The Victorian attempts at decimalisation that didn’t quite go to plan…

Next month marks the 50th anniversary since the UK switched to decimal currency, leaving behind the old Pounds (£), Shillings (/-) and Pence (d) and introducing the decimalised coins we know today. You might even remember Decimal Day in 1971 yourself, using conversion charts and rhymes to learn the new currency and the excitement of seeing the new coins in your change.

In the 1820s, discussions for a new decimal currency had already begun, and in 1849 a new decimal coin was introduced in the UK. But its introduction didn’t quite go as planned and decimalisation was delayed for almost 130 years!

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A portrait of Queen Victoria in 1847 by Franz Alexander Winterhalter

The Florin

The Florin first entered circulation in 1849 and had a value of 1/10th of a pound, or 24 pence (in old money). Supposedly, the name came from a similar coin issued in the Netherlands to help with decimalisation there. The Florin (or Two Shilling Coin) featured a special portrait of Queen Victoria in a medieval gothic style. It was the first time since Charles II that a monarch was depicted on a portrait wearing a crown.

Blamed for famine and sickness

The Gothic portrait was featured on the Florin when it was first introduced in 1849. Because the bust was larger than the previous Young Head portrait, the design omitted ten important letters. The words “DEI GRATIA” had been removed from the coin’s inscription. In a deeply religious society, the fact that the words meaning “by the grace of God” no longer appeared on the coin caused outrage.

Many people believed that the lack of the inscription had angered God and caused famine and sickness at the time, leading many to avoid the coin altogether.

1849 Victorian Florin nicknamed Godless Florin - The Victorian attempts at decimalisation that didn’t quite go to plan...
1849 Victorian Florin, nicknamed the ‘Godless Florin’

One of the shortest-lived coins in UK history

The public outrage meant that the design was altered to include a shortened version of DEI GRATIA (d.g.) by making the diameter of the coin 2mm bigger. This coin soon became the Gothic Florin and was better received by the public, but it’s safe to say that the disaster with the Godless Florin tainted the idea of decimalisation for many years. It also meant that the Godless Florin circulated for just a few years, making it one of the shortest-lived coins in our history!

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1851 Victorian Florin with D.G inscription, nicknamed the “Gothic Florin”

A second attempt

The Victorian’s made a second attempt at decimalisation in 1887 in the form of the Double Florin (equivalent to 1/5th of a pound, or 48 pennies), issued with a new portrait of Queen Victoria for her Jubilee. But this coin also wasn’t received well and was withdrawn from circulation completely by 1890.

1887 1890 Queen Victoria Double Florin nicknamed The Barmaids Ruin - The Victorian attempts at decimalisation that didn’t quite go to plan...
1887-1890 Victorian Double Florin, nicknamed “The Barmaid’s Ruin”

One of the features that makes the Double Florin stand out in history is that it was almost indistinguishable from the crown coin. Neither carried the denomination, and the only difference between the two (apart from the value) was that the Double Florin was 2mm smaller – not something that was easy to spot by eye. Because the two coins were so easily confused, the Double Florin became infamous for causing barmaid to lose their jobs after they short-changed pub owners!

The Victorians are famed for their innovation and sweeping changes in technology, industry, and culture. The Florin as a denomination did circulate until 1993 when it was eventually demonetised, and whilst there were countless experimentations with coinage and new denominations under Queen Victoria, it seems that the UK wasn’t quite ready for a change as big as decimalisation.

If you’re interested:

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With such a fascinating story and sense of history behind it, it is no wonder that the Double Florin is such a highly-regarded British coin. Those that do remain are very difficult to track down and we have a very limited number available. And now you can spread your payment across 5 interest free instalments of JUST £19. Click here to secure yours today before they sell out!

The blend of fact and fiction that resulted in the world’s most beautiful coin

Storytelling is one of humanity’s oldest pastimes, with events being captured and passed on for centuries though art, music and dance long before we were writing them down. And one of the oldest and most reliable ways a country can tell its stories is through its coins.

This should come as no surprise. If you think about it, currency is the constant that has always been around in one form or another. It’s continually evolving and adapting to the next chapter in the story.

But there’s one coin in particular that holds more meaning than most – as it blends fact with fiction to produce the world’s most beautiful coin, Una and the Lion.  

Controversial, yet beyond improvement

In 1839 William Wyon was commissioned to design a new coin to commemorate the anniversary of Queen Victoria’s coronation.

But it made headlines. It was controversial.

Una and the Lion origianl Obverse Reverse - The blend of fact and fiction that resulted in the world’s most beautiful coin
Image courtesy of National Numismatic Collection, National Museum of American History.

In a bold move it depicted Queen Victoria as the fictional character Lady Una, from Edmund Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queene. Never before had someone, let alone a ruler, been featured on a coin as a fictional character.

The design shows Lady Una walking alongside her guardian and symbol of England, the lion. It is symbolic of the young monarch leading her vast empire.

Whilst a daring move, the coin was an instant success. Critics hailed it as “beyond improvement”, and to this day it’s regarded as one of the most beautiful coins to have ever been struck.

Part of its beauty was the high relief, providing exquisite intricate detail to the fictional design. But in many ways this was also its downfall, as it meant the coin could not be struck with any consistency. As a result the commemorative was only struck for one year, producing just 400 coins. This makes it extremely rare!    

The inspiration: a princess and her protector

Published in 1590, The Faerie Queene, is one of the longest and most distinguished poems in the English language. It was written during the height of the Renaissance when England had just broken away from the Catholic Church and formed its own Protestant Church. Set against the backdrop of this turbulent religious landscape, The Faerie Queene draws on history and myth to deliver numerous tales of romance, adventure, battles, morality and religion.

Una and the Lion Painting - The blend of fact and fiction that resulted in the world’s most beautiful coin
Una and the Lion, 1860, William Bell Scott

The first book of the epic poem follows the trials and tribulations of Lady Una – the young and beautiful daughter of a king and queen who have been imprisoned by a ferocious dragon. In a bid to save her parents she embarks on a quest, but on her journey she encounters a fierce lion who plans to eat her.

In a twist of events the lion is so captivated by Una’s beauty and innocence that he abandons his plans to eat her, and instead he becomes her protector and companion.

Together, the iconic pair have become a symbol of beauty, strength and endurance.

The most beautiful coin just became even more exquisite

The Royal Mint has just released a brand new UK Una and the Lion 2oz Silver Proof coin, featuring this iconic and highly sought-after design motif.

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Finding an original Una and the Lion coin is virtually impossible, so this may be one of the only ways to secure this design motif for your own collection.

But with an edition limit of just 3,000 worldwide, there aren’t many available for collectors.

As an official Royal Mint distributor, we have secured a limited number for Westminster collectors.

Click here to find out more and add this iconic coin to your collection >>  

How a young queen saw the world without leaving Europe…

Despite ruling over 400 million people in an empire that covered almost a quarter of the world’s surface, Queen Victoria had never set foot in many of the countries that she ruled over.

For many of those people, the only way to catch a glimpse of their empress was by looking at the portraits on the coins that passed through their hands every day. These coins formed a vital connection between people, even though they may have lived on opposite sides of the world and experienced very different lives.

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Map of the British Empire during Victoria’s reign

India became known as the Jewel in the Empire’s crown, and was so important to Victoria that she was awarded the title of the “Empress of India” in 1876. Although she never stepped foot in the subcontinent, the currency of India (the rupee) was minted with her portrait on from 1840, so people could recognise their empress despite living 4,500 miles away!

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 was similar to the Gothic Head effigy can be considered one of the most beautiful coins of the empire.

Another numismatic first took place in Australia in 1855, one more country that Victoria never visited (which is hardly surprising as it would have taken her almost two months to get there!). As the empire grew, so did the need for coins and the Royal Mint opened branches in Australia to mint sovereigns for the empire. In 1855 the first ever sovereign to be minted outside of the UK, the Sydney sovereign, was issued. 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.

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1870 Sydney sovereign with Australian portrait of Queen Victoria

A number of Royal Mint branches were opened throughout Australia after the success of the Sydney sovereign. 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.

Victoria never left Europe, but her 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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If you’re interested

You can now own a genuine Victorian Silver Rupee, minted over 4,500 miles away! Click here for more info>>>>