This year marks the 175th anniversary of the ‘Penny Black’, the world’s first adhesive postage stamp. Issued in Britain from 1 May 1840 by the famous reformer, Rowland Hill, the Penny Black made history. It introduced the concept of fixing a small label to an envelope to confirm payment to the Post Office for postal services. This first postage stamp became popularly known the world over as the ‘Penny Black’ due to the colour of ink used in its printing and its denomination of one penny.
Early in 2013 The Royal Mint received an order for a baronet’s badge from Sir Michael Nairn, the 4th baronet of the Nairn family, a well-known name in the flooring industry, based in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. Sir Michael and his two sons, Andrew and Alex, belong to the prestigious Royal Company of Archers that functions as the sovereign’s ‘Body Guard in Scotland’. All three were invited to attend a Royal Garden Party in Edinburgh in July 2013.
Being aware of his entitlement to wear a baronet’s badge, Sir Michael naturally wished to wear it for this very special occasion. So he contacted the Medals department of The Royal Mint, requesting – ‘could one be made in time’? That immediately set in motion craftsmanship and skills that, although infrequently called upon, are still available here.
The Royal Mint has released a new, nostalgic commemorative coin set which unites four 25p decimal crowns. Coins have long played an important part in celebrating special events throughout the history of the nation and the crowns are no exception.
Commemorative crowns, as we know them today, were issued from 1935 for the celebration of George V’s Silver Jubilee. Originally five-shilling coins, the denomination changed with decimalisation in 1971 to twenty-five new pence. Only four crown pieces were released with this 25p denomination, before the crown was re-valued in 1990 to five pounds. Covering almost a decade, the 25p coins in this appealing set were issued in 1972, 1977, 1980 and 1981 to celebrate an anniversary, a Jubilee, a landmark birthday and a royal wedding.
The phrase ‘odd change’ is often used to refer to a small number of coins. But, when thinking about the phrase, we pondered on current and historic coins that could be considered ‘odd’ in some way. We searched for coins that ‘break the mould’ – both in the UK and worldwide – and the variety we’ve uncovered is amazing.
We’ve found coins that are: oval, scalloped-edged, triangular, square, rectangular, pentagonal and hexagonal, polygon-shaped and even guitar-shaped. There are coins with colour; of weird material; even coins that glow! Then there are the odd designs – but which are the strangest ones? When does a coin stop being a coin? And, if it’s not the shape, what makes a coin a coin? Here are just a few that we’ve found to get you started…
1 Dollar Geometric-shaped coins – Somalia 2008. Image source: xombit.com
In 2015, the year when the fifth definitive coin portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will be revealed, it is poignant to note that 27 January marks the 50th anniversary of the death of the artist entrusted to create Her Majesty’s first coin portrait in 1952. Mary Gillick, already a sculptor of note at that momentous time, sadly passed away 13 years later, in 1965. So, who was this lady, whose work adorned the UK coins in our hands every day from 1953 to 1967?
Sculptor Mary Gillick with the plaster of her design for HM Queen Elizabeth II’s first definitive coin portrait. Image held at the Royal Mint Museum
Her Majesty The Queen’s portrait is on all current UK coins – that’s a fact we all know, isn’t it? Also referred to as The Queen’s effigy, it’s a sign of royal approval, but have you noticed that there’s more than one effigy of The Queen on the coins that we all handle every day? Take a handful of them and look more closely. You’ll find that there have been three royal coin portraits created since decimalisation in 1971.
There have, in fact, been four coin portraits of Her Majesty since she became Queen, if we include the pre-decimal period. The 2015 coin designs will be the last to bear the current royal effigy first introduced in 1998. So this seems a good moment to look back at the beautiful portrayals of Her Majesty that have graced the coins of her realm so far. We’ll consider the artists behind the designs and some of the events that have shaped Her Majesty’s long reign. And then we’ll ask the question “What might we see next?”
At this time of year The Royal Mint traditionally joins the rest of the nation in honouring all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in both World Wars. However, on Remembrance Day this year we particularly remember our own fallen colleagues as the First World War centenary commemorations continue. While researching this, I’ve recently discovered, tucked away in the library of our Museum, a volume entitled ‘Annual Reports of the Deputy Master of the Mint 1914-19′.
In this leather-bound document several names of Royal Mint workers who both served and lost their lives during the First World War are recorded for posterity.