News & Blog

The Happy Couple

Posted on Thu, 24 May 2018 by Phil Mussell - Coin News

cover.jpg
Modern thinking

THE striking of a commemorative £5 crown to celebrate the marriage of one Henry Windsor and Ms Rachel Markle on May 19 is notable for a couple of reasons. Firstly the subject is relatively far down the Royal “pecking order” (as it were) with previous Royals to grace coinage being further up the chain—Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Her Majesty the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles (and Diana), Prince William and Kate and latterly their offspring. Up until recently there has been no numismatic offering for second sons (or daughters) upon their marriage, no monetary celebration of Royal births, no keepsakes at all really. The marriage of Princess Anne to Captain Mark Phillips in 1973 saw a few mugs and plates produced, the odd souvenir booklet printed, but no UK coin and it wasn’t until eight years later with the union of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer that the first Royal Wedding (as opposed to anniversary) Crown was minted. Back then the souvenir industry went into overdrive and any collectables manufacturer worth their salt jumped onto a bandwagon that was rolling at full tilt, there was no way there wasn’t going to be a coin! But then…? Nothing for nine years. No celebration of the birth of Prince William came out of Llantrisant, nothing for Harry either, nor was there a British Crown for Andrew and Fergie. The Queen Mother’s 90th birthday was the next crown issue (coupled with a redenomination that confused a number of bank tellers who accepted in the 25p 80th Birthday crown as the new £5 coin . . .) followed by the expected wedding anniversary coins, the expected birthday coins, the (unexpected) Diana memorial and the expected Jubilee coins. This continued, interspersed with other commemorative crowns that were either historical or at least non-Royal, until the 2011 Royal Wedding of William and Catherine (nothing, you’ll note, for Edward and Sophie nor for the births of any of the other Royal children at any point). The fact that William and Kate were commemorated, just as William’s parents’ marriage had been, was perhaps to be expected and maybe the crown to celebrate the birth of Prince George could have been guessed at, but the one for Princess Charlotte came as a bit of a surprise and now there is this one for the latest Royal Wedding—there really is no numismatic precedence for this at all so why have the Royal Mint decided to produce it?

The answer is, of course, because there is a market for it, it will sell and in great numbers too. We must remember that as of 2009 the Royal Mint stopped being an executive agency and became a limited company and as such they have to turn a profit just as any other company does. Yes they have the sole contract to produce the UK’s circulating coinage but that in itself is not enough to keep them profitable, and they therefore have to produce other coins—and this means producing the coins people want to buy—and that includes crowns for any number of Royal celebrations. For years the Royal Mint stood by and watched other countries producing Royal Wedding coins, Royal baby coins and other such commemoratives and they saw there was a huge market for them; well now they are tapping into that market and with one eye on the balance sheet as they must now have, who can blame them? Undoubtedly this new coin will have its detractors—there will be those who don’t agree that there should be a commemorative coin at all or those who don’t like the design (I’m ambivalent on this one, I’m a fan of some of their designs—the Queen’s Beasts for example, and really don’t like others—the Year of the Dog is not one of my favourites at all—but this one is kind of in the middle for me). But that’s OK—no one is forcing anyone to buy one, they will sell well enough regardless. The purists will, of course, insist that the Mint shouldn’t go in for this kind of commercialism in any circumstances but I think maybe that is a tad unfair to blame them for needing to—blame Alistair Darling and his 2009 Budget by all means, or blame George Osborne in 2015, but to blame the Mint when they really have very little choice in today’s market place isn’t going to get you anywhere.

The fact the coin exists at all is only one interesting aspect of it—what is also of note is the naming that is being used. Harry is of course more properly Prince Henry and Meghan’s real first name is Rachel, and one would normally expect these more proper terms of address to appear (think of “Catherine” not “Kate” on the 2011 Crown) but apparently it was a request of the couple that their more informal, and more recognisable, names were used. This is very much in keeping with what we know already about Harry and Meghan: that they consider themselves more modernist, and indeed more modernising, than traditionalists. They want to be more informal than “stuffy”. This is, of course, fine—right up until the point where there is the next Royal baby coin, even I may raise an eyebrow or two at a Crown celebrating Princess Blue Ivy, Prince Denim or Princess Apple . . . the purists really will be up in arms then!