The Royal Mint’s historic penny collection

18 Sep 2014

Whether a seasoned coin collector or a youngster new to the world of collecting, historic coins hold a certain fascination - what tales do these coins tell? Whose hands have they passed through over the years?  The Royal Mint’s newly released historic penny collection is likely to ignite the imagination of anyone wanting to explore the story of Britain through the reigns of monarchs from Victoria to Elizabeth, penny by penny.

Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II – both Diamond Jubilee queens – are Britain’s longest ruling sovereigns, between them reigning over Britain for more than half of the last 200 years. This set comprises five pennies struck for circulation, bearing the portraits of  Queen Victoria, Edward VII, George V, George VI and Elizabeth II, and is presented in a folder that explores their story.

Queen Victoria  1837 – 1901 Victoria’s 64-year reign began with a portrait by William Wyon RA, whose beautifully flattering ‘Young Head’ remained on copper coins until 1860. With copper being replaced by bronze that year, a new portrait – affectionately known as the ‘Bun Head’ – was prepared by Leonard Charles Wyon, son of William. A third portrait would appear on bronze coins from 1895, the ‘Old Head’ by Thomas Brock RA.

Edward VII  1901 – 1910 Edward VII was the first and only British king of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha – the family name inherited from his father, Albert, Prince Consort. Edward succeeded to the throne on the death of his mother at the age of 59, having been heir apparent for longer than anyone else in British history until Prince Charles took that title in 2011. The elegant coinage portrait of the king was created by George William de Saulles.

George V 1910 – 1936 George V carved out a Naval career until the death of his elder brother, Prince Albert. In the First World War George V changed the family name by Royal Proclamation, choosing instead Windsor, for the castle that still provides home and haven for the Royal Family. His portrait was created by Australian sculptor Bertram Mackennal, a highly regarded artist and a favourite of the king.

Edward VIII 1936. The absent penny As his Coronation approached Edward VIII selected a flattering portrait by Humphrey Paget, insisting on his better profile being captured for posterity and so facing in the same direction as his father – against centuries of tradition whereby succeeding monarchs face in opposite directions. During his short reign coins were never released into circulation, but rare pattern pieces are held by The Royal Mint Museum.

George VI 1936 – 1952 Unlike his elder brother, George would not bow to vanity when it came to his coinage. The king faces to the left, choosing to acknowledge the reign of Edward VIII, but acting as if Edward had complied with convention on his coinage portrait. George VI is uncrowned, the portrait by Humphrey Paget simple, balanced, technically near-perfect and somehow reassuring.

Elizabeth II 1952 – present As the young Queen took her throne her first coins were important to mark a new era, and continuing tradition. Sculptor Mary Gillick portrayed Elizabeth as youthful and fresh, wearing a wreath of laurel. Since her portrait there have been three standard coinage effigies – by Arnold Machin RA in 1968, Raphael Maklouf in 1985 and the current portrait by Ian Rank-Broadley FRBS since 1998, which has taken her beyond a Diamond Jubilee.

Britannia Britannia first appeared on coins in Roman times, coming to symbolise Britain and her values. It is Britannia that unites the pennies in this set, for she has appeared on the coins of every monarch since she was reintroduced to the coinage in 1672 under Charles II.

Shane Bissett, The Royal Mint’s Director of Commemorative Coin said “Britain’s smallest denomination circulating coin is regarded as a cornerstone of our coinage, and still has the ability to charm – the ‘lucky’ penny is thought to bring luck to its recipients even today.

“This intriguing set is a great way of tracking the story of Britain through coins, and would be a wonderful introduction to the world of coins for any budding collector”.


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