Behind the design: Her Majesty The Queen’s Sapphire Coronation

On 2 June 1953, Her Majesty The Queen’s coronation took place at Westminster Abbey. Crowds lined the streets of London to watch the grand procession. The joy of that moment, on that special day, brought cheer to post-war Britain, now, 65 years later, we celebrate a remarkable reign on UK coins.

Two designs have been created for the occasion, both of which are Royal Mint designers; Dominique Evans and Stephen Taylor who is also the designer of The Longest Reigning Monarch £5 crown. We recently caught up with Stephen to find out the inspiration behind his coin design celebrating Her Majesty The Queen’s Sapphire Coronation.

Hi Stephen, tell us a bit about yourself…

My name is Stephen Taylor and I’m the Concept Design Manager at The Royal Mint. I’ve been working at the mint for 7 years.

As a dad with a young family I’m very busy and often find myself running to and from various clubs and activities most days. Both of my children are members of a lifeguard club and are part of different swimming clubs so we rarely have any free time. Any free time I do have I use to swim and surf as well as being a member of Rest Bay Lifeguard Club. As a designer I’m often finding ways to be creative: I do this by designing for friends, sketching and doing personal design work as well as airbrushing and creating design pieces on surfboards.

How did your journey with The Royal Mint begin?

I began by doing a foundation course in Swansea where I discovered I had a keen interest in the three-dimensional aspects of design, as well as graphics, which led me to completing a degree in graphics and packaging design. I began my career working in the sign industry, gaining valuable commercial experience before moving on to a number of design agencies in and around Cardiff and Swansea. This is where I really got to love the industry and where I really pushed myself to do the best work that I could. I worked for a number of design companies where I loved the opportunity to learn new skills and gain valuable experience.  After 10 years of designing interactive software and posters for schools at a Bridgend based company, I wanted a new challenge. This led me to discover the job here at The Royal Mint – I started in 2011 and worked as a graphic designer. After a couple of years I was promoted to Senior Designer and then progressed to the Concept Design Manager. I love working at The Royal Mint because of the variety of projects we work on and some of the themes that we produce designs for. The products we produce are so distinctive and everyone has a connection with them, so it’s really exciting to find new ways to engage with people and get them to stop and think about them.

How does coin design differ from your other work?

Designing coins is not something I do regularly. My day-to-day job involves working on the printed and digital communications, the packaging and campaign work for products as well as exhibition and web design work. Anything that the customer sees from The Royal Mint tends to go through the internal design team. When designing a coin we are given a brief, which is sent to the coin designers/engravers and the graphic design team, as well as external artists who all submit their designs to the RMAC (Royal Mint Advisory Committee). These submissions form part of a design competition. The committee anonymously selects designs so we are all given a fair chance to have our designs and ideas discussed and chosen.

So far, I’ve been really lucky to have a couple of successes. I’ve had a number of shortlisted designs but this is my fourth coin design to be selected. I have had a variety of coin designs from a 5oz and Kilo, 50p coin and Pad printed Crown. This one signals a really significant event in Her Majesty The Queen’s reign so it’s nice to have two designs marking key events in her life.

How did you find it designing a coin, what did you have to do that was perhaps different to normal?

When tackling a rich theme such as this, there is a lot of pressure to design something that will be iconic, timeless and fitting for such a historic event. With that in mind, I started to think about the sculptural pieces around us that are used to mark significant occasions and achievements. By looking at sculptures, monuments and plaques, my inspiration for this design came from something I saw on Westminster Bridge in London. There are many iconic shields, Coats of Arms, that have been sculpted to decorate London, but the one on Westminster Bridge stood out when designing this coin. There are two Coats of Arms, which are on the inside of the bridge, and several Coats of Arms on the outside, which, when painted, reveal really fascinating and beautiful details. I used the treatment of this shield in the design.

The Royal Standard is iconic and steeped in tradition. It is flown at every royal palace when the monarch is in residence and adorns royal cars, coaches and buildings. This plays a central role in the design for this coin, which is also crowned with Her Majesty The Queen’s royal cypher. I used flora and fauna elements in my design to add interest; I placed oak, representing strength, and laurel, representing achievement, flanking both sides of the coin, framing and adding decoration to the central detail. These are traditional pieces of flora and fauna used in coin design and were prominent during the Victorian era.

How did you feel about designing the coin to mark this significant anniversary / event?

It’s a huge honour to design a coin and to design one for the monarch is extremely exciting. To know that The Queen has signed off the design and it will be used to commemorate this historic occasion is a remarkable feeling. It’s also really special to me as I designed the Longest Reigning Monarch design in 2015 and this was only used on the £20, 5oz and Kilo but this time around I am on the crown. It’s shared with Dominique Evans who has designed the 5oz and Kilo this year. We have been working together for 7 years so it’s nice to have this one together.

It’s an amazing feeling to think that I have a design that will be used to mark the historic reign of The Queen and that these pieces will be around for years as historic commemorative pieces, stored at The Royal Mint’s museum. My children will be able to know that their father has designed these coins and that they were used to mark these key moments in British history.

 

How did you go about designing this coin? Talk us through the process…

I always start any design work the same way. It starts with very simple loose sketches after gathering some key elements from researching the theme or topic. I always want the coin to be used to tell the story of the theme and to be used to discuss the topic. I try and keep it to no more than 3-4 key elements as the canvas is such a small size. After some initial sketches and loose designs I tend to progress into marking the design up in more detail. I always draw in pen and use a lot of markers so it’s something that I really have one hit at and don’t tend to rework too much. It’s a style that suits me and means that I keep the design simple.

After working up some of the ideas I tend to enter them to the RMAC, as there is little point in working on them too much as they may not get chosen and it’s work that won’t affect the overall decision. The RMAC have a really good understanding on the theme and have an understanding that these are just concepts. If you do get chosen this is where you can work up the details and really finalise the key design around the notes from the RMAC meeting. These are then sent to the Coin Design department to either be engraved in plaster or to be created in CAD software and cut into acrylic. It’s these that get signed off by the RMAC.

It can be a pretty straightforward process design-wise. The majority of time spent is within coin design modelling and making the design a reality. This can take up to 9 months.

Tell us about your research…

When researching this topic I found it really difficult to think of something that was directly linked to this anniversary. I researched royal cyphers and coats of arms and royal regalia. I wanted to use something that was easily recognised and fitting for this anniversary. I started to think of the simple elements that were linked to The Queen such as the regalia, royal cyphers, The Royal Standard and some of the work that I originally produced for the Longest Reigning Monarch coin. Back on that original design for LRM I used laurel and oak and wanted to incorporate that into this design.

It’s really difficult to design something that incorporated all these elements so I played with keeping this really simple and keeping the design very symmetrical. I think the final design has a really simple and beautiful look to it, something that I think will be timeless.

Talk us through the different elements of the coin

Central to the design is The Royal Standard. This was important as it represents the royal family and during a visit to London I was drawn to the bridge at Westminster where on one of the metal supports was The Royal Standard but the shield was very decorative and had a unique style and I thought about this when designing this coin. This also allowed me to put in the floral element within the pinched sides of the shield.

These formed the central piece of the design. I submitted two designs for this brief; one had the simple standard centre to the design, floral elements flanking the design and a crown set above. The other had the royal cypher above the same elements. The final design took the element of the cypher and incorporated this into the top section of The Royal Standard so it crowns the design.

The type is using a flared serif font – the same one I used on the LRM design and based on the original font that was used on The Queen’s first coinage when she came to the throne. This is a font that I really love and think it gives a classic look to the design.

What was the most challenging aspect of the design?

A challenge for me on this design was getting the representation of The Royal Standard correct and the positioning of the individual elements to be balanced and fit without looking too busy. The balance of this design, I feel, works really well and I am so pleased with the final design.

Tell us something we don’t already know about the design… 

The design selected was the first for this coin that I worked on which is rare, as in the past the designs that I have worked up and on for some time have been selected. I wanted to submit this design for The Queen’s Jubilee. The design was never submitted so when designing this I used that to start my thought process.

How did you want your design to be received, what did you want it to communicate? 

I really want the design to intrigue people into finding out more about the subject and see the elements within the design and appreciate the work that has gone in. It’s really nice to know that my children could find this coin within their change.

Would you like to design another coin? If so, if you could put anything on it, what would your design be?

I am really lucky to have had a couple of coin designs on various denominations. I would really like to have designed a coin in each denomination so I have a £2 and £1 coin left to achieve this. It would be great to have designed the definitive set like Matthew Dent did for the current coins, that would be great to have the coins in your pocket, used by the nation and designed by you.

What has been the reaction to this whole experience from your friends and family? Were they interested to know that this is how a new coin design comes about?

I am hoping that the design will be really well received and get noticed with the coin collectors and general public. This is a piece I am really proud of.


Stephen’s design is available in Brilliant Uncirculated, Silver Proof, Silver Proof Piedfort and Gold Proof – to add it to your collection, click here.

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