Last night, news emerged that a UK coin to celebrate one of Britain’s best loved children’s authors, Roald Dahl, was rejected by The Royal Mint.
Famed for his classic novels such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits and Matilda (amongst many more), the incredibly imaginative author was born in September 1916, meaning the 100th anniversary coin would have been due for release in 2016.
And yet no such coin ever came to pass…
The Royal Mint decided against marking the centenary of the Roald Dahl’s birth because of concerns about the author’s anti semitic views. According to official papers obtained by the Guardian newspaper using freedom of information laws, the proposal to issue a coin to mark the centenary of Dahl’s birth was dropped because he was “not regarded as an author of the highest reputation”.
The Royal Mint have made clear that “commemorative coins go through a rigorous planning and selection process” led by the independent Royal Mint Advisory Committee, and not every coin idea proposed actually ends up making it through this process.
In fact, in 2012 a special six-sided coin was very nearly released to commemorate one of the most significant celebrations in British history – the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. This too was rejected by senior staff at The Royal Mint as the commemorative coin programme was already “sufficiently comprehensive.”
— Mike Wright (@MikeJGWright) 31 December 2015
The commemorative coins selected for release in 2016 actually included the great literary figures William Shakespeare and Beatrix Potter.
Although the Royal Mail did honour the children’s author with a set of commemorative stamps celebrating his books in 2012, unfortunately the magic and wonder of Dahl’s literary works won’t ever be recognised on a commemorative UK coin.
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To coincide with the introduction of a brand new style of £1 coin, the Treasury have opened a national public contest to find the very first design. So I thought I’d pick out 5 of my favourite designs which have graced the reverse of our pound coins over the last 30 years.
1) Floral Emblems
In 1984 the first themed £1 coins were introduced with a series of floral emblems. I’ve singled out the Welsh Leek because it features an edge inscription written in the Welsh language – a rare break from the traditional Latin. PLEIDIOL WYF I’M GWLAD is inscribed around the edge of each coin, which translated means ‘True am I to my country”. The design was struck in two years; 1985 and 1990.
2) Heraldic Emblems
The heraldic emblems series followed in 1995 with some familiar national symbols. The interesting one for me is the Northern Irish design which features a Broighter Collar. The Broighter collar was discovered in 1896 amongst a hoard of gold Iron Age artefacts in Northern Ireland, and is said to be the finest example of Irish La Tène goldworking in Europe. It’s a subtle and commonly overlooked feature of this reverse design.
A change of tack from the Royal Mint in 2004 with iconic bridges from each country being chosen as the subject matter. The bold architectural shape of the Gateshead Millennium Bridge makes for an impressive reverse design and I think it’s the pick of the bunch. Interestingly the bridge itself is the world’s first tilting bridge and won a number of awards for its design and lighting. Each of the bridge coins were only struck in one year, this one is dated 2007.
4) Capital Cities
The four capital cities of the United Kingdom was the next theme introduced in 2010 with the Coat of Arms for Belfast, London, Cardiff and Edinburgh featuring as the principal focus of each design. The Edinburgh design is of the most interest to collectors, because it is currently the rarest £1 design in circulation. Less than 1 million were struck, and it is often the only one which eludes even the keenest of Change Checkers.
5) The Royal Arms
Of course, in addition to all these commemorative themes are the definitive designs which have followed the same trend since the inaugural pound coin of 1983. Each one features the Royal Arms Shield of the United Kingdom, combining all four of the constituent countries. Look out for this one on the left with the crowned shield. Unlike the others, it was only struck in one year – 1988 – so is a bit more trick to find. Chances are it will also be a bit worse for wear after 26 years in circulation!
So when the new £1 does enter circulation in 2017, what will it look like? We already know that it will look radically different from the existing coin, but will its design follow a similar trend to those of the past? The extreme change in the coin’s shape may give rise to a similarly extreme rethink in its design, but one thing is for certain – it will forever be a truly significant moment in British numismatic history.
Our friends at the Westminster Collection have a small number of the rare Edinburgh design available in silver.