Lasting Legacy

Posted on Mon, 23 February 2015 by Alyson Thomas
Posted in: Coin News
Lasting Legacy Picture this…

YOU’RE probably reading this “Comment” at the end of February 2015 (with our new email magazine even overseas readers get to see COIN NEWS before the end of the month preceding the cover date!), which means you won’t have seen the new effigy of Her Majesty the Queen that is to appear on all UK coinage from March 2. Don’t worry we haven’t seen it either, the Royal Mint is keeping it very close to their chest and we won’t be privy to it any earlier than anyone else—when we are, we will, of course, put the new image on our website (www.tokenpublishing.com) and we will feature it heavily next month I’m sure, so you won’t miss out!

Speculation about what the new effigy will look like is rife—will they go for realism or regal? Will they show Her Majesty as an elderly lady (let’s face it she is nearly 90) or as a stylised Queen reigning over her people with dignity and grace . . . ? History shows us that numismatic engravers have usually erred on the side of the latter when designing obverse portraits, with most effigies shunning the effects of time and sticking instead to a more flattering profile. Even those coins minted during a long reign (George III and Victoria), whilst not completely ignoring the fact that the monarch was far, far older than when he/she ascended, didn’t necessarily reflect the truth of age. Yes, the George III portraits weren’t exactly flattering but the strength indicated by the “bull head” coupled with the laurel wreath of Imperial Rome certainly didn’t reflect the reality—that of an old man suffering from a debilitating mental illness who was monarch in name only. Victoria’s coins showed the passage of time to some degree, the old head portrait is decidedly different from the young head, but even there an element of dignity is maintained. After Victoria no king lived long enough to have his effigy significantly altered, but now we come to Elizabeth II, soon to be the UK’s longest reigning monarch and one of the few to have more than a couple of portraits on her coinage.

The last effigy, revealed in 1998, was met with a mixed response. Her Majesty, it was said, was looking old, looking (dare we say it) fat, with a frown and a double chin. Ian Rank Broadley had gone for a more realistic looking Queen, a far cry from the elegance of the preceding Raphael Maklouf portrait and a long, long way from the Mary Gillick effigy that graced our stamps and coins when Her Majesty first ascended the throne. Indeed it could be argued that whilst the Young Victoria can be seen in the Old Head effigy, the Young Elizabeth is nowhere to be found in the 1998 portrait. Inevitably the designer and the Royal Mint came in for some flack at the time: they were criticised for being too harsh on Her Majesty and, by bringing realism into the equation and focusing on the Monarch as a person, for detracting from the Monarchy as an institution. Of course, the Mint couldn’t win: if the effigy had been too regal, too stylised and grand then criticism would have been levelled on that score. The same media that slammed the designer for introducing realism would have criticised him for showing the Queen as too aloof when in reality she, and the Monarchy, have changed with the times and are a far cry from the kings and queens of old.

The same thing will, undoubtedly, happen again in March, and whether the portrait is real or regal there will be those who don’t like it and they are sure to make their voices heard. Personally I don’t really mind what the portrait looks like, but I do hope some element of dignity is maintained—I know there is a headlong rush amongst the powers that be to show how hip and trendy this country is and how we are at the forefront of new technology, new innovations, etc., etc. But I hope the line is drawn on something like this. I hope the new portrait shows Her Majesty how she is, rather than how the image makers want her to be. Regal is OK, hip and trendy to appeal to the “yoof” not so much. We will know soon, of course, but let me say this now—if the portrait shows Her Majesty holding a smartphone or tablet I shall be very put out indeed!

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