Many people thought that Queen Victoria’s first shilling was the most extraordinary coin ever struck, simply because it portrayed the head of an Indian elephant … or so they said. Makes me think that the Victorians (or the early Daily Mail) had vivid imaginations! Like the William coin shown last time, constant wear made the ‘image’ more pronounced, this time in the shape of an elephant. Anyway, having being told, I can now envisage the pachyderm … or is it just a bun? Can YOU see it?
Portraits on coins sometimes cause controversy and are often criticised. In 1952, artist Mary Gillick’s design of a new ‘Elizabeth II head’ for a set of coins did just that. She showed the Queen in profile as a girl with an unusually long graceful neck and a laurel leaf in her hair.
Sculptor Jacob Epstein, whose own work often aroused controversy, said: “it might be any pretty girl. It isn’t a good likeness, as far as I can judge.” Perhaps he was annoyed at not getting the commission himself!
Newspapers printed the artist’s version alongside pictures of the Queen in similar profile and asked readers what they thought. Humphrey Paget, who designed the head of King George VI for the last reign, defended Mrs. Gillick’s work. “It is a very pleasant design,” he said. “The Queen has a long neck. I have taken measurements.”
The Brisbane Daily Standard is the unlikely source of this story, and perhaps film buffs will already know this. In the 1933 film, ‘The Solitaire Man’, starring Herbert Marshall, there was a gambling room scene where they used ordinary metal discs for coins.
Unfortunately, they made a loud metallic sound that interfered with the dialogue, but an enterprising property man saved the ‘shoot’ by coating the discs with rubber cement. This made them noiseless when handled on the table! Voila.
In 2010, Martin Lewis of Money Saving Expert fame, reported that a batch of 50p coins had been printed (I think he meant ‘minted’) that could make them worth ‘up to £1000’. He told the canny readers to his site that due to a ‘small problem’ in the manufacturing process meant the coins had been produced showing the Queen’s lips at a slight downturn.
According to the Finlay Olbertson, Head of Mint Analysis at numismatists Olbertson Lane: “Unlike the Queen, the Royal Mint has been tight lipped on this, but we have managed to obtain one of these 50p coins.”
Martin said later, “The ‘downturn 50p’ image is real as the Queen does have a slight downturn at her lips so anyone checking would see they had one of these coins. The key is to inspect the area around the mouth closely. If the back of Her Majesty’s mouth is pointing sharply towards the bottom edge of the coin, you may well have one of these. You may think this over-sensitive, yet amongst the scores saying they found it funny, some admitted that they checked purses first. As more are withdrawn from circulation the value is expected to increase over time and they could one day be worth . . . ” A lot of dosh?
NOTE: Martin’s article was published on the morning of the 1st April 2010.
‘The Globe’, a British evening paper founded in 1803 and now defunct, published a short article in which it stated that Sir T R Rose, ‘Deputy Master’ of the Royal Mint had made a statement on the wear and tear of coins.
It wouldn’t happen today, of course, with supermarket shoppers and the ilk, but then there was an instinctive dislike that most people felt to handling greasy money. I’m talking about those, for instance, being offered as change in a butcher’s shop. In his annual report, the official said:
“It has usually been supposed that the wear and tear of coins was entirely due to their rubbing in circulation … but it appears that it is the grease from the fingers or from other sources forming fatty acids that corrodes copper coins. The copper alloy in gold and silver causes a rapid loss of weight in dirty coins. This chemical action also introduces an element of danger when you handle them.”Sir T. R. Rose of the Royal Mint
Moral? Don’t rub that hammered coin you’ve just found,especially after eating a bag of greasy crisps. Sensible detectorists always carry hand wipes anyway!
Tails I Win – Heads you Lose
Most people know that when not at work, coal miners were often involved with hobbies. Their amusements and recreations often included pigeon racing, gardening, football, quoit playing and whippet racing. Indoor games such as cards, dominoes and darts were frequently played in the local public houses.
Sadly, heavy drinking and gambling were all too common. The latter illegal pursuit took the form of betting on the horses and engaging in the game of Pitch and Toss, the favoured form of coin gaming in mining communities, which has been played at least since the 18th century.
It was a ritual that every Sunday after the pubs’ ‘chucking out’ time, the miners would make their unsteady way across the grandly named ‘Golf Links’, carefully trying to negotiate the numerous cow pats, disturbing startled skylarks and trampling buttercups and daisies underfoot. They were making their way towards a large ring, devoid of grass around which they formed a circle. If I remember correctly, my father (Me Da) used to call it a ‘school’! My friend, the venerable Randy Dee said:
The local Bobby would try to raid these gambling dens as they were illegal, but the miners were too cute and always had a look out. On seeing a Copper they would either scarper or hide the coins in the grass – and this is where I made my first hoard discovery of hundreds of pennies, halfpennies, pennies, threepenny bits and sixpences.
When examining the hoard of coins I noticed one penny that was rather unusual. The coin had been skilfully altered with the express intention of swindling unsuspecting miners. Someone had spent hours either filing or sanding down two pennies until they were to same thickness as one, but with both sides as tails.Randy
© Randy’s two-tailed penny. A ‘Stuck-Up’ job?
A ‘CHILLY’ UPDATE
Early in 2010, Gregorio Iniguez, managing director of the Chilean Mint, was sacked after he authorised the production of 1.5m 50-peso coins that spelled the country’s name ‘C-H-I-I-E’. By the time he was kicked out it was too late; the coins remain in circulation to this day. But hey, I’ll give Greg a break. The coin is now a collectors’ item! When a legend is in all caps, the missing ‘L’ isn’t that noticeable if you are not looking too closely. If you’re kind of squinting!
Money isn’t everything, but it definitely keeps you in touch with your children.Last word