When it comes to groundbreaking inventions of the last 100 years, the television is an appliance that will likely land very high on the lists of many. In terms of its impact, the television is arguably one of the most significant innovations of the twentieth century and continues to supply news and information to the masses, bring joy and entertainment to billions, and bring people together all around the world.
As such an important and groundbreaking invention, the subject of the third coin in our Innovation in Science series is the very first man to achieve true television – the Scottish inventor John Logie Baird. Often called ‘The Father of Television,’ Baird was able to achieve this feat on 2 October 1925, immediately cementing his name in the annals of history.
Following on from the previous two coins in the series, which celebrate the life and work of Stephen Hawking and Rosalind Franklin, and were released in 2019 and 2020 respectively, John Logie Baird is in good company and a worthy successor to his peers. The reverse design for the Stephen Hawking coin was designed by experienced coin designer Edwina Ellis, while the reverse design for the Rosalind Franklin coin was designed by David Knapton, a senior designer at
The Royal Mint.
With the artistic bar already set high by the previous coins in the series, headed up by the company’s namesakes Deborah Osborne and Andrew Ross, the design agency Osborne Ross was able to continue the high standard with a design that aptly reflects the life and work of John Logie Baird, all within the parameters of a 50p coin. However, it wasn’t without its challenges.
Creating a design that resonated with the general public whilst also remaining true to Baird’s legacy was no easy feat as the modern aesthetic of a television set is far removed from the primitive apparatus used by Baird during his experimentation. Whilst the inclusion of a television would be logical in terms of instant subject recognition, it would not be true to history or Baird’s original equipment. As such, Osborne Ross needed a different approach. Speaking on the initial design stage, Andrew Ross noted:
“The equipment that Logie Baird used for his first broadcast isn’t recognisable to our modern eyes as a television, so we looked for another way to express the idea of transmission.”
In their search for a piece of iconography that would summarise Baird’s long-lasting legacy in a single image, the Osborne Ross group came to the conclusion that one image stood out from the rest as the embodiment of his life’s work – the transmitter tower. Instantly recognisable, acutely specific and undeniably unmistakable, the mast was the perfect image.
Continuing his reasoning behind the mast image, Andrew Ross noted:
“[We found that] a silhouette of the mast at Crystal Palace, together with the radiating circles indicating a broadcast, gave a strong graphic illustration which worked well within the shape of the coin.”
Not only did the design work in terms of functionality and recognition it also provided a means of incorporating another unique design element into the image via the transmission waves. Radiating from the centre of the coin, Osborne Ross cleverly utilised the pictorial representation of waves as a circular timeline of Baird’s life. The timeline includes key milestones from his life, from birth to death, and his historic achievements in between.
“We felt that using the radiating lines as a timeline of Logie Baird’s life and achievements would help to give the viewer a second level of read,” said Andrew Ross.
Finished off with the inscription ‘JOHN LOGIE BAIRD TELEVISION PIONEER’ as a fitting header across the top, and the years of his birth and death at the bottom, the finished coin is a truly all-encompassing representation of the life and work of this legendary Scottish inventor. Speaking on the coin design process, Andrew Ross added:
“We worked closely with the Product Design department at The Royal Mint, using their expertise to add nuance and subtle modelling to the concept and to bring it alive in three dimensions.”
The result is a wonderfully designed commemorative coin that isn’t just aesthetically pleasing but is also a veritable infographic of Baird’s life.