In my last post I explored one of the most monumental events in the history of British coinage, the Great Recoinage when the Master of the Mint decided to bring back the Sovereign as Britain’s new flagship gold coin. Now, I explore its truly timeless design created by Benedetto Pistrucci.
As designer of the original ‘modern’ Gold Sovereign, Benedetto Pistrucci’s name has become synonymous with the coin. Born in Rome in 1783, Pistrucci took an interest in art from a young age and was trained by two of the leading engravers of the time.
But his fate was not in Rome. He moved to Paris in 1814 and then to London the following year.
And it was here that he really made a name for himself.
Pistrucci became a successful and wealthy cameo designer and maker and in 1815 he met William Wellesley Pole, the Master of the Mint, who admired his work. Pole was barred from appointing a foreigner to a crown office but when the Chief Engraver of the Mint retired, Pistrucci succeeded him in all but title.
As part of the Great Recoinage, Pistrucci was tasked with designing the new Sovereign. It was essential for the design to be considerably different from the Guinea to avoid confusion between the two coins.
The timeless design
Pistrucci’s initial inspiration for the design derived from Lady Spencer, to whom he had been introduced to by the Master of the Mint, who showed him a wax model of St. George.
Pole agreed that the patron Saint of England would undoubtedly be a fitting choice for the design for the new flagship coin.
So, Pistrucci created his masterpiece using a waiter from a hotel in Leicester Square as his model.
His St. George and the Dragon design featured on all Sovereigns and Half Sovereigns from 1817 until 1825 with a modification in 1820 when Pistrucci exchanged St. George’s shattered lance for a short sword.
Pistrucci was removed from the mint in 1825 following in-house fighting and a dispute with the King over a portrait and his original St. George & the Dragon design began a 46 year exile.
But that was not the end of his beautiful design. It was revived nearly 50 years later in 1871…
Find out why in Part IV of our 200 years of the Sovereign Blog Series – click here to read it >>
With the new portrait of Queen Elizabeth II due to be revealed on Monday, I thought I’d revisit a blog I posted in 2013, which saw the 60th anniversary of the Queen on our coinage.
Back then you voted Mary Gillick’s 1953 portrait of the Queen the best, by a very slim margin. Will the new portrait become the nation’s favourite? Let’s take a look at the previous designs…
The first Queen Elizabeth II coins were struck in 1953 and since then four different effigies adorned our coins.
1953 – 1967: Mary Gillick
The first coins of Queen Elizabeth’s reign bore Mary Gillick’s portrait of the young Queen, engraved especially for the new coins.
Her uncrowned portrait of the Queen is still used on the Maundy Money distributed each year by Her Majesty.
With the upcoming decimilisation, it was decided to refresh the Queen’s portrait with Arnold Machin’s new sculpture of the Queen. Commissioned in 1964, it first appeared in 1968 on the new 5p and 10p coins. A version of the design with tiara was also introduced on stamps in 1967 and remains to this day.
1985 – 1997: Raphael Maklouf
In creating his new effigy of Her Majesty, Raphael Maklouf aimed “to create a symbol, regal and ageless”.
His “couped” portrait depicts Queen Elizabeth II wearing the royal diadem favoured by her on the way to and from the State Opening of Parliament.
1998 – current: Ian Rank-Broadley FRBS
The current Queen’s head on our coinage was designed in 1997 by Ian Rank-Broadley. Created to fill the full circle of the coin, its larger size was a deliberate response to the smaller 5p and 10p coins in circulation. A noticeably more mature portrayal of Her Majesty, Rank-Broadley aimed to show the Queen with “poise and bearing”.
If you’re interested…
Collect all 8 of the ‘new portrait’ coins when you find them in your change with The Queen’s New Portrait Coin Collecting Pack. Available now for just £3.99 (+p&p).
This year a brand new £5 coin has been issued to commemorate Sir Winston Churchill, and it features a never-seen-before effigy of the great man.
Designed by renowned sculptor and artist David Cornell FRSA, the new portrait shows a defiant Churchill in military uniform.
I’ve been given a behind the scenes look at the creation of the portrait, and had a quick chat with the artist himself.
David Cornell is perhaps more famous for sculpting members of the Royal family, (he was even commissioned to paint a birthday portrait of the Queen) so I thought I’d ask him about his inspiration behind the new design:
“Winston Churchill was a major part of my childhood growing up in London during the War, hearing his speeches and seeing photos on posters, which left an indelible impression on me.
“I realised later what a great man he was and his contribution to the War effort, inspiring the people of Great Britain.
“As a portrait artist, it has been a great honour for me to be able to portray him in this tribute to honour his legacy.”
First of all Cornell worked on a plaster engraving of the portrait, making sure it fits the very particular dimensions of a coin. You can see the fine detail in the picture above, and also the large size of the plaster, which has to be reduced when the die is created to strike the coin.
The finished £5 coin also features an inscription of one of Churchill’s famous speeches: ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.’ Although spoken in reference to the heroes of the Battle of Britain, the quotation was chosen as it represents Churchill’s indomitable spirit during the war.
The coin has been issued on behalf of the Bailiwick of Jersey, and is available now in a range of metals – from an impressive 5oz 22 carat gold version measuring 2 1/2 inches in diameter, to a highly collectable cupro-nickel version available to all. I’m sure you’ll agree, it will make a fitting tribute in any collection to our greatest ever Prime Minister.
If you are interested…
The new Winston Churchill £5 Coin is available now in a special limited edition Proof version. Complete with Presentation Case and Certificate of Authenticity.