What is the ‘Penny Black’?

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.


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A Badge For a Baronet

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.

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Numismatic Nostalgia: The 25p four coin set

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 British Decimal Twenty-Five Pence 4 Coin set. £27.00 http://www.royalmint.com/shop/h/his254s
The British Decimal Twenty-Five Pence 4 Coin set – £27.00 – Click here to purchase

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Odd Change. How odd can it be?

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
1 Dollar Geometric-shaped coins – Somalia 2008. Image source: xombit.com

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Mary Gillick – Sculptor of a Royal Coin Portrait

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
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

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The Evolving Effigy of Queen Elizabeth

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?”

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Our Remembrance Day 2014

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.

mint book smaller

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Behind the design: Remembrance Day 2014

In the centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War, The Royal Mint has released a beautiful and touching 2014 Remembrance Day coin that pays tribute to the brave service men and women who were lost in conflict. This year’s design builds on the iconic poppy image, with an evocative ‘falling poppies’ representation by Royal Mint Engraver, Laura Clancy. The design is also a further advance in The Royal Mint’s range of coloured coins, following the release of the ‘Portrait of Britain‘ collection to which Laura also contributed.

Laura’s Remembrance Day coin design is enhanced by the packaging, created by Royal Mint Designer, Dominique Evans, which builds on the falling poppies effect and the simplicity of the coin design.

Artwork for 2014 Remembrance Day coin - Laura Clancy
Artwork for 2014 Remembrance Day coin – Laura Clancy. Image Copyright The Royal Mint

In an interview with Laura we’ve gone ‘behind the design’ to get to know a little bit more about her and to find out more about the coin, the design and her inspiration.

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Behind the design: Dylan Thomas 100

Talented Royal Mint Engraver, Lee Jones, is the artist behind the coin that honours literary giant Dylan Thomas and celebrates the 100th anniversary of his birth. Lee’s design has elicited much comment so, in a recent interview with him, we’ve gone ‘behind the design’ to find out what it was like to design the coin that commemorates one of his heroes.


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Who Was Dylan Thomas?

Dylan Marlais Thomas was born on 27th October 1914 in Swansea, just after the outbreak of the First World War. No doubt, the social changes brought by the Great War impacted on his family and childhood, as it did for everyone in the UK during those years. His parents, fluent Welsh speakers who originated from Carmarthenshire, gave him his Welsh christian name, believed to mean ‘son of the waves’. However, in line with the thinking of those times, Dylan was not brought up to speak Welsh, which explains why one of the most famous of Welshmen wrote exclusively in English. Happily for the English-speaking world, this accident of destiny made his works internationally accessible.

Dylan Thomas statue at the Maritime Quarter, Swansea.
Dylan Thomas statue at the Maritime Quarter, Swansea. Image Copyright Stu’s Images, via Wikimedia Commons

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What’s In My Change?

Coins from change

How many of us have ever asked ourselves the question – what’s in my change? Those of us who have will know the answer, of course, which is – more history, art and treasure than you could imagine! Let me elaborate…

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