This year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of one of the nineteenth century’s greatest writers – Sir Walter Scott. We spoke to internationally renowned textual artist Stephen Raw, who created the reverse design for this special coin that celebrates the life and legacy of one of Scotland’s favourite sons.
What attracted you to this project?
“I was very happy to have been invited to submit designs for this coin as I’ve always been a fan of Scott’s stories – mostly through black and white TV adaptations when I was a kid. As a teenager I read Rob Roy but it was my father who was a keen reader of Scott’s work. When I was eight, my family drove all the way from south London to the Mull of Kintyre for a holiday. Before the advent of motorways, it took us two days to get there. I must have loved Scotland from that early age as there has hardly been a year when I’ve not been back for pleasure or work. Later in life, I was very pleased to be a visiting lecturer in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee.”
How did you approach the initial design concept?
“My way of working for The Royal Mint is to give the committee as many designs as I can produce in the time, and let them sift out what they like and what they think suits the theme. With Scott’s coin, I had routes in which I explored possible themes: the monument on Princes Street, Abbotsford, where he lived, his novels, the special plaid he had made, what he looked like, and some of his famous quotations or characters from his fiction. After the first round, I was asked to further develop his name alongside his portrait and the words ‘Novelist’, ‘Historian’ and ‘Poet’.”
Was there anything you knew you wanted to include from the outset?
“I knew I wanted to reference some of the Scott lettering I had come across in Abbotsford – the house he built near Melrose. In 2019, I fulfilled a long ambition of mine and visited the place – some nine months before the invitation to submit designs for the coin. Little did I know then what lay in the future! In Abbotsford’s chapel there is some marvellous gothic-style lettering behind the altar. I had taken photos of it as a matter of course. Many of my design submissions referenced this wonderful source and, in the event, the final design has this very much to the fore.”
What themes did you explore in this design?
“One of the themes in my designs was centred around Scott’s famous books The Lady of the Lake, Rob Roy, Waverley and Ivanhoe. I spent some time rendering the titles on front covers or spines in a suitable gothic style of lettering. However, this design route was not chosen and instead a three-word description of Scott’s major talents was used – Novelist, Historian, Poet – along with ‘Sir Walter Scott’. As for his name, I wanted to celebrate Scott’s love of the gothic so chose the style of lettering I had seen in the chapel at Abbotsford.”
What were the main challenges you found during the process?
“The main challenge is to design something distinctive from all other coin designs, [which is] not easy, as there has been so many over the years. It’s tricky to treat the elements (image and type) when some are bigger than others, but they always must be discernible at such a small size.”
How was the overall experience of designing a coin for such an iconic nineteenth-century writer?
“The experience of designing this coin was such a delight because it combined so many things I value: good stories told by a master storyteller, the land of my ancestors – Scotland – and last but not least, special lettering! Sir Walter Scott has such an elevated place in Scottish literature that is rightly marked by this coin so, on hearing that my design was going to be used, I was both honoured and absolutely thrilled.”