Britannia, a flagship coin of The Royal Mint, returned in 2014 with a new design by one of The Royal Mint’s very own engravers, Jody Clark.
The image of Britannia first appeared on Roman coins nearly 2,000 years ago and has been synonymous with the coinage of Britain for centuries. It was in 1672 that her image was first struck on the coins of Britain, and it has appeared on the coins of every British monarch since. The Royal Mint’s flagship Britannia coin was launched in 1987 and Jody’s design is the eleventh in the collection. In an interview with Jody, we’ve gone ‘Behind the design’ to find out what it’s like to portray such an iconic figure…
How did you feel about designing such an iconic figure as Britannia?
Britannia is by far the most prestigious project I’ve worked on in my two years at The Royal Mint. I don’t think I realised what a big deal it was when I entered the competition. Nothing comes close to the history behind the Britannia figure.
How did you begin to start designing a coin like Britannia?
How did I design Britannia? Where do I start…
First of all there was a really open brief. So I spent a day or so researching on the internet, reading up on the history, checking facts and what’s been done before, particularly by The Royal Mint, so that I can be inspired to come up with something different. It helped to see what works and what doesn’t work well for the portrayal of the Britannia figure and also to consider how people have treated the design of female figures too, and to have a think about how I wanted my Britannia to be portrayed. As it was Britannia, there was a lot at The Royal Mint that I could draw inspiration from with so many previous designs.
Once the inspiration was gathered, I had a loose concept in my mind, and started with small, quick doodles, compositions, constantly trying to refine them to see what worked. I used a pencil for the sketching stage, because it’s much looser to work with when working up a thumbnail sketch. I then picked a couple of thumbnails and worked them up further. I did the micro aspects separately – the head, the body, etc – and then worked them up into a composition where they were fitted together.
I wanted to include a lion in this Britannia portrayal too because I had decided upon a very feminine and elegant looking Britannia, and I needed the strong presence of the lion to balance the design out. I didn’t want it to be overly soft and flowing. I don’t think a lion had featured for a while either so I knew I wanted to include one in mine.
I scanned the thumbnails in and carried on sketching in Photoshop to produce my final design for the competition entry. I was over the moon to be shortlisted, and moved onto CAD models after that – which makes this Britannia a largely computer-modelled coin.
How did it feel when you found out your design had been chosen?
It felt great! It’s amazing to be part of Britannia’s story. I’ve had a lot of interesting projects to work on since I joined The Royal Mint two years ago – I feel very lucky – but Britannia is by far the most prestigious job I’ve done. For my design to be chosen, well, that was a real honour! It was a great project and it’s very rewarding when a design makes it through.
What was the most challenging aspect of the design for you?
Technically, the most difficult aspect was Britannia’s face. The face is only a tiny detail on the actual coin, but it was a big challenge to get it right, and it took me a few days to crack. After that I knew the rest of it would come together fine – and it did.
Tell us something we don’t know about the design…
I added Britannia’s foot at a very late stage. There was a lot of work done at the selection stage to refine the design. It was suggested at a sitting of the Royal Mint Advisory Committee that the design would be enhanced by having her foot showing, and when I thought about it, they were right – it just looked right. I then added the shape of her leg in there too, so you can see the suggestion of her form under the dress.
Why did you place the globe in the background – what is it – what does it represent?
In my research I found that Britannia often sat on the globe in an imperial fashion. I didn’t think that was a very modern concept. Instead, I decided to place it alongside her. I wanted to make the design appear as if Britannia is moving with the globe, and portray a sense of movement, with flowing elements like her dress. I thought it would be nice to have the contrast of static graphic elements too, like the globe. I found it a real balancing act getting the traditional aspects in whilst giving them a modern twist.
What has been the reaction to your coin design?
I am quite humbled by the fact that people seem to like my Britannia design, and she has even been chosen for the front cover of the UK’s Coin Year Book for 2015, which is a real honour.
What other designs have you been working on recently?
I also recently designed the commemorative piece presented to the delegates of the NATO conference held at the Celtic Manor in Newport, South Wales in September 2014 (one went to each of the schools in Newport too).
Excluding your designs, what is your favourite coin?
The Britannia coins designed by Philip Nathan stand out for me. I looked at a lot of art nouveau when I was researching for my Britannia design and his flowing female figures are inspirational.
If you could put anything on a coin, what would it be?
I would love to place a family member on a coin – it would be fun to design a coin featuring my Mum – it’s her 60th birthday next year so that would be some present!
The 2014 Britannia range is available to purchase now from royalmint.com. The design features on a range of products from the Three-Coin Silver Proof Set to the Premium Six-Coin Gold Proof Set; it even features on the smallest United Kingdom coin ever struck.