Benedetto Pistrucci: A rare gem

Benedetto Pistrucci is a name closely associated with The Royal Mint and a familiar one among numismatists. However, I’m sure there are some of you left wondering just who is Benedetto Pistrucci?

Benedetto Pistrucci was born in Italy 231 years ago, in May 1783. Already established as a renowned gem engraver, he moved to London in 1815. His journey with The Royal Mint began the following year, when he was introduced to William Wellesley Pole, the Master of the Mint. Pole commissioned Pistrucci to create models of a portrait of King George III, which he created in red jasper – an unusual material for a model of a coin, but one which Pistrucci, as a gem engraver, preferred to use.

georgeIII-cameo

Shortly after, Pole commissioned Pistrucci again. With the need for a new gold coinage arising in 1816, Pistrucci was to create a distinctive design that would differentiate the new gold Sovereign from the gold guinea, for which he chose the theme of St George and the Dragon.

The design first appeared on The Sovereign in the summer of 1817. What would turn out to be his most famous numismatic achievement, Pistrucci’s St George and the Dragon design has gone on to feature on the Sovereign for almost 200 years.

sov1817

The design has appeared on the coinage of every British monarch since George III, with the single exception of William IV (1830-1837) and Benedetto Pistrucci’s St George and the Dragon design still features today on the 2014 gold Sovereign.

the gold sovereign

Pistrucci took over the duties of Chief Engraver at The Royal Mint following the death of Thomas Wyon, the former Chief Engraver, in 1817. He took on all of Wyon’s duties but not his title; Pistrucci’s Italian origins meant that, as a foreigner, he was unable to formally take the position of Chief Engraver. He was later given the title of ‘Chief Medallist’, a position created to solve his predicament.

Pole

A Pistrucci portrait of the Master of the Mint, Wellesley Pole.

wellington

A Pistrucci portrait of the Duke of Wellington – Wellesley Pole’s brother.

Another Pistrucci masterpiece is the famous Waterloo Medal – which took him 30 years to complete! The scale of the spectacle is clear to see and among many complexities it features four portraits on its obverse – the portraits of the Austrian, Russian, Prussian and British heads of state.

Waterloodies

The eventual completion of the Waterloo medal in 1849 brought to an end Pistrucci’s 33 year association with The Royal Mint. He died in England six years later on 16 September 1855. To find out more about Benedetto Pistrucci visit The Royal Mint Museum’s website, or to own your very own gold Sovereign visit royalmint.com.