New 2008 reverse British coin designs, congratulations to Matthew Dent of London (pictured).
On this day, the 2nd April 2008, 10:30 am precisely, the world (yes, I believe this story will be covered by the international press) will have the opportunity to see the winning reverse designs for the new coins series dated from 2008 which were chosen to grace British coinage for, what may be many years to come!
It isn’t too often that one is able to write about such an important event in the numismatic world as the changeover from one iconic set of coin designs to another new set. This is however one of these occasions and the wait was worth it. The Royal Mint has been planning this for more than the two or so years which was spent on the choice of design. There has been a great amount of secretive communiques, an even greater amount of frustration for all of our part (the media) to find out just where the Mint was on choosing a winning design and letting the press in on the process.
Having seen the coins ahead of time and speaking to the artist who came up with the unusual concept and design, which I believe shows off British ingenuity marvellously, I hope the Royal Mint, the Banks, post offices and retail outlets who receive their consignment after the official release date, will make a real event out of the day, the coins deserve it, the artist deserves it and we certainly deserve it. The British public will have these extraordinary and innovatively designed coins in their pockets for many years to come and looking to the 2012 Olympiad, these coins will I’m sure, be pocketed in some considerable number by more than the 100,000 visitors relying on them as not just an inexpensive souvenir but to share with friends and family back home.
Well, it’s now time to meet the man in the spotlight, he is Matthew Dent, a 26 year old (he’ll be 27 in August) graphic designer originally from Bangor in North Wales who currently lives and works in London. Matthew trained as an artist at the Coleg Menai in Bangor and went on to study Graphic design at the University of Brighton where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 2003. He has done a bit of travelling as well ending up in Australia and New Zealand for about a year. If all this seems impressive or to some quite mundane, then take into account that Matthew never entered any kind of competition before learning about the Royal Mint’s open competition to design the reverse side of U.K. coinage from a friend (who read about it from a national newspaper and sent Matthew the information by e-mail) and suggested that he enter the competition.
Matthew has suggested that his interest in coins and their design was peaked as far back as 1990 with the issue of the reduced size five pence coin. Ironically, it was also a lecturer at the Coleg Menai who used coins as an example of small scaled and detailed design which further added to his interest in, and with the nation’s coinage which I suppose, has brought Matthew to this historic point not only his career but also to the British nation’s newest chapter in it’s rich and illustrious numismatic account.
As you begin to read my interview with Matthew, you’ll begin to understand the idea and inspiration behind the new and bold designs which won out and stood above all other designs and concepts. (more than 400 entries were considered) How he imagined his own vision of what to include on the seven (originally only due to be six) reverses and how they all specifically played a part in the unique concept of his design.
As many have read recently in several newspapers about how British heritage might be lost with new irrelevant or “un-British” designs or, that there may not be any representation of the country’s traditional insignias or heraldry, look no further for these symbols of “Britishness” or nationhood as they are all present and accounted for. Unless anyone has an opposition to the Royal coat of arms that is, rest assured that the country’s identity is safe and securely affixed on her national coinage. Here is my interview with Matthew in it’s entirety, during my hour, I was privileged to have been given a preview of all the designs as a complete mint set before the public unveiling ceremony today and I must say, I was impressed, by both the new reverses and by the artist / designer who will I think, enjoy the attention he rightfully will receive during the time up to and after the release of the new coins for 2008. Read on & enjoy, and join us again in congratulating Matthew Dent.
As we sit down to our conversation this afternoon, I’m a bit startled to learn that Matthew himself has not yet seen the complete set of coins, “I haven’t seen the finished one pence or the five pence or the twenty pence either” he says “I haven’t seen the one pound coin I don’t think” but looks rather pleased with both the uncirculated coins all in the set as well as the presentation of the new mint set which may be the first articles available to collectors. I feel somewhat privileged to have handed him the complete set and with that out of the way, we sit down during Matthew’s lunch break to discuss the topic of the day, his newly designed coin series,
MA: Matthew Dent, first, a wholehearted congratulations to you and your fantastic designs, they are certainly not what I myself had expected but, they are what I would certainly describe as very imaginative, innovative and really attractive but also on the unconventional side, of course I’m going to ask first, where did you first come up with this concept, You describe part of the process as “seeing six separate discs before realising that each belongs to a bigger picture’’ which I think is quite accurate in their description, it’s like nothing else ever seen on British coinage…
MD: Thank you, well the idea really came from the brief, the main and initial target was that it asked for six separate coin designs representing the four countries which make up the U.K. So, you’ve got four countries and six coins, that doesn’t work too well, without showing bias to any specific country. My initial idea which came to mind was a landscape, perhaps an English topic of feature merging with an Irish and a Scottish and Welsh and so on. I wanted to illustrate no clear boundaries with these merging landscapes and once you’ve got a landscape like that, it would have been easy to drop the six coin shapes over it without missing any one country unnecessarily. The problem with that idea was I had problems with the horizontal landscape, it was too linear for the coin designs to make sense. After I looked again at and, gave more thought to the actual brief, there was quite a greater emphasis about heraldry and I considered then the shield or royal arms which worked nicely in my mind because you could arrange the coin shapes next to one another as well above and beneath and I could see some real possibility, it was this route which I chose to explore.
MA: You’ve described taking on a traditional medium in a fresh way and in as much, chose the heraldic direction for the basis of your design since you stated that this subject lent itself to British coinage for hundreds of years, but were there any other considerations you thought of…? I know you’ve mentioned a landscape theme but, in so much as using another insignia or British icon as a base for your designs, would your concept have still lent itself to other subjects…say perhaps Britannia?
MD: Well, the shield of the Royal arms was the first thing that came to my mind after the landscape idea and the first which I explored in detail, and so in this regard it was a solution which I think started to work.
MA: Matthew, Take us through the process of elimination, you decided on the direction and concept that your theme would follow and submitted your designs, how long did you wait before you were contacted by the Mint…, after that, when did you begin to believe that this was something that could be a reality…?
MD: The first part of your question, I think I submitted the designs the early part of September 2005 and it was about two, three weeks or so when I heard back. I know they collected designs from all over the country and they all went before the advisory committee…
MA: Two weeks, that must have been very encouraging for you at that juncture; I remember hearing that there were over 400 entries…
MD: Yes, absolutely, I was delighted to hear from them…
MA: So, when was it that you thought this could be a reality…?
MD: Well, they were enthusiastic when they contacted me, I think they saw potential in what was a fairly basic drawing of mine so, I can’t thank the advisory committee enough for seeing some potential at that point. (smiles)
It was such a long process that it really never felt like a reality until the later stages of the competition that there was a real chance that my designs could go through. That didn’t happen for a year or so after the initial feedback from the Royal Mint. I’m glad however that I had positive feedback during that time but I still wasn’t popping any champagne corks…! (laughs)
MA: As part of the process, I personally want to know, did you employ sketches or computer generated images, I’ve also designed a coin and it was mostly generated by computer, does one have to have a real talent for drawing…?
MD: It (the design) was mainly from a computer. The initial idea of just working out whether it would work was a mixture of printing something off, trimming coins out, arranging them and then much of the rest was done by hand, an arts and crafts kind of approach. That is a process taken with anything I work with, you need to sketch things out quickly and decide whether an idea will succeed or not and go back to the drawing board…
MA: how long was the process for you, when you put all the coins together and decided that had a finished product…?
MD: Hmm… I probably spent a few hours on it, on finding an image to work with, trimming it out, arranging the coin shapes over the shield and realising this concept had possibilities. Then, it took several days of working with the computer and researching several sources of images through books and the internet to find the perfect examples of the three lions on the royal arms or the rampant lion of the Scottish shield to use in my representations. Although the initial effort was quick in understanding whether the idea would work or not, it then took a bit more effort thereafter to take it to a stage that I would be happy to submit my designs to the committee.
MA: For anyone who knows British coinage or those who are dedicated collectors, we will always revere the name of Sir Christopher Ironside, the artist responsible for the present designs which were introduced for decimalisation beginning in 1968 and whose designs your new series will replace. These designs became one of the longest issued coin series from the Royal Mint, did you know anything of him and did you give any thought of what it was going to be like to “fill his shoes” as it were…? He’s a pretty hard act to follow…
MD: He is definitely, and what great designs they are as well, they’ve really stood the test of time, coming up to forty years. It’s a brilliant series and I don’t think anyone could dispute that either, It’s a great privilege for me to follow in his footsteps and I can only hope that my designs are received as well as his were…
MA: When did you learn of him, I know you’re not a dedicated collector of coins…
MD: I only learnt about him through the competition, I must admit that before the competition, I really didn’t have a lot of knowledge or understanding about coinage and its history so his was a name which was often mentioned.
MA: having seen parts of your own website where some of your work is displayed, you seem to gravitate towards an abstract approach to illustration, is this something that you immediately thought could be applied to the new coin series or were you thinking of perhaps a way of fusing tradition with modern display techniques?
MD: Yes, I see what you mean, there is some resemblance to the style of some of the graphics which are displayed on my website and those of the new coins but I hadn’t realised that until now!
MA: There have been a few artists or sculptors from many countries that I am aware of who have taken on the task of coin design as a secondary project and then have continued to contribute designs for not only their own countries but for other markets, now since you’ve had a taste of what this all entails, is this something that you will pursue more aggressively or might you stay with illustrative projects which are not coin or banknote related…?
MD: Well, I’ve really enjoyed this competition, I learnt a lot from it and I’ve met some brilliant people through it so, if the opportunity came around again, I’d really like to be a part of another idea or scheme…
MA: The Olympics are coming up you know…
MD: Well, I think the Royal Mint have this all in hand, it may be too far down the line for submissions or anything like that…
MA: From the background information I’ve read about you, you are born and bred in North Wales. I’ve also read that you took the approach of your concept to what you’ve described as a “united design”… both in terms of theme and surface of the coins themselves, but was there ever a part of you that wanted to see more of the Welsh heritage perhaps, displayed more prominently or included in your new designs…?
MD: Being Welsh, it’s very much a part of who I am, it was a great place to grow up and somewhere you can be very proud of. In terms of representing Wales on my designs, I feel as though I’ve done so in a way since I’ve used the royal arms which represents the United Kingdom completely, I‘m really happy with that representation!
MA: As I mentioned earlier the present coin series launched in 1968 have had a forty year span of issue, I don’t think there has been another coin series with the same longevity since the coinage of Queen Victoria, would you like to see your coins around for a similar time frame or do you think there is a “shelf life” perhaps, associated with your designs…?
MD: I imagine there’s a shelf life with any designs, even now as we see with Sir Christopher Ironside and William Gardiner. It’s coming to the end of their series now and it’s been a glorious forty years for the current series but I expect that mine will also have a shelf life, it would be unrealistic to think anything otherwise. I’m just happy to see them in the short term really…
MA: Even if they are minted for a short period, they will still be in circulation for a long time provided we don’t eliminate any denominations or change currency…
MD: yes that’s right, if they’re around for twenty, thirty years or so, brilliant, however, I’m only looking ahead to the launch on Wednesday, and then, eventually seeing them filtering their way into people’s pockets, I think that’s going to be an exciting moment for me when they do but as I mentioned, I’m not looking much further ahead than that…
MA: I always ask this kind of question in this type of situation so you’re going to be no exception, has the impact of this important occasion dawned on you yet and if so, describe for me on a scale of 1 to 10 the level of your excitement…
MD: It’s dawning on me ever more the closer we get. There were points at which it becomes “real”. When trial pieces are cut and all of a sudden you see metal discs whereas before you only saw graphical renderings. Working with the Sculptor John Bergdhal on large pieces, this is when you see a coin-like object and that’s when it hits home. When I visited the Royal Mint in Llantrisant, and was able to push a button and strike the first piece in precious metal, in gold, that was a brilliant moment, spine-tingling for me…
MA; Who has the gold piece…
MD: I’ve no idea… under lock and key probably…! (laughs) I’m sure it’s in their safe but that was another point when it became ever real. Looking ahead to the launch on Wednesday, I think that’s going to be a fairly monumental moment in my life.
MA: at some point, you yourself and 60 million other Britons are going to have a pocketful of what is essentially your imagination from the later part of this year, but speaking of closer to home, what has your family said to you in this respect and when did you tell them…?
MD: Well, my family have followed the progress closely. My Grandparents have more of an affinity with British coinage especially since they remember decimalisation and so on. They’ve been very keen and have asked about the stages which I’ve gone through asking if I’ve seen any of the coins and when is the launch going to take place, they’ve been brilliant as have my parents.
MA: Have you yourself ever been a collector, I know you were sparked by the issue of the smaller 5 pence coin in 1990, any interest now?
MD: My interest would be in finding the Isle of Man pound coins in change and looking at the designs which I wasn’t familiar with. I remember finding the communications pound coin with an earlier mobile phone and an image of a satellite which I thought was interesting. I thought “how brilliant”. My Grandparents would send me commemorative two pound coins and I’d treat them with the same reverence by wrapping them in tissue paper and putting them away. I was seven years old when the new 5 pence coin came out and it did make an impact on me at the time, so shiny and jewel-like…
MA: how ironic that we see you’re now responsible not only the re-design of the 5 pence coin but, for all of the circulation coins…
MD: True, but at the moment, my coin collection is still rather small to date…
MA: The placements of the coins, the two pence coin carrying a portion of the Scottish shield and the ten pence carrying much of the English crest, was there any significance to their positions?
MD: Throughout the competition, we played around with every conceivable position of all diameters and denominations, this is just what worked best. The ten pence, being where it is, the two pence where it is and so on. The three corners, top left, top right and the lower point were the most crucial aspects of the design but you experiment and realise what works and what doesn’t and hone in from then on…
MA: One will immediately realise that to accommodate the lower corner or bottom of the shield, the top point of the shape of the fifty pence coin is now turned upside down, I love it!
MD: It’s always interesting to hear what someone thinks of the designs. I’ve been close to these designs for two and a half years now, they’ve been a big part of my life.
MA: The Bank of England launched a new series last year with the issue of our new £20 banknote, might you have any ideas about what the next note should look like since you’re now the designer of our latest coin series, I believe they are open to suggestions…
MD: There’s a well known economist, Adam Smith on the reverse of the £20, I think he’s a favourite personality of the Governor wasn’t he? Yes, it would be something that I’d be very interested in certainly. It’s a fascinating medium as are coins, there’s so much there to banknotes when you look closely. I’ve learnt alot from this recent process so I’d never rule it out.
MA: Since you’ve finally seen al of the coins together in one set, what would you like the public who see them for the first time as well, to take away as far as what you’ve tried to achieve with your overall design…?
MD: It’s an interesting question, I really want them to bite at the bit to want to play around with them, arranging them to see the overall design and so on. I could see the potential of this when I first thought of the concept, it was what I had in mind, seeing people playing with their arrangements on the counter of a bar or on a desk in a classroom. I’d like to think of people having fun playing around with them, that’s what I’d like the public to take away with these new coins!
MA: They certainly lend themselves to be played around with like a puzzle, I think people will enjoy the new circulation coins of the U.K, I know I’ve enjoyed speaking with you and learning something about the background of the new 2008 circulation coin series.…
Matthew, Once again, on behalf of the London Banknote and Monetary Research Centre as well as COIN NEWS, a wholehearted congratulations on your fantastic achievement, I’m sure I speak for all of our readers when I say that we look forward to perhaps many more projects which bring your talent and numismatics together again.
My after thought? Well I do have a couple or perhaps just one important thought on the subject of the distribution of the new 2008 coins. As Matthew and I discussed his wish that the public get the opportunity to arrange and play with the new coins to get an understanding of the design’s all too important visual concept, it is my real hope that in order to keep the momentum going (which has been built up by the Royal Mint) after more than two years of choosing a design, that they do NOT stagger the distribution of the new coins. To do so would really make a mockery of both the imaginary puzzle-like idea behind these new coins as well as the great British public’s opportunity to become familiar with them. Really, in order to learn more about these coins, one needs ALL of the denominations present at the same time and when the public see them for the first time, you’ll understand what I mean so, Royal Mint… Don’t disappoint, we’re counting on you to do your part don’t and not to let this project down!
My thanks to the Press office of the Royal Mint, Grayling PR for all of their kind assistance to my office and to Matthew Dent for giving up his lunch hour this afternoon, it is greatly appreciated. Michael Alexander, 31st March 2008
London Banknote and
Monetary Research Centre
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