Volume 45, Number 3, March 2008
In recent weeks there has been a great deal of publicity given to a suggestion that Britannia is to disappear from our coinage when the new designs are unveiled later this year. As these designs are still strictly ”under wraps” we asked MICHAEL ALEXANDER, President of the London Banknote and Monetary Research Centre, just what is going on and invited him to write this month’s Editorial Comment. Let’s wait and see… HAVING recently read the comments and articles on how Britannia “has been removed from the reverse designs of our circulation coinage”, amid reports that this very beautiful British national symbol may be removed from the 50 pence coin from this year, I must admit that I am very surprised over the reaction of the public. It is interesting to me that the general public are only just learning about and reacting to the forthcoming changes and re-designs of Britain’s circulation coins, when COIN NEWS readers have known about this substantial change for quite some time. For almost two years the Royal Mint and COIN NEWS has publicised that the Mint was re-designing the reverses of the six coins in question and also mentioned the criteria for which artists should submit designs in this respect. I even spoke to David Barrass, former CEO of the Royal Mint during my interview in July 2007 during which we spoke of the new programme. Now, without having even seen a hint of the designs, the national newspapers and tabloids have now pointlessly criticised, and in some extraordinary way have politicised, our new impending coinage by accusing the Prime Minister of being “un-British”. Commenting so fiercely on something not yet seen and making unsubstantiated accusations is to me, very un-British! (and I say this as a foreigner!) I would like to clear up one important aspect of the choice of designs if I may. As I was informed by David Barrass last year, the choice of these impressive designs was made by their own advisory committee which was set up for this very task and they simply submitted their choice to the then-Chancellor Gordon Brown, for his approval—that is the normal procedure. The same procedure was carried out to obtain the approval of Her Majesty the Queen. I don’t think anyone should read anything more into the choice of designs by the Royal Mint’s advisory committee, either in respect to the Prime Minister or Her Majesty the Queen, as neither one was a member. I might also add that commemorative coins go through the very same process and we never hear criticism about this procedure in the tabloid papers where either the Chancellor or the Queen is concerned… so, why now? I think we should wait and judge for ourselves whether the new designs actually represent the United Kingdom and keep an open mind as to what they symbolise. We will all see them in the Spring, so be patient—we may be very pleasantly surprised. I have it on good authority that the Royal Mint are looking forward to launching these new designs with the reverence and importance that they deserve. Undoubtedly the great British public will learn more about the new coins in the coming weeks leading up to the launch. As the Royal Mint have reiterated to me: “The new designs do take on a traditional theme that reflects the nation’s rich heritage, including our historic national and heraldic emblems, and treat it in an innovative and contemporary way”. I think another aspect should be clarified about this new series. The current reverses, designed by the artist Sir Christopher Ironside, which beautifully captured the national symbols and emblems of the United Kingdom during the decimalisation of the pound in 1971 will not be returning after 2008. This is not to say that Britannia (or any of the other current symbols) will not be seen on national coinage again, though it may be on a commemorative coin or even a new denomination in the future. Britain has an extraordinary numismatic history, we’re just adding a new chapter and I myself am very excited to be writing about it. I will be conducting an exclusive interview with the artist whose designs were chosen for this important numismatic event in the coming weeks on behalf of COIN NEWS and will be able to give a more informed and insightful comment about the new circulation coin series after that, but for now let’s just all relax for the moment, enjoy this special momentous occasion and see for ourselves in due course. As I mentioned earlier, we may all be very surprised and really like the new designs. My interview in its entirety, with images, will appear on the website of COIN NEWS on the day of the launch which will be announced by the Royal Mint. COIN NEWS readers will have the most up to date information and will be able to read about the events first hand. Michael Alexander, President London Banknote and Monetary Research Centre
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