Last Friday the 9th April, Buckingham Palace announced the death of His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, husband to Queen Elizabeth II and father of the Prince of Wales, who, in time, will become sovereign of the United Kingdom. The official announcement confirmed the Duke of Edinburgh died peacefully that morning at Windsor Castle where had been recuperating since the 16th March after a medical procedure on his heart performed at St. Bartholomew’s hospital in London earlier that month. As the Duke of Edinburgh had quite a close link to British coinage from the very start of his wife’s reign, the Royal Mint posted a message of condolence from the Chief Operating Officer, Anne Jessop, expressing their sadness just hours after hearing the news of the death of Prince Philip:
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On behalf of everyone at The Royal Mint, I’d like to express our great sadness and heartfelt condolences at the passing of HRH Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh. The Royal Mint had a long and close relationship with The Duke of Edinburgh as he served as President of The Royal Mint Advisory Committee (RMAC) for 47 years between 1952 and 1999. During this period, the committee he chaired approved the Coronation medal, the coins needed for decimalisation, and four coinage portraits of Her Majesty The Queen. The thoughts of all of us at The Royal Mint are with the Royal Family at this difficult time.
— Anne Jessopp, Chief Executive, The Royal Mint
Many in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth had hoped the Duke of Edinburgh would this year reach his own milestone centenary birthday and as part of the celebrations receive a congratulatory telegram from the Queen on the achievement — as is customary in the UK. Prince Philip was just eight weeks away from this celebration, having been born on the 10th June 1921 — he would have been the second British consort to have celebrated a centenary birthday after his mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who celebrated her 100th birthday in August 2000. At the time of his death, Prince Philip was the longest-serving consort of a reigning British monarch and the longest-lived male member of the British royal family.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s long association with the Royal Mint began when he assumed the presidency of the Royal Mint Advisory Committee (RMAC) in 1952. At the time, it was rightly believed he would represent the personal wishes of the Queen pertaining to the design and theme of new British coinage. It would be the responsibility of Prince Philip to approve the coronation medal in 1953, the reverse designs on new circulation coinage minted in time for the Queen’s crowning at Westminster Abbey, as well as her effigy seen on the obverse of the new series. The Royal Mint was confident the Queen herself was happy with the direction that new Elizabethan-era coinage was taking, as Prince Philip was most likely in close consultation with his wife.
During the Duke of Edinburgh’s tenure as president of the RMAC, the United Kingdom would usher in decimalisation, a total of four effigies of Queen Elizabeth II would be introduced as well as three new denominations for general circulation. Of special interest to coin collectors, more than a dozen new commemorative crowns would be minted from 1953 marking royal occasions which included wedding anniversaries, birthdays, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, and the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. Prince Philip himself would have his name integrated onto the design of a British crown in 1972, when he was befittingly the first British consort to have this honour.
His image was depicted a total of five times thus far on British commemorative coinage from 1997 and was the first serving royal consort to be seen on the coinage of the United Kingdom. The first instance was for the Golden Wedding Anniversary of sovereign and consort, and, on the occasion, double conjoined portraits of the royal couple were included on the obverse. This would occur twice more in 2007 for the couple’s Diamond Anniversary and in 2017 for their Platinum Anniversary. In between their Golden and Platinum anniversaries, Prince Philip celebrated his 90th birthday in 2011 and a special crown with his sole profile was issued. Before his Diamond Wedding, Prince Philip announced his retirement from public life on the 2nd August 2017 having completed 22,219 solo engagements and 5,493 speeches since 1952. In tribute to his life-long service to the nation as well as to the Queen, a commemorative crown was issued and perhaps the last numismatic project he personally approved. The crown’s reverse included a profile portrait of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh which was originally sculpted by Humphrey Paget OBE (1893–1974) first used on an award medal and which was Paget’s last major commission before his retirement. Below the image of Prince Philip, was the Latin inscription “NON SIBI SED PATRIAE,“ meaning “not for self, but for country.” And, in the case of the Duke of Edinburgh, an appropriate assertion.
My office had it on good authority that a commemorative celebratory crown for Prince Philip was planned for release just before what would have been his 100th birthday. It is possible this project may transition into a memorial coin and affirmation of the extraordinary life led by a most exceptional Prince.
The Duke of Edinburgh retired from the Royal Mint Advisory Committee in 1999 after 47 years of service. His Royal Highness made a lasting impression on the work of the Royal Mint while he was president of the RMAC — his legacy will carry on through the exceptional numismatic history he contributed to and his efforts will be well remembered.
As per the wishes of the late Duke of Edinburgh, his funeral will not be a state occasion but rather a final send-off with as little fuss as possible. This is seen by many as just another example of the humble man who the Queen once described as:
My strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know.
These comments by the Queen were delivered in tribute to her husband during celebrations of the couple’s Golden Wedding Anniversary at Banqueting House in November 1997.
Prince Philip is survived by his wife the Queen, four children, eight grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren. The Royal family and UK Government announced an official mourning period of eight days. The palace has announced that in accordance with current pandemic restrictions, a maximum of 30 people may be in attendance at the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh. The service with royal observances will be presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and take place on the 17th April at St. George’s Chapel. Following his funeral, The Duke of Edinburgh will be privately interred in the Royal Vault of St. George’s Chapel. In due time, he will rest next to the Queen and be transferred to the gothic church’s King George VI memorial chapel to lie alongside his wife of 73 years. The small chapel houses the remains of the Queen’s father George VI, her mother the Queen Mother, and sister Princess Margaret.
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The treasury of the British Indian Ocean Territory has launched (6th April) the second release which is part of a 10-coin series of £2 bi-metallic coins featuring all 10 of the renowned Queen’s Beasts sculptures. Commissioned specially for the coronation celebrations in 1953, these admired, and, in some cases — mythical creatures, who feature prominently in heraldry, were placed along the entrance of Westminster Abbey to welcome the Queen on the day she was crowned.
Two of the 10 Queen’s Beasts are depicted as the Royal supporters of England, namely the Lion of England and the Unicorn of Scotland. Each of the 10 designs consists of a heraldic beast and a supporting shield or crest bearing the arms of a family or royal dynasty associated with the ancestry of Queen Elizabeth II. The second design features the White Greyhound of Richmond, which was associated with Edmund Tudor, father of King Henry VII, and who was created Earl of Richmond. King Henry VII also on occasion used the designs of white greyhounds as supporters and on his own standards before becoming King in 1485, but subsequently replaced the English lion with the white greyhound, in the coat of arms of England, placing it opposite the Y Ddraig Goch, or Red Dragon of Wales. Queen Elizabeth II, through the lineage of Henry VII’s daughter Margaret, Queen of Scotland, is a direct descendant to the first Tudor King.
The coins are produced by the Pobjoy Mint at their facilities in Surrey, on behalf of the treasury of the British Indian Ocean Territory. The reverse design includes a depiction of the head of a greyhound centred, a representation of the Tudor rose shield is placed to the left of the greyhound. The coin is inscribed with the wording WHITE GREYHOUND OF RICHMOND, seen above the primary design, and the denomination TWO POUNDS is placed at the bottom of this coin.
The obverse of the coin features an elegant effigy of HM Queen Elizabeth II, which is an exclusive design of the Pobjoy Mint. The issuing authority BRITISH INDIAN OCEAN TERRITORY is placed around the Queen’s likeness as the coin’s legend with the year of issue 2021 shown below the portrait.
Base metal Brilliant Uncirculated examples are presented in a sealed blister-pak card, sterling silver Proof examples are encapsulated and presented in a custom royal purple coloured case accompanied by a certificate of authenticity. For additional information about these coins and other coins released by the British Indian Ocean Territory, please visit the website of the Pobjoy Mint.
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The government and treasury of the British Antarctic Territory have issued (30th March) new commemorative coins to mark the 95th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, which will occur on the 21st April.
The extraordinary journey of the Queen’s life began on the 21st April 1926 when Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of York was born in the London home of her maternal grandparents to Their Royal Highness’ the Duke and Duchess of York. She was the first grandchild of King George V, and upon her birth, was third in the line of succession behind her uncle Edward Albert, the Prince of Wales, and Albert Frederick, her father. With the abdication of her uncle King Edward VIII and the accession of her father as King George VI in 1936, the 10-year-old princess became Heiress presumptive. Princess Elizabeth ascended the British throne on the 6th February 1952 after the death of her beloved father. The young Queen was escorted to her glorious Coronation by her dashing husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, to Westminster Abbey on the 2nd June 1953. The centuries-old and solemn ceremony was televised and seen by a quarter of the world’s population.
Aside from being the longest-lived English or British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II is also the longest-married at nearly 74 years, and six years ago, Elizabeth II became the longest-serving British monarch. On the 9th September 2015, Queen Elizabeth II surpassed her great great-grandmother, Queen Victoria’s reign of 63 years, seven months, and two days. On the day she achieved this record, the Queen modestly commented that it was not an occasion which she had ever aspired to.
Tradition has been followed since the reign of the Queen began for although her actual birthday is celebrated by her family in April, the nation celebrates the Sovereign’s official birthday during the ceremony for Trooping of the Colour, which is usually scheduled every year on the second Saturday of June.
The new seven-sided commemorative coins are produced by the Pobjoy Mint at their facilities in Surrey, on behalf of the treasury of the British Antarctic Territory. The reverse side of the coins prominently features the Crown Jewels used during the holy ceremony of the Sovereign’s coronation. Above and to the left of the collection is the numeral 50 representing the coins’ denomination.
The obverse of the coin features an elegant effigy of HM Queen Elizabeth II, which is an exclusive design of the Pobjoy Mint. The issuing authority BRITISH ANTARCTIC TERRITORY is placed around the Queen’s likeness as the coin’s legend, along with the year of issue, 2021.
Base metal Brilliant Uncirculated examples are presented in a blister-pak type folder with images and informative text pertaining to the Queen’s milestone birthday.
The sterling silver Proof examples are encapsulated in a Perspex frame enabling viewing of the coin from both sides and are accompanied by a certificate of authenticity. For additional information about these coins and others released by the British Antarctic Territory, please visit the website of the Pobjoy Mint.
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By Louis Golino
Long before Lady Liberty, Marianne, Germania, and other allegorical numismatic and cultural figures, there was Britannia — the oldest symbol of a nation personified as a strong female still used on coins today.
Her roots are in the Roman conquest of Britain and the use of deities that began in ancient Greece and Rome that first personified concepts like Liberty with a female goddess called Libertas in Rome and Eleutheria in Greece.
Image by the Royal Mint Museum.
The Romans (for whom it was previously Albion, as Greek geographers called it) dubbed the British Isles Britannia (derived from the Latin “Britannicae”) well before Julius Caesar’s triumphant visit in 55 A.D. that was part of his effort to conquer Gaul. The first serious Roman attempts to invade the area were made by Claudius. After winning several battles, Claudius took the surname Britannicus, and several silver and gold coins honoring Claudius featured references to “E Britan” or “E Britannis”.
But it was later when Hadrian, who built his famous wall near the border between England and Scotland, that Roman influence increased in the area, which included the building of a shrine in York to Britannia depicted as a goddess. It was during this period (around 119 A.D.) that the first Roman coins were struck that featured a female figure who represented the personification of Britain and mentioned Britannia.
And this Britannia of Roman coinage was based on the Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva — a warrior-goddess who guided soldiers in battle and sported a helmet, spear, and shield, as has Britannia, for more than 2,000 years.
Many of those motifs used to depict Britannia on Roman coins would later be used when the figure reappeared on British coins of the realm after disappearing for over 1,000 years when Rome fell in 395 A.D., starting in 1672 during the reign of Charles II. The idea may have been revived to inspire the British at a time when the country’s naval power was under threat by Spain.
On copper half pennies and farthings, Britannia was shown seated on a rock with an olive branch in her right hand and a spear in her left hand with a shield bearing the Union flag leaning against the rock.
In the centuries since then, Britannia has continued to appear without interruption on the coinage of the British monarchy and the United Kingdom, appearing to this day on circulating 50-pence and £2 coins.
The many different versions of her image over the centuries were clearly designed to convey that message that she is the stoic protector of the British nation and of the territorial integrity and security of Britain, but she also represents the British nation and people themselves and their history.
Over that extensive period, Britannia has appeared either standing or sitting, usually holding Neptune’s trident in one hand (which replaced the spear in 1797) and a shield with the Union Jack flag in the other and often wearing a Corinthian helmet in a nod to her Roman origins.
Other times she is shown with a lion by her side, such as on the legendary 1839 gold coin for Queen Victoria’s coronation known as Una and the Lion that was focused on Imperial Britain, for the first time depicting the British monarch in an allegorical manner (rooted in a poem from the 16th century).
Copper farthings issued from 1821 to 1826 under George IV shifted Britannia from facing left to facing right, added the Corinthian helmet and the lion at her side, and removed the olive branch — all of which served to emphasize Britain’s naval prowess.
Image by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation.
Britannia continued to appear on circulating British coinage from the 17th century onward and in the superb design by George William De Saulles that graced the British Trade dollars issued from 1895 to 1935 to the tune of over 160 million coins that helped expand world trade, especially in Asia.
Later in the 20th century, she began to be reimagined on an annual basis and often in a much more modern way with the Britannia bullion coins. Beginning with the gold Britannia series in 1987 and then the silver Britannia series in 1987 that was issued in Mint State and Proof versions, she appeared in a different way on most, but not all, of each year’s coins. Some of those designs drew more from her traditional depictions and focused on her as a warrior or added waves because of Britain’s long naval history, while others featured modernized designs like profiles.
Then, in 2012, a design by Philip Nathan (who has created more Britannia designs than any other artist) that draws inspiration from how Britannia appeared on Trade dollars which emphasizes her maritime role (with the trident and sea waves) became the new standard-bearer for the silver and gold bullion series, while silver and gold Proof (and later platinum) coins issued since 2013 have annually featured an original representation of Britannia — yet each of them retains most of the traditional elements of the design.
New Designs in Proof Annually
The bullion coins (whose silver fineness was increased from .958 through 2011 to the world standard .999 fine in 2012, while the gold pieces were increased from 22 to 24 karat) are now aimed primarily at bullion buyers, though they are also collected by date, and the Proofs appeal especially to collectors who love a new design each year.
Many of the designs that have appeared on the Proof issues have been stunning as numismatic art and full of symbolism but always showing her as strong and prepared to defend Britain.
In 2014, for the first time, she was shown in a style that resembles Art Deco in which she appears very feminine and glamorous in a long, flowing gown but still wearing the helmet, holding the trident and with a lion at her feet and a globe behind her — a clever mixture of traditional elements with a modern twist in artist Jody Clark’s creation.
The beauty of this version made the 2014 coins very popular with collectors and pushed the secondary market values for all versions (each coin is annually issued in a wide range of sizes from 1/10th-ounce to a kilo or more) up substantially.
This year the Royal Mint took two unprecedented moves when it unveiled its new Britannia coins. First, it introduced two new designs, rather than one, that as always appear on a range of silver and gold coins, and it called the second one its new Premium Exclusive range issued one-ounce silver Mint State and two-ounce silver Proof as well as in a one-kilo Proof and in gold in two-ounce and one-kilo Proofs.
Premium Exclusive Series
In the biggest departure from how Britannia has been depicted for centuries, 2021’s Premium range for the first time shows her as a woman of color in a move that is reminiscent of the 2017 American Liberty $100 gold Proof coin issued by the U.S. Mint to mark its 225th anniversary that featured the first African-American Lady Liberty.
The Core range designs for 2021 celebrate Britain’s spirit of innovation with a rarely seen front-facing view of Britannia with her large lion by her side, while the Premium Exclusive, which is the first of a three year-series to celebrate Britain’s diversity, features a large right-facing profile of Britannia as a black woman wearing a Corinthian helmet with stylized sea waves in the lower background.
Both ranges were designed by Irish children’s book illustrator P.J. Lynch after his designs went through a two-year approval process in which the designs are submitted anonymously and reviewed by an Advisory Committee that ends with Queen Elizabeth giving her consent to the motif. Lynch said he “wanted her to look strong, resolute, and attractive, but I also felt that her features should reflect something of the diversity of the people of Britain in the 21st century” (March 18 Royal Mint press release).
Anne Glossop, Deputy Master of the Mint, told British Vogue magazine recently that this was “a huge step for us. Our work is at the core of representing society and the heritage of a nation, and we need to reflect that.”
Diversity and Tradition
Focusing on diversity may be a new approach for the coinage of Great Britain but it is worth recalling that the Britain of Roman times was also a nation of diverse peoples.
Lynch added that the woman on his premium coin is not based on a real person. Instead, he noted: “Her face evolved from my imagination. I didn’t think Britannia symbolised nobility or a great leader, but an embodiment of people and the whole of Britain. I thought about all the faces I see walking on the streets, and I wanted to reflect the diversity. I certainly didn’t want one particular woman, she’s very much an amalgam,” as quoted in a March 2021 Vogue piece.
Lynch also intentionally used plenty of negative space (an open field) to make the design look more modern and toned down the military aspects except for the Corinthian helmet, which remains a constant of the design.
Reactions to the new Britannia have been mixed from UK collectors with some people very pleased to see Britannia evolve more dramatically than before, and others arguing that adding diversity to the iconic motif clashes with its role as a symbol of tradition and stability. Nicholas Cullinan, a member of the mint’s advisory committee (the UK’s version of the CCAC) and chairman of the National Portrait Gallery said he was very impressed with the design and its embracing of the diversity of Britain.
Collectors purchased the entire 550-mintage of the two-ounce silver Proof on release day, March 18. The other Premium versions have all sold out too except for the most affordable option, the one-ounce Uncirculated coin with a mintage of 7,500 that is still available.
Finally, it is important to remember that while Britannia has remained — after the effigy of Queen Elizabeth — the most recognizable motif on UK coinage for almost 350 years, she has also been a powerful cultural symbol, especially in the post-1945 period — which is explored in the ground-breaking book on the topic, Britannia: Icon of the Coin (Royal Mint Museum, 2016) by Katherine Eustace, a former member of the Advisory Committee. For her, Britannia is an enduring and also endearing symbol of stability and continuity.
And the iconic symbol of Britannia also remains a fascinating window into the history, politics, art, and culture of Great Britain.
Louis Golino is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer specializing primarily in modern U.S. and world coins. His work has appeared in Coin World, CoinWeek, The Greysheet and CPG Market Review, The Numismatist, Numismatic News, FUN Topics, The Clarion, and COINage, among other publications. His first coin-writing position was with Coin Update.
In 2015, his CoinWeek.com column, “The Coin Analyst,” received an award from the Numismatic Literary Guild for best website column. By 2017, he received an NLG award for best article in a non-numismatic publication with his “Liberty Centennial Designs,” which was published in Elemetal Direct. In October 2018, he received a literary award from the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists (PAN) for his article, “Lady Liberty: America’s Enduring Numismatic Motif,” that appeared in The Clarion in 2017.
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