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.
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In August 1914, the British economy was in turmoil because of the instability brought on by the oncoming war on the continent. Bankers and politicians were desperately looking for ways to secure Britain’s finances and prevent the banks from collapsing.
So to buy time to look for a solution, the government extended the national bank holiday on 3rd August to include Tuesday 4th, Wednesday 5th and Thursday 6th August – making this the longest bank holiday in British history!
The government decided that a large supply of banknotes had to be made available for the values of £1 and 10 shillings, making it easy for the public to make small transactions and to dissuade the hoarding of precious metal coins. However, The Bank of England was not able to prepare and print the required number of notes quickly enough, so the government took the unprecedented step of deciding to issue the notes itself.
These banknotes became known as the Treasury banknotes and were unlike anything the British public had ever seen. Until this point the lowest denomination banknote was £5, and in those days this was such a large sum that many people would never have seen or used a banknote before.
That means that these Treasury notes now stand out as the first widely circulated banknotes in England.
And what’s more, the Treasury notes featured a portrait of King George V. Nowadays we’re used to seeing Her Majesty on our banknotes, but the Treasury notes were the first British notes to feature a portrait of the monarch. In fact, Bank of England notes would not display an image of the monarch until 1960.
Treasury notes played a vital role in keeping the economy moving during the First World War and for the first time in England and Wales, paper money became normal currency used by ordinary people.
These notes were born out of Britain’s longest bank holiday and now stand as some of the most interesting banknotes in notaphily history!
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Almost 50 years ago, the ten bob note was in every wallet, purse and pocket in Britain. The 10 Shilling banknote would have been recognisable to every schoolchild in Britain, a fact that certainly isn’t the case today!
Worth the equivalent of 50p, back then it would have bought you 6 pints of beer, 10 loaves of bread, or 17 pints of milk. It’s hard to imagine a 50p going so far these days!
The 10 Shilling banknote was the smallest denomination note ever issued by the Bank of England. The denomination was first issued as a banknote by the Treasury during the First World War as an emergency currency and was then issued as a generally circulating note by the Bank of England from 1928.
However, in 1966 when the decision was made to convert Britain’s coinage to a decimal currency it sadly meant saying goodbye to the well-loved 10 Shilling Note.
Under this new system, there was no place for the 10 bob note. It was decided that the new decimal replacement should be issued as a coin, the main reason being that notes had an average lifetime of about five months so it was inefficient to keep replacing a note with such a low denomination.
As a result, the first ever 7-sided coins was introduced in 1969 – the now instantly recognisable 50p coin. The two currencies co-existed for around a year, but finally, on 22nd November 1970, the old 10 bob note ceased to be legal tender.
Almost 50 years on, the 50p is now a staple of British culture and one of the most collectable coins internationally. The 10 bob note stands as an important reminder of the pre-decimal coinage our generation grew up with and also of one of the most significant moments in the history of British currency – decimalisation.
If you’re interested…
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