It is now a year since the death of the late Queen Elizabeth II and the accession of her son to the thrones of England and Scotland as King Charles III. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that a 50p coin would be struck, bearing the new monarch’s head, uncrowned, facing left, in contrast to his late mother.
The design on the reverse (the ‘tails’ side) had yet to be revealed, but it eventually appeared in all its medieval, heraldic glory. I had it in mind to put fingers to keyboard then, to bemoan our nation’s obsession with the middle ages. In fact, I did start an article, but abandoned it for other activities.
The last set of EIIR
The last set of coins issued in the late queen’s reign was the epitome of the attachment to coats of arms and heraldic symbols. For, if you take one coin of each denomination, you can lay them out, like a kind of jigsaw puzzle, to form the royal arms. The £1 coin, which stood aside from the jigsaw, had a reverse bearing the complete escutcheon, or shield.
Sadly, the effect was ultimately spoilt by the issue of a new, twelve-sided pound coin, with a completely different design on the reverse, consisting of the intertwined flora representing the four ‘home nations’. In case you’re not sure what these are, they are:
- The briar rose for England;
- The thistle for Scotland;
- The leek (or the daffodil) for Wales; and
- The shamrock for Northern Ireland.
From time to time the Royal Mint has issued commemorative coins, more recently 50p pieces. Here they have been allowed to exercise a certain amount of whimsy, exemplified in the issue of a series commemorating Beatrix Potter, which used her illustrations of Peter Rabbit and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle.
To my amazement I discovered that in 2023 alone, up till the date of writing, there have been five commemorative issues of 50p pieces:
- 75 years of the Windrush Generation;
- 75 years of the National Health Service;
- Albus Dumbledore – in a series based on the Harry Potter books, started in 2022, with a portrait of the Boy Wizard;
- Hogwarts (see previous); and
- The coronation of Charles III and Camilla.
So far, I haven’t handled any of these.
Definitive designs that were different
To my mind, the most interesting and attractive definitive coins were those that set aside all reference to shields and armour. The two that stand out for me belong in the distant past. First was the brass, twelve-sided threepenny piece of the late king George VI. This bore a design consisting of three flower heads of sea-pink, also known as ‘thrift’.
Second was the farthing (a ‘fourthing’ or quarter of a penny), whose reverse showed a wren, one of our smallest birds. Sadly, this disappeared from use in the mid-1950s. It left the third ‘different’ design on a definitive coin: Sir Francis Drake’s ship, ‘Golden Hind’ on the pre-decimal half penny. Notwithstanding that this is not a heraldic design, it looks back to a time when ‘Britannia (and a British buccaneer) ruled the waves’.
God save the King!
You may imagine my joy, in light of the foregoing, when I heard that the Royal Mint had announced a new definitive set of coins. These will begin to appear in our change before the end of 2023.
In accordance with King Charles’ concern for our wildlife, the whole set will follow in the wake of our thrifty sea pink and friendly wren and depict flora and fauna of the British Isles. They are:
- 1 penny – the hazel dormouse;
- 2 pence – the red squirrel;
- 5 pence – a sprig of oak leaves;
- 10 pence – the capercaillie;
- 20 pence – the puffin;
- 50 pence – the salmon;
- 1 pound – honey bees; and
- 2 pounds – the national flowers.
The layout of the reverse is similar on all eight coins. The surface is divided into two unequal sections by a vertical line to the left of centre. The subject appears in the larger, right-hand section, while the left-hand section bears a large numeral, intended to help children, followed by the word ‘penny/pence’ or ‘pound/pounds’. The background of this section is decorated with a repeated pattern of three interlocking Cs, representing the third Charles.
All the designs have received the monarch’s approval. I am delighted to add mine. God save the King!