As we get ready to bid a fond farewell to a coin that has earned a place in our hearts, pockets and history, the ’round’ pound, we celebrate the artistry that has featured on the coin for the last thirty-three years across twenty-five designs.
Gregory Cameron, a Bishop of the Anglican Church in North East Wales, is a keen amateur artist and coin collector and it’s his design that features on the commemorative last ’round pound’. For his design, Gregory drew inspiration from heraldic beasts and the Royal Arms, to incorporate the four nations – each represented by their national heraldic beast, standing proud. On his recent trip to The Royal Mint, we caught up with Gregory to find out a little more about his inspiration for his last ’round pound’ design.
So, first and foremost tell us a bit about yourself Gregory.
I am Gregory Cameron, a Bishop of the Anglican Church in Wales, serving the Diocese of St. Asaph in North East Wales.
I grew up in South Wales and was going to be a lawyer until I felt the call of god and ended up in my current profession. I have always been interested in art and heraldry, even as I child I was designing coats of arms and that’s how I got so interested in coins… there is so much heraldry on coins – particularly when the new decimal coins came out. The penny was the portcullis of Henry VII, the ten pence had the Lion of England… and so on. I have been interested in coins ever since! I remember when the pound coin first came out, it had a real wow factor with the whole of the Royal Coat of Arms on it!
How did you get into coin collecting?
When I was growing up, you never knew what penny you would get in your change, it could be an Elizabeth II penny or it could be a Victorian penny, so I started collecting pennies. They were very easy to collect and were very cheap value, so people would give you a strange penny if they found it. Then, as I grew up, what I really got interested in was when Churchill died and they produced the Churchill Crown, which in those days was 5 shillings. I was given a Churchill crown by my parents as a Christmas present and that’s what started me off; I’ve now got a collection of all the crown designs through to the present day – and that coin [the crown] has been the one that I have enjoyed collecting the most.
I thought about designing coins some years ago when they did the competition to design the new definitive coins, unfortunately I never got round to it but then when I saw the competition to design the new 12-sided pound coin I thought ‘I really must not miss the chance to submit a few designs this time’ and it’s actually one of those designs that has ended up on the commemorative last ’round pound’.
I think the 2015 £1 coin by Timothy Noad, which features The Royal Arms, is one of the finest! Of course I like to think mine is almost as good… Am I allowed to say that?!
So, is the Churchill crown your favourite coin in your collection? Is that the one that started your collection? Are there any other pieces?
The Crown was what really started my collection, but I am also fascinated by the older coins as well. For example, the Unite, which was a coin of James I and Charles I and the Angel, which was the old gold coin before the Sovereign replaced it… I’m just fascinated by them all really.
One of the nicest coins in my collection is an Alexander the Great Tetradrachm. When you look at that coin and think “this was minted 2,500 years ago”, you can’t help but wonder:
“How many times has it been spent/exchanged?“, “How did it survive?“, “Why wasn’t it melted down?“, “Was it buried for 1,000 years?“.
The mind wanders! It’s the history that I’m fascinated by. Even today, with a modern coin, we don’t think how many hands it actually goes through, it’s amazing!
How did your journey with The Royal Mint begin? What prompted you to enter last year’s competition?
Yes, that’s right, entering last year’s design competition for the 2017 12-sided £1 was my first contact with The Royal Mint. Initially, I did two designs, both based on the flowers of the UK and I was ready to send those and then last minute I thought “oh, I should’ve used the beasts” and I thought, “shall I bother to do a third design?”, “yeah, OK.” So, I sat down, sketched it out and that was what I entered. The closing date for the competition was the end of November and it was just before Christmas that The Royal Mint got in touch to tell me that I’d been shortlisted.
Following that, you got in touch to tell me both good and bad news; the bad news being that my design hadn’t won however, the good news was that my design had actually been selected for the last commemorative ‘round pound’. That really was the beginning of the adventure then because I actually got my ticket to get inside the walls of The Royal Mint as I had to come down and work with Lee Jones (Royal Mint designer and engraver) to work up the model of the design; which was really amazing.
Tell us a little bit about your design…
Well, I always think that it’s a pity that the Royal Arms doesn’t have a reference to Wales in it and because of my interest in heraldry, I wanted to use heraldic motifs and design something in which the four nations were equally represented. The idea of putting the crown in the centre as a motif was an early idea, and then the concept is that you’ve got the four beasts leaping out of the centre of the coin. So you’ve got the Lion of England with the St Edwards crown on it, which has been the Royal Beast of England since Richard I, Richard Lion Heart. Then you’ve got the unicorn of Scotland, which was adopted by James III in, I think it was the 14th century, so that is the Royal Beast of Scotland, and then there was a bit of an argument about what the Royal Beast of Northern Ireland is. In my first design I did an Irish Elk, but a member of the Royal Mint Advisory Committee advised that it should be a stag, so we changed it to a stag, but there is no doubting the Red Dragon for Wales.
What I like about the design is that the four beasts are equal, you can turn the coin around and each of the beasts comes into prominence in its turn.
What were your first thoughts when you began the design?
Personally, I like heraldry and I think heraldic coins work best, when you look at all twenty-five pound coin designs as a series, you can see there are times where they’ve said you need to step away from heraldry, for example the four bridges, but I think heraldry works best. There is so much romance and mystery in heraldry, you know the symbolism of the beasts in particular, so designing a coin was a good opportunity to explore that symbolism. I played around with the flowers, there is some great history behind the rose and thistle, but the beasts are so much more exciting and interestingly in heraldry, you don’t try and make them look like the real thing. So the lion doesn’t look like a lion you would see in the zoo, it’s stylised and then of course, things like the dragon… When I was working with Lee he asked how I wanted to show the dragon and while there are some conventions about how the dragon should look, you can really let your imagination run wild so you can have quite an exciting time. In comparison, the stag was much harder, because people can go out and see a stag – you’ve got to try and model something that looks realistic but still symbolic.
How close is the design now on the round pound to the original design you submitted for the 12-sided £1?
Well the original entry, I’m afraid to say was done in 20 minutes. So when The Royal Mint told me they wanted the design, I sat down and spent two days working over the designs. I drew each animal separately and then merged them for the final design to ensure a finer quality when finishing.
What was the most challenging aspect of the design?
I think the most challenging thing was getting the stag right. Because I enjoy heraldry I have actually drawn lions and dragons for years, so I could draw them off the cuff really – but to do a new heraldic beast and to get that right was difficult. Fortunately now, with the internet, you only have to put in “heraldic antelope/heraldic stag” and you get thousands of images that you can work with and draw inspiration from, but nevertheless, that was the first time I had drawn a stag for the design of the coin, so that was much harder as I had no back experience of drawing that particular animal.
Is there anything we don’t know about the design? Hidden elements that you might now pick up?
The animals are fairly standard, I suppose one of the interesting things was, that I’d used quite a strong sense of line and each animal has got its own compartment. In my initial design, the dragon’s wing for Wales went over the space of the Lion of England and there was a definite sense that England and Wales were the two top – the red dragon has pride of place and that’s where I stuck my initials because of the links with Wales. The Royal Mint Advisory Committee said they rather liked that, so with each of the animals I had to revise the design. If you look, the tail of the English Lion goes into the space of the Scottish Unicorn and the tail of the Unicorn goes in to the space of the Stag and the antlors of the Stag go into the space of the Dragon of Wales which makes it actually a much more dynamic design – those are the tiny features that most people probably wouldn’t notice – it just breaks up the design and makes it a little more vibrant.
I definitely wanted to portray a sense of unity through the animals, that they’re all protecting Britain’s sovereignty. The crown is the symbol of the British nation and the four nations each playing their part, and as I’ve said before, each playing an equal part in the life of the UK.
How does it feel to design the last ’round pound’?
It’s really special – I have mixed feelings, do I want a circulating coin that my sons can find in the shop, “oh here’s my dad’s pound in my change” and that would be very common, or do I want a coin that will actually be very rare. You know, I think the total mintage of this coin is in the tens of thousands, whereas many pound coins can be many millions, so actually it will be a very rare coin, and that’s something that will be treasured. It’s particularly nice to think that in years to come, my sons can say to my grandchildren, or my grandchildren to my great grandchildren “this is the coin that grandad designed.”
Are you happy with the design?
Undoubtedly, it’s an amazing thing to see. What I didn’t realise was how detailed coins could be these days, and you know, every little detail is there, tinier than you’d think it would be possible to produce. The machinery is so accurate these days, even the pearls on the crown of the Lion of England, which is probably the smallest detail are there, and can still be seen!
As a collector, how does it feel to have a coin design being struck?
Well, there are not many coin designers around, and I think I’m the only bishop to ever have a coin in history, there could have been a bishop as a Master of the Mint or something, but he may not have designed a coin himself, so, it’s quite an amazing thing to think you’re in that category.
It was great to take part in the competition, and it would be great to have another chance at submitting a design; the excitement is the challenge because you don’t know what’s going to come up next! My hope would be that I might get another chance to have a go with the new £1 coin, but I think the design that has been chosen will be kept for many years until a new £1 is needed.
Will you be visiting The Royal Mint Experience?
Oh yes, definitely! And even more exciting, my design is the design that has been chosen for the ‘strike your own coin’ feature – I will bring all the family! And also, the Royal Mint Museum, the public can’t get to see it, and although it won’t be open I expect there will be exhibits and I think that is brilliant really, as I think a lot of people will be very excited to find out more about the coinage.
The £1 coin will begin to be phased out in 2016, so this last ’round pound’ farewell £1 coin will not enter circulation, however, you have an opportunity to own the last ’round pound’ design before it passes from currency to history. Available to purchase in Brilliant Uncirculated, Silver Proof, Silver Proof Piedfort and Gold Proof.