Cast your imagination back to the 19th century… Queen Victoria ruled 400 million people in an empire that covered almost a quarter of the world’s surface!
With a name and title famous across the globe, it may come as a surprise to you that Queen Victoria never actually stepped foot in many of the countries she ruled over.
India was held with such high regard in Victoria’s heart that it became known as the Jewel in the Empire’s crown. In 1876, India awarded her the title of ‘Empress of India’ in a gesture of appreciation.
Although having never stepped foot in the country and living 4,500 miles away, Victoria’s portrait was minted on to the currency of India (the rupee) from 1840, so people could recognise their empress!
The rupee is one of the oldest currencies in the world, so to feature a British monarch for the first time was an important moment in numismatic history.
The later portrait issued on rupees, similar to the Gothic Head effigy, can be considered one of the most beautiful coins of the empire.
A 22hr flight to Australia seems a long journey now but for Queen Victoria, a trip to this corner of the world would have taken her almost two months to get there!
So, there’s no surprises this was also a country that she never visited. However, the need for a British presence in the country was growing with the empire; as the empire grew, so did the need for coins. The Royal Mint opened branches in Australia and in 1855, a sovereign was minted outside of the UK for the first time – the Sydney sovereign.
It featured a portrait of Victoria that was based on the Young Head effigy, but with a sprig of banksia weaved through Victoria’s hair, giving the portrait a distinct Australian feel.
The Sydney sovereign became incredibly successful and a number of Royal Mint branches were opened throughout Australia as a result. To identify the Mint that sovereigns were produced in, mintmarks were added to the coins, with a small ‘P’ for Perth, and an ‘M’ for Melbourne.
The sovereign became legal tender in the majority of British colonies in the 1860s, and its importance in British trade, and worldwide circulation earned it the title “the King of Coins”. By the final years of the British Empire, the sovereign was minted in four continents across the globe.
India and Australia weren’t the only countries that saw Victoria’s portrait. Her image also reached as far as Hong Kong, Ceylon, East Africa and New Zealand. In 1870 the first Canadian dollar with Victoria’s portrait was issued, taking Victoria’s image to a new side of the world for people to see.
Despite never leaving Europe, Queen Victoria’s portrait and image stood strong on coins around the world. Whilst she never stepped foot in many of the countries that she ruled over, that didn’t stop people recognising her image around the world.
The coins that they used every day provided a link to the empire that they were a part of, despite the miles between them.
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The ‘heads’, or obverse, side of a coin has depicted the image of a monarch or ruler for thousands of years.
However, the nature of these images have changed over the centuries. From the Ancient Greeks to Queen Elizabeth II, in this blog we guide you through the differing historic heads of uk coinage.
Ancient Greece and Rome
The coins of ancient Greece set the design template for the circulating coins that we use today in the UK!
On one side, their coins show a portrait of the symbol of national sovereignty and on the other side, we see something that resembles the nation.
Coins of ancient Greece and Rome were provided for city states and depict images of iconic leaders and the gods that protected them.
Roman coins depict the faces of the leaders of the empire, including Emperor Honoria.
Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Period
The Anglo–Saxon period in Britain spans approximately the six centuries from 410-1066AD.
In the ninth century The Royal Mint struck a silver penny of Alfred the Great at the time of the resettlement of London after its first occupation by the Vikings.
The coin would have been struck by hand and the design showcases the rigid markings that would have come as a result of hand tools.
The Renaissance and the Tudors
The Sovereign is undoubtedly one of the most impressive coins struck by The Royal Mint.
In 1489, Henry VII ordered a new coin of gold. The coin surface was large, enabling the engraver to include decorative details. It allowed for more detailed portraits of monarchs.
The portrait on this coin is of the crowned King Henry VIII.
When Charles II was restored to the throne, he needed to assert his royal authority and to show a clear break from the rule of Oliver Cromwell.
It’s been suggested that the tradition of monarchs facing in the opposite direction to their predecessor on coins, dates back to Charles II when he wanted coins under his reign to be different from that of Cromwell.
Despite reigning for 64 years, there were few coinage portraits of Queen Victoria, with one being favoured for 50 years.
For 50 years the ‘Young Head’ effigy of Queen Victoria featured on UK coinage this classically styled portrait was reinterpreted several times, with each effigy designed to portray the queen as she aged.
Queen Elizabeth II
Five portraits of Her Majesty The Queen have been used on UK coins since her accession to the throne in 1952.
The Queen’s first portrait, by Mary Gillick, shows her wearing a wreath in the style of many British coins struck between the seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries. This portrait remained on UK coins up until decimalisation, when Arnold Machin’s new portrait of The Queen was used (pictured above).
The effigy selected for use from 1985 was prepared by the sculptor Raphael Maklouf, in which she is depicted wearing a necklace and earrings.
By her fourth portrait, designed by Ian Rank-Broadley, a greater degree of realism was used. It shows The Queen in her sixth decade, her crowned head filling the coin’s surface.
The fifth and most recent portrait of The Queen is by Royal Mint designer Jody Clark. This is arguably the first UK coin to introduce elements of personality with a hint of a smile. Clark is the first Royal Mint employee in over 100 years to design a UK definitive coin portrait.
So now you know how the portraits on our coins have changed over the years, which portrait is your favourite? Comment below!
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2019 marks the 170th anniversary of the Florin – a coin with a fascinating history, first issued during the reign of Queen Victoria in 1849.
Whilst you certainly wouldn’t recognise it as a 10p nowadays, it was actually Britain’s very first decimalised coin, with a value one tenth of a pound.
This experiment in decimalisation didn’t take off for almost another 120 years when the 5p and 10p coins were issued, however the Florin remained in circulation until 1970 when a final edition was issued for collectors.
The Godless Florin
For hundreds of years, right up until the present day, Britain’s coinage has been diligently pious, featuring a range of different Latin inscriptions, but almost all coins feature the full text, or an abbreviation of, ‘Dei Gratia, Fidei Defensor’ – ‘by the Grace of God, Defender of the Faith’.
All coins that is, except the original Florins issued in 1849…
The introduction of these Florins was met with immediate outcry from the strongly religious Victorians of the time and the coin gained the nickname ‘the Godless florin’.
It was even suggested that an outbreak of cholera that year was the act of a vengeful God, visiting death upon the British population as revenge for leaving Him off the new coin!
Queen Victoria herself even complained and coin was replaced, meaning that to this day, the 1849 Florin is one of the most infamous coin designs in British numismatic history.
The Gothic Silver Florin
In 1851, a new Florin was introduced, known as the ‘Gothic Florin’.
The coin earned its name from the distinctive Gothic-style inscription on the obverse side, surrounding the shields of the United Kingdom.
The inscription featured a combination of upper and lower-case letters and Roman Numerals to signify the date, which are both very unusual features for a British coin.
Another irregularity with the Florin was the crowned portrait of Queen Victoria, which would have been highly unusual to the public at the time, as this new denomination was the first coin to feature a crowned monarch for over 200 years.
The ‘Barmaid’s Ruin’ Florin
A second attempt to introduce decimal currency occurred in 1887 when the double Florin was issued, valued at 1/5 of a pound.
This coincided with the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, yet despite the joyful occasion, for many the coin was an unwanted addition to British currency and it did not receive a warm welcome from the public.
The real reason for its introduction is disputed, nevertheless it became Britain’s second ‘decimal’ coin, just 2mm smaller in diameter than the familiar Crown, yet worth a shilling less.
The unintended consequence was that the coin was often passed off as a Crown, with naïve barmaids apparently being the most susceptible to the deception.
It’s even been suggested that more than a few barmaids lost their livelihood on the grounds that they were losing the tavern owners money, hence the nickname ‘Barmaid’s Ruin’.
Creating the Gothic Head
The ‘Gothic Head’ featured on the Florin was first produced in 1847 by Royal Mint chief engraver, William Wyon, following the success of his ‘Young Head’ portrait.
Young Queen Victoria can be seen wearing an ornate crown, with a loose braid in her hair – the first time since the coins of Charles II that a monarch had been shown wearing a crown on British coinage.
Inspired by the revival of Gothic style throughout Victorian Britain, the new design also featured gothic style text used for the inscription .
The Gothic style influenced every aspect of Victorian life, from architecture, literature, clothing and coinage.
Even today, the gothic style can still be seen in British architecture, such as the Natural History Museum and the many Victorian churches that still stand today.
Do you have any Florins in your collection and what do you think about their gothic designs?
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