New Military Coins from The Royal Mint
New Military Coins from The Royal Mint

National Symbols

To commemorate the enduring relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States of America, The Royal Mint has issued a new coin featuring a highly symbolic reverse design uniting two proud national emblems that are rarely seen together – the British lion and the American eagle. Powerful visual metaphors for our shared values, both beasts have a fascinating history and long association with coinage.

The Lion in Heraldry

In heraldry, the lion represents strength, courage and nobility. Conveying these qualities, lions featured on the Coats of Arms of many powerful families in medieval Europe.

Norman kings of England used motifs featuring the ferocious beast on their shields and standards, and by the twelfth century during the reign of Richard I (r. 1189–99) it had become an established tradition. Some speculate that Richard’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, brought the symbol of the lion to England, as it derives from the Duchy of Aquitaine’s Coat of Arms.

During the sixteenth century, Henry VIII (r. 1509–47) took a great interest in heraldry, using it to convey the power of the Tudor dynasty and his right to the English throne. When the Lion of England was granted to his third wife, Jane Seymour, it was a choice designed to represent pride, courage and the strength of the couple’s union.

The monarchs and noblemen who chose the lion for their Coats of Arms would have been unlikely to have seen the animal in the flesh, meaning that books probably inspired the use of the lion, along with the tales of travellers who had ventured to foreign lands. This level of knowledge and education was a statement in itself and one that monarchs were keen to assert.

Rare Beauty

Lions often feature on coin designs, not only as representations of heraldry but also as meaningful symbols. In the nineteenth century, celebrated British engraver William Wyon created a beautiful design featuring Una and the Lion that many consider one of the most elegant depictions of a lion to exist on a coin.

The American Eagle

The American eagle has an equally fascinating history. In 1782, when Congress accepted a design for the seal of the nation featuring the bald eagle, this distinctive bird became a national symbol of the United States. It was chosen because the bald eagle is unique to North America and its qualities match those of the country it represents – independence, determination and a strong will to survive.

As an icon of freedom and strength, it has widely represented the country in a variety of ways, appearing on official documents, currency, flags, public buildings and other government-related items. It is also used in the military and by government agencies, including the United States Mint. The Coinage Act of 1792 specified that the reverse of US gold and silver coins must feature an eagle along with the inscription ‘UNITED STATES OF AMERICA’.

A Numismatic Treasure

One of the most famous American coins featuring this majestic bird is the gold Double Eagle. Struck between 1849 and 1933, the Double Eagle, with a value of $20, was the highest denomination US coin issued for circulation. However, the last edition of this coin never entered circulation and most 1933 Double Eagles were returned to the government or melted down. In 2021, a rare surviving example, featuring Liberty on the obverse and a flying eagle on the reverse, sold at Sotheby’s in New York for $18.9 million, a world record at the time.


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