In the past, purchasing goods was simply a case of trading, also called bartering. Here, participants in a transaction directly swapped goods or services, with no inclusion of another medium of exchange such as money. Advancement in society led to the introduction of currency such as pieces of gold and coins, some of which can be dated back to the time of ancient Roman and Greek civilizations. The increasing popularity of such currency meant it was necessary to find a means to store and carry them- this is where the coin holder came into play. For many years (and still today) a coin purse was favoured; a small pouch or bag whose primary function was to hold this currency.
During the Victorian and Edwardian period, however, a more sophisticated means of coin storage was preferred- the sovereign case. These were small, portable boxes, usually made of sterling silver, fashioned into a cylindrical shape that made use of snap shut covers to contain the contents.
Sovereigns (a type of coin) at this time were worth one pound; modern sovereigns were made from 22 carat gold alloy and were first produced by the Royal Mint in 1817. As such, they were synonymous with wealth and prestige. The affluent and refined of this period were always seeking tasteful ways to display their status, and one way to do this was to utilise a sovereign case. Simply carrying these coins around loosely was not a sufficient means of exhibiting this prosperity, and so the gentlemen of this era made use of tastefully engraved sovereign cases, which often resembled pocket watches. Smaller cases were typically carried in a gentleman’s waistcoat pocket. Here, they were able to doubly display their status both with the extravagance of the case and the public knowledge of what it contained.
The extravagance of this period meant that it was actually possible to buy sovereign cases that had been combined with other popular products of the time. These included stamp and vesta cases (match boxes). Cases typically held 5 or 6 sovereigns per compartment, although it was possible to purchase a case that provided compartments for both full and half sovereigns. For security, cases were spring-loaded, which also ensured sovereigns were readily available when the case was opened.
As the selection below demonstrates, decoration on sovereign cases can range from the novel and highly decorated, to the simple and plain.