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Make Way for Britain's New Coin Designs
british 50 pence coinBy Richard Giedroyc, World Coin News
May 14, 2008
british 50 pence coin

Domestic tabloid newspapers slam them. The daughter of the designer of Britain's soon-to-be former coinage has bad mouthed them. There are predictions tourists will be confused by them, but Great Britain is about to go forward with its new coin designs despite outcries from some circles against the upcoming changes.

The April 22 German newspaper Der Spiegel made a good point that the first modernization of Great Britain's coin designs in about a half century "reaffirms the country's determination not to adopt the euro single currency any time soon."

Der Spiegel continues, "…traditionalists aren't as unhappy about the change as one might think. After all, the new money is a sign that the introduction of the euro is a distant prospect at best." There are some interesting factoids coming out due to the changeover in coin designs. Matthew Dent, the artist responsible for the new coin designs, is Welsh. Dent's designs eliminate the dragon from the heraldic designs to appear on the coins. The dragon is the heraldic element representing Wales.

The absence of Britannia from the new designs brought this comment from Der Spiegel: "She [Britannia] is the perfect personification of the British nation: proud, stiff, and above reproach in public, but uninhibited and saucy in private. After all, the model for the image of Britannia used on the coins was none other than Frances Teresa Stuart, the king's [King Charles II] mistress."

The tabloid newspaper Mail on Sunday was so upset that Britannia or Stuart will no longer appear on the British 50-pence coin where she currently roosts that the newspaper hired someone to visit the British Royal Mint's coin design commission head, John Porteous. This person was dressed as Britannia in full battle dress. The visit may have been unannounced, but Porteous graciously invited Britannia to tea. He also compromised afterwards, promising Mail on Sunday readers that Britannia will appear on a special £2 coin in the near future. I can only hope Britannia will be dressed for battle rather than for a tryst with the late King Charles II.

And then there is Virginia Ironside, daughter of Christopher Ironside, whose coinage designs are what are being replaced by the designs initiated by Dent. Virginia Ironside recently wrote a column in the Independent newspaper that reads: "I can see nothing at all in the new designs to like, and all I can hear is the creaking sound of my father turning in his grave."

She continues, "The designs are fresh, quirky, funny, eccentric - but totally unworkable as actual coins … They're like the work of a landscape student doing a garden in the shape of a scarab beetle and expecting everyone to notice it on the ground."

She does have a good point. While European Union euro coins each carry a prominent numeral through which the denomination can be easily identified Dent's coin designs depict the British denominations in much smaller letters, something some critics claim is a thinly veiled anti-euro statement.

What Dent has done is take Britain's heraldic achievements apart, placing a different design element on each denomination, while sandwiching them all back together as a complete heraldic shield on the £1 coin.

Dent himself has said of this concept, "It's easy to imagine the coins pushed around a school classroom table or fumbled around with on a bar – being pieced together as a jigsaw and just having fun with them."

Queen Elizabeth's portrait will still grace the obverse of each new coin. Coins depicting the older designs will remain legal tender and are expected to circulate side by side with the new coins.

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