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

An Ancient Greek coin depicting the portrait of Zeus.

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

Medieval coin featuring the portrait of Edward III

The AngloSaxon 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

Tudor coin featuring the portrait of King Henry VIII

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.

Charles II

Gold coin featuring the reversed portrait of Charles II

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.

Victoria

Queen Victoria Gothic Florin

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

2020 dated 50p featuring the fifth portrait of HM 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 1849 ‘Godless Florin’

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.

Queen Victoria Gothic Silver Florin

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 ‘Barmaid’s Ruin’ Florin

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 Victoria ‘Young Head’ portrait by William Wyon

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.

Natural History Museum London

Do you have any Florins in your collection and what do you think about their gothic designs?


Own a collector’s favourite – The ‘Gothic’ Silver Florin

The Gothic Florin is a firm favourite with British coin collectors for its originality, and unique style. However, our stock of this classic coin is limited so please don’t delay your reservation!

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One of the most interesting things about historic coins is the insight they give into the time they were struck and of the monarch who issued them.

A particular reign that has always fascinated collectors is that of Queen Victoria. During Victoria’s long reign only three major obverse portraits adorned her coins and they come together to chart the life and reign of one of Britain’s most popular monarchs.

The Young Head

The first effigy to feature on Queen Victoria’s coinage is known as the ‘Young Head’ portrait. This early portrait shows Victoria at the tender age of just 18, when she acceded to the throne.

The public in the early 19th century would not have been aware that the youthful Victoria depicted on their coins would soon become the leader of the largest Empire the world had ever seen and would reign longer than any British monarch before her.

The ‘Young Head’ portrait was extremely popular with the general public and remained on Victoria’s coins with only minor alterations for the majority of her reign.

Young Head – This design graced most of Queen Victoria’s coinage right up to 1887.

 

The Jubilee Head

After 60 years however, it was decided that a new portrait was necessary to reflect Victoria as the elder stateswoman she had become. Victoria’s Golden Jubilee marked the occasion for a design change and Joseph Edgar Boehm was chosen to design a portrait for the 78 year old Queen.

However, Boehm’s portrait failed to gain the public’s admiration in the way its predecessor had. The portrait was met with ridicule by the general public who found the small crown balanced precariously on her head as unrealistic and almost comical.

Jubilee Head – Designed in 1887 to mark her Golden Jubilee.

 

The Veiled Head

The ‘Jubilee’ portrait was quickly replaced in 1893 after only six years, with what was to be the final obverse used on Victoria’s coinage. This new effigy was designed by Thomas Brock and shows a mature bust of the Queen with a veil representing her long period of mourning after the death of her husband Prince Albert.

Victoria was deeply attached to her husband and she sank into depression after his death. For the rest of her reign she wore black and the final portrait of the highly respected Queen represents this secluded period of mourning that came towards the end of her life.

Veiled Head – The Jubilee Head design was short-lived, being replaced by Thomas Brock’s ‘Old Head’ or ‘Veiled Head’ design in 1893.

 

Together, these coin portraits tell the story of Queen Victoria, with each marking an important period from her long reign. All of these coins are now over 100 years old and for me they epitomise Victorian coin collecting.


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