Special by design

Posted on Mon, 22 December 2014 by Alyson Thomas
Posted in: Coin News
Special by design WITH the announcement that the Mongolian “Crying Wolf” coin has won the Coin Constellation competition (see page 16) and the current voting for Krause Publications’ Coin of the Year (COTY—the winner will be announced in Berlin in February), coin design is very much on our minds at the moment (especially as Phil here at Token is one of the COTY judges). This coming year is going to be a very interesting one in terms of design for British coins: with a new effigy of Her Majesty the Queen due to grace obverses soon and, of course, the imminent announcement of the design of the new 12-sided £1 coin.

The latest reverses for the commemorative circulating coinage (and the £5 crowns) as showcased in last month’s COIN NEWS are an interesting mix, with emphasis very much on military anniversaries (Waterloo, World War I and the Battle of Britain) and politics (50 years since Churchill’s death and the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta). What collectors in other countries will read into these choices is anyone’s guess, but there is no denying that the designs themselves are striking (if you’ll excuse the pun), with the £2 coin depicting a Royal Naval battleship being a particular favourite of ours.

What to put on a coin is always a matter of hot debate and the mints of the world don’t always get it right—some of the pieces that have come out of even well-established mints who should know better have been pretty appalling in recent years, whereas others have been works of genius: truly beautiful coins that one genuinely want to treasure. Of course, the subjective nature of any art appreciation means that no matter what mints do they will never please everybody and I imagine that every year when a country’s new designs are announced their marketing departments wait with bated breath for the inevitable criticisms, hoping that somewhere there will be some praise too. It is certain that when Her Majesty’s new effigy is unveiled there will be an outpouring of scorn and derision from somewhere. Either she will look too old or too young, too fat or too thin, too regal and imperious or not nearly “Royal” enough. . . . In short, the Royal Mint will already know that no matter what they do, somebody, somewhere, will criticise the decision. But that’s OK. No matter what the new effigy looks like most of us will be OK with it and we will, I’m certain, still prefer it, and the designs on the reverse, to a lot of the alternatives out there.

We may not always get it right in this country when it comes to the design of our coins—for example I’m really not a great fan of the new “floral” series of £1 coins and a few of the 50p pieces we’ve had recently haven’t really been my cup of tea either—but when I look around the world at some of the offerings, a few of the bland Euro designs, or some of the simplistic coins that just tell the world what they are and how much they are worth (and even then not very well), then I realise that actually we are doing pretty well, and always have. Our coinage has, over the centuries, been some of the most intricate, delicate and beautiful of any country in the world—it has an appeal than transcends the ages and still has the power to move us today. Think of the Pistrucci’s George and Dragon (the man was a genius—see page 16); think of the Gothic Crown; think of the threepenny thrift or farthing wren; think of the William and Mary five guineas or even just Britannia on the penny or the new version of her on the 2014 Britannias themselves. Over the years our coins have been beautiful, inspirational, and we know that we aren’t just collecting lumps of metal. We aren’t just in it to make money, we are in it because we genuinely love what we collect, appreciate it and treasure it and it is that, I think, beyond anything else that makes our hobby so special.

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