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.
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.
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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It’s surprising, in this new digital age, just how ‘hands-on’ designing a coin is. In fact, it’s very much the job of a master craftsman.
Never was this more evident than when the Isle of Man Treasury chose to mark the 200th Anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria with three new coins, each with a brand new portrait.
The man they turned to was renowned sculptor Luigi Badia and here’s the remarkable process of how these coins were developed.
First Stage – Pencil designs
Like most products across all industries, designing a coin starts with pencil sketches. These are then amended, potentially many times, until a final sketch is produced and approved.
Second Stage – Plaster modelling
The second stage is arguably the most visually stunning. The sculptor, Luigi Badia in this case, will turn their sketches into a 3D ‘Plaster’ design. The skill involved in this process is really very impressive as every tiny detail must be modelled.
The plaster is far larger than the actual coin size to allow for this detail to be captured. The design will be resized in the next step of the process.
Third Stage – Digital Modelling
It’s during this stage where technology has certainly helped the design process. The 3D ‘Plaster’ designs are scanned and a digital file, called a greyscale, is created.
An engraving machine then uses this file to cut the design into a piece of steel that’s the actual size of the final coin. This will then be used to make the dies that will actually strike the coins.
Fourth Stage – Coin Striking
This final stage is when the physical coin comes to life. The specially prepared die is used to ‘strike’ the design onto a metal ‘blank’. The metal used for the blank can vary widely, from cupro-nickel to silver and gold.
Only once the mint is perfectly happy with the quality of the struck coins will they be issued.
The Queen Victoria Silver Antique £5 Set
This set is the only way to own all three of these stunning, specially commissioned Antique Silver £5 Coins.
Just 495 of these stunning sets are available worldwide and exclusive to The Westminster Collection.