Looking backwards and beyond
Volume 38, Number 2, February 2001
THIS year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the death of Queen Victoria, this country's longest reigning monarch, and the end of the era that bore her name. Numerous television programmes have been screened to commemorate this event; myriad newspaper and magazine articles have pondered the differences between the Britain of the beginning of the 20th century and the one we live in now; The Royal Mint has even struck a new £5 crown featuring Victoria and the Crystal Palace (as featured in News & Views this month) and countless pundits have been brought forth to tell us about the legacy that Victoria and Victorian times have left us and explain how we wouldn't be where we are today without the men and women of vision who helped shaped an Empire and turn this little island into one of the strongest nations on earth. All of it is of course true, the Victorian era was quite remarkable and those who helped turn the globe Imperial Pink changed the course of history forever but the effects of that fascinating period go far deeper that any of us may imagine and in every walk of life even today there are always some things whose roots can be traced directly back to that time - numismatics is no exception. Many collectors, of course, would have started in this hobby after finding an unusual coin in their change bearing an unfamiliar effigy of a veiled lady only to discover another, a week or so later, bearing a different portrait of the same woman! How could this be? To those used to the unchanging heads of Edward VII and Georges V and VI such different obverses were a revelation and undoubtedly spurred on many a young collector, especially when it was discovered that this Queen had not only had these two likenesses on coins but in fact there were numerous (if unlikely) varieties to collect. However, it wasn't just for effigies that Victoria is remembered within our hobby, with some of the most beautiful, and thus collectable, coins coming from this era. The famous Una and the Lion £5, cited by Mr Dyer the Curator of the Royal Mint Museum as his favourite, and one of the most beautiful coins ever produced, was minted at the very start of the young Queen's reign and the equally stunning "Gothic" crown and florin, minted slightly later, are both eagerly sought after today. The "Godless" florin (so called because the obverse omitted the words Dei Gratia-by the Grace of God) is another piece that, if only because of the uproar that surrounded its release, is the pride of many a collection and even the humble "bun" penny still retains its place the hearts land collections) of many numismatists. Collectors could be forgiven for thinking that the main changes of the era came in the design of our coinage but other important changes were taking place too-the florin was first introduced during the reign of Victoria as an experimentation in a decimal system (at 24 pence it was a tenth of a pound), copper coins were finally replaced with the lighter more convenient bronze alloy, and branches of the Royal Mint were set up across the globe giving us mint-marked varieties of British Coins still popular today (see last month's COIN NEWS). As well as all this the very expansion of the Empire led to Queen Victoria becoming the official head of state of numerous countries as far afield as Canada and Australia, a situation reflected in the fact that today Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, in one representation or another, appears on more coins of more countries than any one else - another legacy of a remarkable era still affecting us, and the coins we collect today. John Mussell .
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