The story of the Pound

The story of the Pound

A Story Spanning the Centuries

Although the modern £1 coin has only been in circulation for 33 years, it is part of a story that is more than five centuries old.

The pound made its first appearance in Tudor times, when Henry VII ordered the officers of his Royal Mint to ‘produce a new money of gold’. His Sovereign, struck in 1489, had a value of one pound sterling

The familiar ‘round pound’ was first introduced in 1983, when Her Majesty’s Treasury realised that £1 notes, issued by the Bank of England, were becoming too expensive to produce and had a short lifespan. A more practical alternative was needed and the new round pound coin entered circulation on 21 April 1983, Her Majesty The Queen's birthday. It featured a Royal Arms design by Eric Sewell and bore the Latin inscription DECUS ET TUTAMEN – ‘An ornament and a safeguard’ – from Virgil’s Aeneid, on its milled edge.

 

The Nation’s Coin

The pound is often considered the nation’s coin, reflecting its diverse nature while uniting the countries of the United Kingdom.

From 1983 the round pound was a familiar sight in the nation’s change. Its reverse designs frequently returned to the theme of heraldry and the Royal Arms but representations of the four regions of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were also very popular. Some, like those created by Norman Sillman, featured national emblems while other designs, such as those created by Edwina Ellis, featured regional landmarks.

By 2014, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, decided it was time for a major change because the ‘round pound’ had become vulnerable to sophisticated counterfeiters. The new 12-sided £1 coin, with its revolutionary security features, entered circulation in March 2017 ushering in a new era of minting excellence.

 

Designed by the People

In a rare move, the public was offered the opportunity to design the reverse of the 12-sided £1 coin in a competition launched by The Royal Mint Advisory Committee (RMAC).

More than 6,000 entries were received with several popular themes capturing the public’s imagination including heraldic designs and traditional floral emblems. State buildings like Buckingham Palace were also very popular, as were contemporary interpretations of British culture such as The Beatles and even cups of tea.

From the thousands of submissions the panel chose the entry by Walsall schoolboy David Pearce. He was just 15 years old when he won the public competition with his design combining the traditional floral emblems of the nations of the United Kingdom in a fresh and modern way. It shows the English rose, the Welsh leek, the Scottish thistle and the Northern Irish shamrock emerging from one stem within a royal coronet.

Competition winner David Pearce talks about bringing his design to life

Uniting the nations

“I didn’t really expect to win. I just took my teacher’s advice that it would be a good thing to do for my university portfolio. I started with the template and used the internet to research previous £1 coin designs to see what had been and gone. Because the brief was to design something that represented the UK, I researched symbols of the UK to find elements of heraldry that people would easily recognise as part of the United Kingdom.

From there I came up with a few rough ideas and emerged with the one I liked the most. I compiled a few images into a mood-board which had things such as royal crests, things that were synonymous with the UK, things that tourists would associate with the UK (which were very London-centric) and then flora – it was very diverse but very obvious at the same time. The main idea behind it, because it was the United Kingdom, was to unite the individual nations with a common element, the crown; so the four individual nations are represented by the flora and then united by the crown.”


A unique challenge

“It was a challenge because I am used to drawing more technical drawings as opposed to sketching, so I’m used to producing clearer, more definite lines. For my application I very much went with what I’m comfortable doing, which was to get down the clear lines and boundaries so that I knew which bits started and ended where. It’s less fluid, which I suppose makes the design more bold and blatant. I think the hardest part was getting the proportions right. It was all done free-hand so this was definitely the part that took the most concentration.”

A surprise phone call!

“I submitted my design and then didn’t really think about it until I had a phone call from Dr Kevin Clancy from The Royal Mint Museum who told me I had been shortlisted. This was followed by an invitation a few months later to attend an event in Downing Street, with a group of shortlisted entrants.

The day before going I was about to go to an English lesson when the Deputy Headmaster asked me to go down to the headmaster’s study at lunchtime. So I went and was transferred onto a call with the Chancellor at the time, George Osborne, and that is when I had found out I had won. It was all really exciting and it felt a bit surreal – I was quite shocked to speak to the Chancellor, I didn’t really take in who he was. It was exciting, surreal and I felt a lot of doubt as to whether they got the right person!”

 

Combining art and architecture

“After my A levels I would like to go to university to study architecture. I’m interested in old buildings, especially. Modern buildings can have a lack of character, in my opinion. Many are constructed quickly, lacking much thought to their surroundings. I feel it can work well when older buildings are renovated and brought up-to-date – I particularly like The Shad Thames in London. It’s a block of converted warehouses, quite industrial looking. It’s been modernised but it still retains its original character.

If I could design anything I’d like to design a church or a cathedral because I’m fascinated by classical architecture. In Edgbaston, Birmingham, there is a wonderful baroque church named The Oratory of St. Philip Neri – the mosaics, images and intricate classical elements create a beautiful, expressive and impressive place, however, quite unfortunately, it is in need of urgent restoration.”

Superior Standards

Though the new £1 coin will have a long lifespan in circulation its commemorative editions mark a lasting moment in minting history. They are struck to a superior quality than those found in circulation, using the latest technology paired with tools and techniques honed over centuries.

Brilliant Uncirculated standard

Some commemorative coins are struck to Brilliant Uncirculated standard which means the dies used to strike the coins are cleaned regularly throughout the process. This allows imperfections to be removed so every detail of each design is enhanced. Unlike the coins in our everyday change, Brilliant Uncirculated coins have never been handled. If removed from their packaging they should be held carefully, by their edges, to avoid damage.


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