From monarchs to mere mortals, commemorative coins have been around for more than a century. However controversial or popular they are, one thing remains appealing through the ages – their longevity
Commemorative coins are a way to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee that will last longer than a street party, and give you a tangible link with a major royal occasion.
“Royal commemorative coins are a way to bring a bit of the royal family into your own home,” says Margaret Tyler, of Wembley, North London.
Tyler’s royal memorabilia includes Royal Mint-issued coins such as the Queen’s Silver Jubilee coin of 1977, the Golden Jubilee coin from 2002, the coin issued to mark the 2011 wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and a coin celebrating the 100th birthday of the Queen Mother in 2000.
“They are beautifully produced – the detail of the designs is fantastic – and each one tells a story of a member of the royal family,” says Tyler.
“They are something of the royals that you can hold on to. The coins are quite small and easily stored, and they can be something to hand down to your grandchildren that they will remember you for.”
People have been collecting royal commemorative coins for generations. “Coin collecting started in the late 16th century as people sought a way to create a record of illustrious people such as Roman emperors,” says Barrie Cook of the department of coins and medals at The British Museum.
Soon kings started making commemorative medals to mark important occasions such as funerals. “They were given to attendees who kept them as ‘touchpieces’ or keepsakes, because they carried a sense of occasion,” says Cook.
Commemorative coins are a way to bring a bit of the royal family into your own home” – Tyler
It is this sense of occasion that still attractscollectors of royal commemorative coins today.
“The first coin minted by The Royal Mint specifically as a commemorative coin was the jubilee crown marking the Silver Jubilee of George V in 1935,” says Joseph Payne, assistant curator of The Royal Mint Museum.
The coin’s strikingly modern depiction of St George slaying the dragon, designed by Percy Metcalfe, was not to everyone’s taste and the design won the approval of The Royal Mint’s coin designs committee by just one vote. However, it proved popular with the public.
Around 700,000 were issued, and though they bore no mention on either face of the jubilee, the lettering around the edge featured the Latin words ANNO REGNI XXV (25th year of reign).
A sterling silver issue of 2,500 sold out, and as more than 1,000 people applied for the 25 that were struck in gold, they were allocated by ballot. This proved controversial as the winner’s names and addresses were printed in Hansard, the official record of parliament.
The reign of the present Queen was marked by the issue of the Coronation Crown of 1953 – and also features, indirectly, a commoner. Designed by Royal Academician Gilbert Ledward, the obverse featured an equestrian portrait of the new Queen on her horse Winston, at the trooping of the colour.
But though the Queen had given Ledward portrait sittings, he needed more time to devote to the equestrian figure, so 28-yearold policewoman Jean Emerson was drafted in to sit on the horse and model the Queen.
The Coronation Crown was to be the first of many commemorative coins issued in the reign of Elizabeth II. The Queen’s Silver Jubilee of 1977 saw the issue of the Silver Jubilee Crown. A total of 37m were minted.
This year’s Diamond Jubilee collection from The Royal Mint includes commemorative coins that not only make, but also reflect history.
The design unites two portraits by designer Ian Rank-Broadley.
One side of the coins bears a portrait of the mature Queen in Garter Robes, while a tribute to the youthful 1953 effigy of the Queen by designer Mary Gillick appears on the reverse.
“This recalls the medal struck by The Royal Mint to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887, which also bore a portrait of the young queen on one side and a more mature portrait on the other, illustrating her long reign,” says Payne of The Royal Mint Museum.
It’s a link to two Queens – and two major royal occasions – and makes a jubilee commemoration piece that will last long after the street parties have ended.