Portcullis coinage of Elizabeth I
Volume 45, Number 6, June 2008
Another View The recent unveiling of the new designs for the reverses of the UK circulating coins has been greeted by a mixed reaction in both the numismatic world and beyond. In the main the response seems to have been much as outlined in this Editorial last month (“A fistful of pennies”, COIN NEWS, May 2008)—that as a design concept the new coins are a triumph (for those of you who don’t know, all seven coins from the penny to the one pound have been redesigned, with the six smaller denominations each making up a part of the overall design of the Royal Shield of Arms and the £1 depicting the shield in its entirety), but perhaps as individual numismatic pieces there are some things that should have been better considered. My personal concerns about the new coinage (namely that Wales wasn’t represented, that the £2 coin now looked out of place and that there were no denominational numerals on the coins) seem to have been the ones echoed by most correspondents to this magazine and indeed in debate further afield in the “general” media. The Royal Mint has responded to these criticisms and whilst I don’t fully agree with their sentiments their replies do make some sense. It would seem that the most pressing concern for many people is the lack of numerals on the new coins—the new designs feature the denominations in words not numbers, although interestingly the original designs, as seen in the packs given to us at the press launch, show each coin bearing a numeral rather than the spelled out denomination! On this subject the Mint have stated that “In the main, British coins have traditionally displayed their values in the written form rather than the numerical form. At the time of decimalisation, the whole currency system was changed, not just the design. Therefore, to ensure there was no confusion amongst members of the public, the decision was taken to include the numerical value as well as the written value. As members of the public are now familiar with the coins, there is not the same need for this amount of clarity as there was 40 years ago.” A fair point. Prior to decimalisation British coinage had been numeral-free for years, but when such coins were being minted the proportion of people who didn’t speak English as a first language against those who did was miniscule. In this day and age of mass tourism and migration that is no longer the case. So whilst they have a fair point I still wonder at the wisdom of it. As to why Wales is not represented, the Mint’s response was predicted, and indeed absolutely correct in that: “The Shield of the Royal Arms is symbolic of the whole of the United Kingdom and as such, represents Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland”. Very true—and whilst it was up to the Royal Mint’s Advisory Committee to choose the design, and they could have chosen one that incorporated Wales in a more obvious manner, once they had decided on this concept it isn’t their fault that the Shield of Arms isn’t as representative as all would hope. Maybe it is time for those who feel aggrieved by the absence of Wales on the Shield to take up their case with those who are responsible for the heraldic symbols of the country rather than the Royal Mint! The final response from the Royal Mint was an intriguing one. I had asked about the £2 and its redesign and also mentioned the ongoing Britannia argument. Somehow the two got mixed up and the response I received was related to a redesign of the £2 coin showing Britannia, which was not something I’d even thought about: “There are currently no plans to redesign the standard reverse of the £2 coin. If a decision was taken to revise the design then it is possible that a Britannia based illustration could be considered”. Remember everyone—you read it here first! I finished last month’s Editorial by questioning whether these new coins would ever become classics of numismatics. Having thought about it I realise that actually they probably won’t have time to. This redesign has come at what must be the tail end of the Queen’s reign and traditionally with a new monarch comes at least some new coin designs. Few of us, of course, would wish Her Majesty anything but a long life, but sheer logic dictates that it won’t be another 40 years before the Mint has another opportunity to deliver a new set of reverses to go with a new obverse. Alternatively the increasing pressure on us to join the Euro may finally see us abandon sterling altogether. So will it be new Euro coins that are being designed instead? Either way the “jigsaw puzzle” coins released this year may not have time to make a real mark on numismatics. One thing is certain though, the legacy they leave: the idea that coins can be a part of a whole, an overall design rather than just stand alone pictures, is likely to be with us in some way, shape or form forever. These coins may not be individual classics but the concept is and for that alone both the Royal Mint and the designer are to be applauded.
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