Revealing the secrets of Ironside’s decimal coin designs

It’s been an exciting week for everyone here at The Royal Mint, and fans of the coins we are proud to make. Not only did we announce the design for the new coins that celebrate the christening of Prince George of Cambridge, but we were also delighted to host the BBC One Show on Monday evening.

They  were here to broadcast live from The Royal Mint as we pushed the button to start production of a new 2013-dated 50 pence piece that is going into circulation to commemorate the centenary of Christopher Ironside. Born in 1913, he was the man who designed the new coins that were introduced when our coinage went decimal back in 1971.

Christopher_IronsideIt was a very special occasion, as our guest of honour was none other than Mrs. Jean Ironside, Christopher’s widow. She was able to catch the first coin off the press, which we placed in a capsule and presented to her as a very personal memento.

If you missed this wonderful, historic moment, you can watch it for the next few days on the BBC iPlayer by clicking here.


The new 2013 50p features Christopher Ironside’s Royal Arms design, which was the runner-up to his winning Britannia for the first 50p produced in 1969. To celebrate his centenary, the Royal Arms design now appears on a circulating coin for the first time since its creation some 44 years ago.

ironside 50p

Special commemorative versions are also available from our website.

Earlier in the show, they ran a fascinating piece on the story behind Christopher Ironside’s designs for the decimal coinage, and the role that Jean Ironside played in the design of a female British icon. To help her husband create the familiar depiction of Britannia that graced the 50p piece for years to come and can still be found in our pockets today, Mrs Ironside herself posed as Britannia, using a ruler as the trident!

50_PENCE_1969 50_PENCE_1982

Again, if you missed it, you can see that part of the show for the next few days here.

The Britannia side of the story seemed particularly relevant, as back in the summer months of 2013, as we were preparing to launch our 2013 Proof Britannia range, we wondered whether people really knew who Britannia was, and wanted to make more people aware of this iconic female British figure.

We set up some human statues in various locations around the UK, in the pose that can be seen on the 2013 Britannia proof range.


People really seemed to love the statues and the new pose on the 2013 proof coins, and we were delighted to discover that around 75% correctly identified that the female figure was indeed Britannia.

Living Britannia Statue

brit gold

Roughly 1 in every 10 people did confuse her with the warrior Queen Boadicea, but we can understand why that might happen.

Britannia was first used to represent Britain on coins of the Romans, a proud figure representing a loyal and steadfast outpost of the empire.

The Boadicea, or Boudicca, legend is obviously strongly linked with that same period in history, so it is easy to see why these two strong female figures may become somewhat intertwined in people’s imaginations.


The events of this week added a new perspective to this earlier story, and we found it fascinating to see Jean Ironside recreate her own ‘human statue’ of Britannia.

jean ironside

The story gave us all a very personal insight into the creation of a British icon, one that has played a key role in British coinage since the 17th century, a tradition that is maintained to this day through our annual Britannia collection.

Mrs Ironside very kindly spoke to us in 2011 about her husband’s experience of designing the decimal coinage, as we celebrated 40 years since decimalisation. You can read the full piece on our website.

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