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Behind the Reverse Design for the JRR Tolkien UK Coin

Born in South Africa on 3 January 1892 to English parents, JRR Tolkien moved to Britain at the age of three. With an interest in languages from an early age, he became a well-respected philologist in later life, holding the positions of Professor of English Language at the University of Leeds, and later the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the University of Oxford.

Tolkien earned worldwide fame, which endures to this day, through his revered works of fantasy fiction, The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954–55). Adored by generations of readers, much of Tolkien’s poetry both inspired and featured in the tales, serving as a testament to his creative abilities. He was also a talented amateur artist, with some of his drawings complementing his longer written works in the same way as his poetry.

Commemorating the Creator of Middle-earth

Our UK £2 coin, struck in tribute to Tolkien’s life and legacy, features a reverse design with Tolkien’s unique monogram at its centre. As David Lawrence, the artist behind the coin’s reverse design, explains:

“His monogram is an elegant creation: a mysterious symbol redolent of alchemical signs and magical scripts. It also has a certain gravitas. I quickly saw that this had to be central to the design. As to a border, something ring-like or circular was obviously needed to contain and frame the monogram.”


The artist has numerous coin designs to his name, including the coins within our Myths and Legends Collection. He drew upon similar themes in creating his design celebrating Tolkien:

“As a professor of Anglo-Saxon literature at Oxford, Tolkien was immersed in the myths, legends and writings of what was once called ‘The Dark Ages’. Sagas such as Beowulf were undoubted sources of inspiration for his writings.

“I therefore looked at the art and symbolism of the era, up to, and including, the Viking Age. I created several roundels to contain the monogram: eventually, these were whittled down to abstract repeating shapes. Versions containing tortuous intertwined serpents were interesting, but they were somehow distracting and lacked gravitas.

“I created the abstract shapes from scratch – not wanting to directly reference any particular age or culture. I chose a couple of fonts that have a slightly quirky, magical look whilst remaining fully legible. So it seems we arrived at a simple but sophisticated solution that does, indeed, reference the world as well as the person of JRR Tolkien.”

To complement the runic design, ‘NOT ALL THOSE WHO WANDER ARE LOST’, a quote taken from the poem ‘The Riddle of Strider’, which appears in Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, serves as the coin’s edge inscription. A neat summation of the creative and academic fields in which Tolkien excelled – ‘WRITER • POET • SCHOLAR’ – also serves as the legend on the reverse of the coin.

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