Coin News

Volume 60, Number 12, December 2023

A new look for UK coins

Volume 60, Number 12, December 2023

Designs on change ON October 12, 2023 the Royal Mint unveiled a brand new set of “definitive” UK coins (by definitive we mean the standard everyday circulating coins as opposed to commemorative issues). The last time this happened was in 2008 when the “jigsaw” set was unveiled (so called because when put together the coins from 1p–50p form the Shield of Arms which was itself showcased on the £1 design) before that it was decimalisation in 1971 that last saw such a complete overhaul. That there was going to be change was not unexpected, it has long been common practice for a new monarch to introduce new coinage designs on the reverses to match the change on the obverse, but in the past these “new designs” have, in reality, simply been tweaks on what was already in circulation, with the overall theme not affected. Not so this time, and these new coins are a complete break from what went before. In an undoubted nod to His Majesty’s love of nature (and created with the support of the Royal Horticultural Society and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, apparently) the new designs, at times very reminiscent of the pre-decimal Irish Barnyard series by Percy Metcalfe, feature a variety of animals and plants with a repeating pattern of three interlocking letter Cs being the unifying feature. The penny shows a hazel dormouse curled up asleep; a red squirrel is on the 2p whilst oakleaves adorn the 5p and a capercaillie (a type of grouse) is on the 10p piece. A puffin appears on the 20p (they are native to the UK, Lundy in particular is famous for them) and an Atlantic Salmon leaps from the 50p. The £1 coin is decorated with bees whilst the £2 is the only one to keep anything “heraldic” at all with the national plants of the United Kingdom’s constituent countries all appearing. At first glance these really are hugely different from what went before, except actually they aren’t, not really. True the traditional heraldry has gone but flora and fauna have all had a place on our coinage before now, the old round pound series featured the oak tree, the thistle, flax, the leek, the daffodil, the rose, and the 12-sided £1 coin has all the national flowers just as the new £2 does, however, it isn’t only in modern times that British animals and plants have featured. The pre-decimal florins of Queen Elizabeth and King George VI both featured national flowers, and if you think back to 1936 the wren and the thrift both appeared on Edward VIII’s redesigned coinage (and were kept when his brother came to the throne). Go further back again and you find George V’s sixpence with its oakleaves and acorns, It could be argued that (with the exception of the wren and thrift) these all fitted neatly into the “heraldry” thematic and that is true, but if we go even further back in time we can look at Celtic coins and see boars, horses and grain. It seems that animals and plants have had a place on our coinage longer than shields and coats of arms have. The introduction of flora and fauna onto our coins puts us on a par with Australia, Canada and New Zealand, whose coinage all features national animals or plants, and it’s a theme that also appears on the coins of a variety of other nations including South Africa, Uganda and Finland! How popular the new coins will be remains to be seen but there are early signs that they are being well received, not least because they are being seen as modern and more relevant to today’s society than the heraldry of old and, more importantly, because once again they feature a numeric value. The 2008 series rather controversially did away with numbers on our coins which for parents teaching their children how to count and for tourists who didn’t read English well was a disadvantage. Here at COIN NEWS we like them for a different reason—they are getting people talking about coins again and that can only be good for our hobby!

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