time---but---in case you couldn't guess---they do come in handy later.

But why would Q feel James Bond could use 50 gold sovereigns in the first place?

The coins that built an empire

A gold sovereign contains almost a quarter ounce of gold, and, back in the days when all paper money was backed by gold, a gold sovereign equaled one British Pound.

That doesn't seem like much today, but back in 1817 when the first sovereigns of the modern era were produced, a Pound was indeed a substantial amount of money.

In fact, paper money wasn't widely used until the middle of the 19th century, and it caught on only very slowly in remote areas of the globe where there were no banks. In these places far from England, the British gold sovereign was recognized as a solid standard of value---no questions asked. Because of this recognition, almost anything could be purchased with sovereigns---they were the coins that built the British empire!

Panorama of Piccadilly Circus, London, at the height of the British Empire (Photo: Library of Congress)

By the time Queen Victoria died, the British gold sovereign had become one of the most popular gold coins in the world. Eventually, the Royal Mint in London authorized mints in Australia, South Africa, India and Canada to strike gold sovereigns in order to help keep up with world-wide demand.

When Queen Victoria ruled, the sun never set on the British Empire, and the gold sovereign was recognized world-wide as solid money

A coin that helped win the First World War----

When World war I got underway, the British treasury was overflowing with gold sovereigns. But as the war progressed the costs for war materials grew staggering, and many sovereigns flowed out of the country to pay for the weapons of war. By the time World War I ended, the English national debt had increased tenfold, and the country was depleted of gold sovereigns.

During World War I the British debt increased ten-fold to pay for the war. Many gold sovereigns flowed away from the British treasury.

But during the twenties and thirties the production of sovereigns continued, and the stock of gold sovereigns in England was partially replenished. As sovereigns always bear the portrait of the reigning sovereign at the time they are struck (thus, "sovereign"), these "between the wars"coins bear the portrait of King George the V on the obverse. George V was Queen Victoria's grandson, and he was known as the Sailor King because of his love for the sea. He sat on the English throne from 1916 to 1936.

The design on the reverse of the gold sovereign was first used in 1817---it pictures St. George (Britain's patron Saint) slaying a dragon. But the dragonslayer in this case is not the mythical St. George, but rather a hotel waiter who modeled as the Saint for the coin's designer!

Winston Churchill spent everything he could get his hands on to defend England during World War Two---it was life or death. Countless more of Britain's precious gold sovereigns flowed away from their homeland

---A coin that helped win the Second World War---

If the First World War depleted the British treasury of sovereigns, the Second World War practically decimated England's supply. During the conflict a river of sovereigns flowed to the US and to many other countries to purchase the war materials and supplies of basic human essentials which helped keep the island nation afloat.

By the time the world entered the atomic age, the British Empire was in serious decline, and the heyday of the British gold sovereign was over.

Glory only a memory---and gold sovereigns scattered all over the world

Although it was a close call, England did win the Second World War---but it did so at a heavy cost. After the war it no longer had enough gold sovereigns to sustain it's status as a colonial power. 15 years later England had lost not only it's gold sovereigns---it had lost it's very empire.

A coin that saved James Bonds' life

Even though most of the sovereigns minted since 1815 were now scattered around the globe, there were still at least 50 gold sovereigns available in England in 1963 to save James Bond's life. Toward the end of From Russia With Love, a SPECTRE hit man has James on his knees when Bond tells the ogre about the fifty gold sovereigns in his briefcase---which proceeds to explode in the greedy assassin's face when he opens the case to get at the gold coins. Needles to say, James Bond escapes to spy another day.