Cast your imagination back to the 19th centuryQueen 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.

Map of the British Empire during Queen Victoria’s reign.

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.

1849 Indian One Rupee. Source: Numista

The later portrait issued on rupees, similar to the Gothic Head effigy, can be considered one of the most beautiful coins of the empire.

1889 Indian One Rupee. Source: Numista.

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.

1855 Sydney Sovereign. Source: Numista.

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.

‘P’ Mintmark for sovereigns minted in Perth. Source: Numista.

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.


If you’ve found this blog informative and have enjoyed reading, let us know in the comments below!


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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

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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The United States are facing a nationwide coin shortage in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic – urging members of the public to use cash where possible to help ease the coin crisis.

As more people turn to online shopping and contactless payments and avoid using physical money due to the virus, the normal flow of currency has been severely interrupted.

Last year, third-party coin processors and retailers accounted for around 83% of coins in the US coin supply chain.

However, as many stores have been closed and with the US Mint briefly slowing production to implement safety measures, further interruptions to this supply chain have been caused.

The effects mean that as stores are reopening, retailers are quickly exhausting their cash inventories, with some now advising customers they may not be able to provide change in coins.

Solving the US coin supply problem

The US Mint is now asking people to return any coins they might have lying around and to use exact cash for purchases to help replenish the country’s supply.

The Fed have even convened a US Coin Task Force, working to restore the vital coin supply chain.

And what’s more, one particular bank has even started paying members of the public to return any spare change.

UK Coin Shortage?

With the UK public being urged to use contactless where possible during the pandemic, could we too being facing a similar issue soon?

In recent years demand for cash in the UK has dropped, not simply because card payments have increased, but also due to the introduction of the 12-sided £1 coin in 2017.

As members of the public were tasked with returning their old round pound coins to the bank, other denominations, loose change and unwanted coins were also returned, meaning a surplus of cash was injected into the system.

We’ve certainly felt the effects of this with the lack of new coins entering circulation in the last few years.

Secondary Market Coin Prices

We recently updated the Change Checker eBay Tracker, revealing the average selling prices for the top 10 UK coins and banknotes.

Amazingly, there’s been an 18% increase in the overall value of these issues – the biggest increase we’ve seen since the Tracker began!

With less cash being used in the past few months, it’s likely collectors are heading to the secondary market to get hold of certain coins, rather than waiting to find them in their change.

Additionally, with more time being spent at home and people seeking new hobbies to keep themselves entertained, new collectors are perhaps becoming more aware of rare and collectable coins that might be worth owning and as a result, are heading to the secondary market to get hold of one.

We’ve seen this increased demand on the secondary market driving up the prices, particularly for the more rare and sought-after coins.

Kew Gardens 50p sold for £189.95 on eBay

Now, as more retailers open up shop in the UK and the country starts to head towards the ‘new normal’, will we start to see more cash exchanging hands once again? And will collectors be able to start hunting down coins in their change once more?

Perhaps one of the biggest questions on collector’s lips will be whether we’ll see an increase in demand, leading to new commemorative coins being released into circulation…

At Change Checker HQ we’ve certainly got our fingers crossed!


If you’re interested in coin collecting, our Change Checker web app is completely free to use and allows users to:

– Find and identify the coins in their pocket
– Collect and track the coins they have
– Swap their spare coins with other Change Checkers

January 2019 eBay Tracker Update

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