New look for our coinage
Volume 52, Number 4, April 2015
On the Face of it Well it’s here!— the new portrait of Her Majesty the Queen that will grace the UK’s coinage for the foreseeable future. This, the fifth and most probably final portrait of Her Majesty (well she is 88 and the last portrait was unveiled 17 years ago so another is unlikely, not impossible of course, but unlikely) was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery in London on March 2 and, quite rightly, made headline news on most media. It was created by Royal Mint in-house designer Jody Clark following an 8-way invitation-only competition judged by a special panel of the Royal Mint Advisory Committee. The fact that Jody’s effigy was chosen (he is the first in-house designer in over 100 years to have a portrait chosen but there was no favouritism here, all entries were anonymous) is especially interesting as this is the first coinage portrait that was designed digitally and also throws up the interesting possibility that we could, theoretically, have both the obverse and the reverse of a circulating coin designed by the same person. The unveiling of the effigy itself created little in the way of controversy: this was very much an evolution not a revolution and there was none of the wailing and gnashing of teeth that greeted the Ian Rank-Broadley “Real Queen” portrait unveiled in 1998 to replace the “Regal Queen” of Raphael Maklouf. Back then the Royal Mint were criticised for allowing the designer to portray the Queen as “old and fat”; people, it seemed, wanted their Monarch to be different, they weren’t used to seeing her as human and it rankled with many. Now in 2015 people are used to the older Queen and a move backwards to an unrealistic, regal, aloof monarch would have been criticised in much the same way as the Royal Mint were back in 1998. This new portrait can offend few. Yes, it shows Her Majesty as a little more wrinkled, a little more “jowly” if you will, but let’s face it, this is the image of a woman pushing 90 and there’s only so much you can do with that. There was, inevitably, some criticism, mainly about the cost of a change (people seem to think Jody won millions and that the new dies will cost the same again—he didn’t and they won’t!) but that, I think, was really because the sort of people who moaned about the price of it all were desperate to find something, anything, to moan about and they really couldn’t complain about the portrait itself so they picked on another angle to have a go at. As was mentioned in the “comment” last month, there were always going to be naysayers to this project—there always are—whether it’s a new design, a new shape, a new metal, a new size or whatever. Whenever there is a change to the coinage somebody somewhere comes out of the woodwork and complains about it, often just for the sake of complaining. In this case there really is very little to complain about—Jody has taken elements from the Maklouf portrait (the diadem and the earrings) along with the realistic facial features of the Rank- Broadley effigy and has created the 21st century Queen in all her elderly glory. Yes, she has wrinkles; yes, it could have been more flattering; but no, it isn’t insulting (the last portrait was called “treasonous” by some of its more fearsome critics) and it isn’t out of touch. Quite simply it is what it is: a portrait of a Queen who hasn’t changed that much in 17 years, who is now nearly 90 and whose face must be portrayed recognisably on some very small coins indeed. The Royal Mint could have used this opportunity to do something completely different. They could have gone European with line-drawing representations of Her Majesty; they could have gone for a George III style half-turned bust; they could have done all manner of things. They didn’t, instead, slow and steady, they went with a portrait that evolved gently from the last and I for one am grateful. Too often these days we get things changed just for the sake of it, see revolution where none is needed. I’m so pleased to see that on the obverse of our coins at least, that is one trend that hasn’t taken off.
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