Coin News

Volume 42, Number 2, February 2005

Time for a change

Volume 42, Number 2, February 2005

As we go to press so the Royal Mint unveils the striking new design for the 2005 Sovereign and Britannia – new designs that already have both collectors and “laymen” talking. It is the bold new sovereign design in particular that seems to be the hottest topic of conversation – and when you see it for yourself (it is illustrated in a Stop Press feature on page 12) you will, I think see why. Still keeping with the “George and the Dragon” theme that has adorned the coin since Pistrucci’s elegant horseman, first seen in 1817, was brought in to replace the shield reverse in 1871 - the new rendition is very much a modern day representation, no heraldic heroic poses here, this knight is getting well and truly stuck in! There is no ambiguity about this Saint, no romantic imagery is employed – this is a man doing battle with an ferocious enemy and chivalry and saintliness aren’t necessarily the first things on his mind. It seems that this new design looks set to be a one off, a precedent set in 1989 with the “500 years of the sovereign” reverse and followed again in 2002 with a shield reverse to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee – but even so those designs were far more “traditional, this one is not, and as such it is bound to raise a few eyebrows – especially as those other reverses commemorated something, there was a reason to have them, this one commemorates nothing, it is there just to be different. It is, I think a design you will either love or hate, but whichever opinion you hold there is no denying that this is a brave move and one sure to stoke the fires of controversy, fires already burning bright since the introduction of a raft of other new designs in recent years. It is a given fact that many people do not like change, there were complaints when we went Decimal, complaints when the 20p coin was introduced and more a year later when the £1 coin came in to being; complaints came thick and fast when the 5p, 10p and 50p were resized and when the £2 coin was introduced the doom mongers were queuing up to prove such a coin would be unpopular, unworkable and would, undoubtedly fall apart the moment anyone touched it. All, or at least most, of these moans are forgotten now, we have happily accepted the smaller lighter coins, the £1 is a Godsend when you consider the alternative (look how grubby most “fivers” are these days – can you imagine what the £1 notes would be like?) the 20p is readily accepted as is the £2 coin which has, to my knowledge, yet to fall apart without several tonnes of pressure being applied to it! Whether or not you actually like the design there is no doubt that the Royal Mint’s recent programme of “modernising” our coinage has had some positive effects – true the “Heraldic” theme of our decimal coinage – a consistent element apart from the odd commemorative piece right up until the introduction of the £2 coin- was, and still is, the envy of many others whose mints provide them with dull designs often so unrepresentative of their country but just because something is successful does not mean it should not evolve. The £2 coin design took us away from the Old symbols of history, tradition et al and embraced both the past and the future with a large degree of success and whilst the changing reverses of the £1 kept heraldry as a central theme right up until last year both the 50p and £2 have been used extensively to showcase newer non-traditionalist concepts. Certainly the 50p had been used thus before – with the EEC/EU reverses and the D-Day Commemorative, but such designs were rare, now they seem to be commonplace. Is it possible that this new sovereign design too will simply be accepted, leaving open the possibility to change the reverse permanently – maybe vary the reverse in the same way the £1 coin has varied? We’ll have to wait and see. Over the last few years we have had the Commonwealth games, the Rugby Word Cup, Marconi, the DNA Double Helix and Trevithick and the age of Steam on the £2 coins and the EU Presidency, the NHS, Public Libraries, Suffragettes and Roger Bannister’s four minute mile represented on the 50p – the latter of these was a design as far from “traditional” as you can get – a pair of legs and a stopwatch to be precise! Now of course we have also turned away from the Heraldic theme with our “non-commemorative” coinage as those of you who received a Forth Bridge £1 coin in your change at Christmas will testify! So what exactly are the Royal Mint doing? Are they abandoning the traditions that made are currency great? Well some will undoubtedly say so but our opinion is that actually they are following that tradition in order to ensure our coinage and its design is the envy of the world. It is a well known fact that in an ever changing world if you don’t move forward you actually end up moving backwards – there is no standing still – and with the new designs unveiled this week, and the others we now carry in our pocket the Mint is trying to move forward, trying to bring our coinage “up to date” – it is a brave move and one that will, I am certain, bring them a lot of criticism – but it is worth remembering that those who seem to complain the loudest are those who bemoan the loss of our traditional coins – they are the ones who mourn the loss of the brass threepenny bit and the “wren” farthing or who hold up the Gothic Crown as being the pinnacle of coin design. It is then worth remembering that in their time all of those coins were derided as being too modern, too out of keeping with tradition. George VI’s redesigns of the coins were particularly panned at the time – now they are sorely missed it seems. Many people don’t like change but change is necessary sometimes – let’ s face it without development we’d still be carrying around thin silver discs with crosses on, huge great brass “cartwheels” that would ruin any trousers we wore – or even cowry shells!

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