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Meet the Maker Britannia 2023 Commemorative Coin

The Britannia commemorative coin is one of The Royal Mint’s most eagerly anticipated annual releases. Each year, the coin provides artists with an opportunity to showcase their talents by producing their interpretation of the iconic symbol of Britain. Created by Jonathan Olliffe, the design for 2023 is very different to recent Britannia designs, as it is more reminiscent of historic seals and medals, particularly those from the eighteenth century.

The design includes many of the familiar symbols you’d expect to see with Britannia: she wears a Corinthian helmet and carries a trident and a shield decorated with the Union Flag. If you look closely, you’ll also see the face of a lion, another strong British symbol, at the front of the chariot.

In this design, Britannia’s chariot is pulled through the waves by horses that bear the characteristics of aquatic creatures like seahorses, with scales on their bodies and fins in place of manes and hooves. We found out how Jonathan came up with such a dramatic and unique design for his reimagining of Britannia.

Henry VIII

Tell us about your background.

“I went to university in Birmingham and studied at the school of jewellery, but I didn’t do jewellery design. I went down the silversmith route, then I started to draw and design rather than make things. After my degree, I did a masters at the Sydney College of Art (2009); it was a scholarship, and I did some teaching for five months. On my return I had no idea what I was going to do but I knew I wanted to design.”

When did you begin working with The Royal Mint?

“The Royal Mint launched a competition for the London 2012 50p coin, and I submitted some designs. My designs for the Aquatics and Gymnastics events were chosen and my coin design started from there. I was asked to submit designs for more coins, and my work is on the London to Rio handover £2 and the coin for the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation.”

Henry VIII

How did you approach designing the 2023 Britannia commemorative coin?

“First, I looked back at the history and subject matter of Britannia; she has appeared on British coins in many guises since 1672. I felt it was important to research this female figure, to then enable me as a designer to reimagine Britannia in a unique and exciting way.”

The horses in your design are quite unusual; what was your inspiration for that part of the design?

“It was my aim to create something authentic and truly original, whilst maintaining a classic style. Philip Nathan’s 1997 Britannia coin design depicts a horse and chariot. I liked the concept of featuring a chariot within the design but in a less predictable way, and I mixed the horse form with a seahorse, and it worked! The serpent fin or tail at the back added an element of the mystical to it. I looked at classical paintings and the anatomy of horses, and sea life imagery.

“These mystical aquatic creatures with suggestions of horse-like anatomy feature heavily in the foreground of the design and maintain a strong and empowering presence as they rise from the ocean waves, adding a sense of depth and structure to the design.”

Henry VIII

How did you want to present Britannia?

“Britannia should, of course, take centre stage, so she is positioned amongst the ocean waves whilst riding a sled-like chariot. A warrior queen, she is standing tall at the helm and holding onto the reigns of the two rearing sea creatures and pointing her trident forwards towards distant lands.

“With a focus on Britannia as the female personification of the nation, it was important to capture a pose which expressed strength, power and beauty, but most importantly that conveyed her role as protector of the realm.”

How does it feel to have your design feature on such a famous coin?

“I must admit, it’s quite a privilege. It’s a subject of magnitude and it put a bit of dread into me, having to come up with something different! It’s one of the hardest designs I’ve created but the brief gave me quite a free rein to develop something new and exciting.”

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