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The London Mint Office is one of the UK’s most trusted suppliers of historic, commemorative and circulation coins. Through long grown partnerships with most of the major state mints and national banks across the globe, the company has become one of the leading sources in the coin collecting community. With unrivalled expertise in this specialist field, and a visionary approach to sourcing and customer service, The London Mint Office is committed to enhancing the enjoyment, understanding and knowledge of collectors.

Friday, 28 April 2017

London Mint Office Exclusive: Did a Roman Coin Inspire The Brilliant Design of One of the Worlds Most Recognised Coins?

2017 marks the 200th anniversary of Britain’s most famous gold coin, the modern Sovereign. 
With only a few exceptions, every UK Sovereign struck since 1817 has featured the same depiction of St George slaying the dragon. This now iconic design was created by Italian sculptor and engraver Benedetto Pistrucci (1783-1855) who went on to became Chief Medallist at The Royal Mint.  
St George and the Dragon by Pistrucci appeared on the first modern Sovereign struck in 1817

Pistrucci recalls in his autobiography that he was introduced to Lord and Lady Spencer by Sir Joseph Banks, the President of the Royal Society. During their meeting, Pistrucci recorded that;

“Her ladyship … showed me a large model in wax of a St. George, done by Marchant, and said to me: " My husband would like you to make a model in wax, of the same size and subject: but I should like it in the Greek style” as that was the style in which naked figures were done; and the mantle in this beautiful white, would have a superb effect.”

Pistrucci was delighted to accept the commission and produced his first design of Saint George and the Dragon in the ‘Greek style’ as requested.    
Cameo of St George by Nathanial Marchant (left) and the  Cameo produced by Pistrucci in the ‘Greek style’ (right) 

Later, when considering a suitable design for the proposed new gold Sovereign, Pistrucci suggested that the patron Saint of England would be a fitting subject, and this was met with the approval of William Wellesley Pole, Master of The Royal Mint. In addition to appearing on paintings and statues, the legendary battle had featured on coins before. In the twelfth century, for example, a depiction had appeared on coins issued by Roger of Salerno, Regent of Antioch.

However, there is little evidence that Pistrucci was inspired by these medieval depictions of the famous confrontation between the saint and the dragon. Pistrucci’s passion was for the classical, and it was said that he liked to “study Greek originals day and night”.

It is likely that the artist drew inspiration from the collection of Classical Greek marble sculptures from the Parthenon that were saved from destruction by Lord Elgin and are still displayed today at the British Museum.                                          
Detail from the Parthenon marbles depicting riders on horseback

However, the London Mint Office’s new Research and Development Manager Justin Robinson has proposed the theory that another classical work from the ancient world may have inspired the composition of Pistrucci’s iconic design for the Sovereign. 

Between 350 and 353AD much of Western Europe was controlled by the Emperor Magnentius, a former military leader who had seized power from his predecessor Constans in in a coup. Largely forgotten today, Magnentius ruled over Britain, France, Germany and Spain for three years and, in the spirit of most self-made Roman Emperors he began to strike coins bearing his own image. 

It was while Justin was examining ancient coins with numismatist Dominic Chorney that they realised that one of Magnentius’ reverse designs bore a startling resemblance to Pistrucci’s famous masterpiece created 1,500 years later.                     
 Gloria Romanarum, struck during the three year reign of the Emperor Magnentius (350-353AD)
“Gloria Romanorum” (the Glory of Rome) depicts a helmeted rider on horseback fighting a barbarian.   Even to a casual observer the similarities in the composition to Pistrucci’s design for the Sovereign are remarkable;            

  • Both coins depict three figures, a soldier, a horse and a vanquished enemy
  • The soldier is depicted on horseback wearing a helmet with striking plumage
  • The soldier wears a long flowing cloak that billows out behind him
  • The horse is depicted wearing a bridle and rearing up on two legs before the enemy
  • The soldier holds a spear in his right hand
  • The vanquished enemy appears to be falling on his back under the horse
  • The enemy is facing upwards and looking directly at the soldier above him
  • Both coins have a diameter of 22mm

Whilst there is no definitive evidence that Pistrucci saw Magnentius’ Gloria Romanorum, the ancient coin was minted in large quantities and many fine examples have survived to the present day. This means that it is possible that the coin featured in at least one of the private collections of classical antiquities that Pistrucci was shown by his wealthy customers. 

Pistrucci’s autobiography records a meeting he had shortly after arriving in London with a Mr. Knight, “a great connoisseur in gems, cameos, and intaglios, bronzes, statues, medals, and antique vases” who had a “cabinet full of precious things”. This particular meeting ended badly, as Pistrucci identified one of Knight’s prized antiques, “the finest Greek cameo in existence" as being his own work created just six years previously! A furious Knight refused to accept this even though Pistrucci happily prepared new, superior versions to demonstrate his mastery of the craft.

We may never know for sure exactly which elements inspired Pistrucci to create arguably the most famous coin design in history. However, the striking similarities in composition between Magnentius’ Gloria Romanorum and Pistrucci’s St George and the Dragon make it an intriguing possibility that the brilliant nineteenth century Italian artist was inspired on some level by the largely forgotten fourth century Roman emperor to create the enduring masterpiece that still appears on UK Sovereigns struck to this day.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Out with the old, in with the new- Don’t get caught out

With the introduction of the new £5 note a time limit has been enforced to ensure old notes are removed from circulation, you will only have until the 5th of May to spend your old note in shops; after this it will cease to be legal tender and you will only be able to take them to your banks to redeem.

We have seen a variety of wonderful designs on the British £5 note in the last 200 years or so, but they have come a long way since the original back in 1793, known as the white £5 note - it was much bigger than the notes we know today, in fact it was nearly twice the size! However it was felt that this note was vulnerable to counterfeiting, so 164 years later in 1957 a new double sided multi coloured bank note was printed and considered ‘revolutionary’ for it was the first note to include a watermark image.

Since this time Britain has seen several more designs including the ‘Portrait Series’ in 1963 where, for the first time, a Monarch was printed on a note - Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II . But with notes still vulnerable to counterfeiting the Bank of England decided to introduce a completely new Polymer £5 note that would turn this problem around, with a variety of new security features to make counterfeiting practically impossible.

The newly secure £5 note entered circulation on September 13th 2016.  Depicting  Sir Winston Churchill alongside one of his most famous quotes “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat”- one of the most iconic quotes made during the Second World War - as the man who led Britain through the Second World War it is considered a great tribute. However this is not Churchill’s first time on British currency, Churchill was in fact the first commoner to appear on a coin in 1965 when a special Churchill Crown was struck in honour of the man who kept the spirit of Britain high during a very brutal war. Find out more about this here

Want to own your own uncirculated £5 note? Alongside The Churchill Crown, date stamped on the day that British money changed forever? Click here to find out more

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

'Quid's In' With The London Mint Office

The London Mint Office recently showcased at the ‘Quid’s In’ Themed event at the V&A Friday Lates in London, ‘The original contemporary late night event’. Friday Late celebrates all aspects of contemporary visual culture and design in society, bringing audiences face-to-face with leading and emerging artists and designers through live performance, film, installation, debate, DJs and late-night exhibition openings.

“The London Mint Office was delighted to be invited to showcase our coins at such a prestigious event. We pride ourselves on our passion for coins, the history they represent and the stories they communicate. It was wonderful to meet with members of the public and talk with them about the fascinating world of coins. The range and variety of exhibitions was fantastic and the London Mint Office were proud to be a part of it” - Greg Prosser (Managing Director for the London Mint Office)

The London Mint Office was show casing a variety of their most popular Collections:

Her Majesty’s 90th Birthday Commemorative Crown Collection:
Since 1953, the Queen’s image has adorned British coinage in a beautiful series of portraits that mark her journey to becoming Britain’s longest and oldest reigning monarch. Issued as a celebration of nine decades gloriously accomplished this stunning set of six coins features each of these portraits….. (Find Out More)

The Battle of Britain Collection:
A project that commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain in partnership with the Royal Air Force association. Men and Machines commemoratives - A set of five proof commemoratives honouring the five outstanding men that played the most significant roles in the winning of the Battle of Britain. All five figures have been chosen for their crucial contribution to victory in the air during that extraordinary summer of 1940… (Find Out More)

The Battle of Atlantic Collection:
In association with the Merchant Navy this collection commemorates the SS Gairsoppa, a vessel carrying Silver destined for Britain which was torpedoed by a German U-Boat. Each of the coins in the collection depicts the story of the SS Gairsoppa, together with a line taken from the final four line stanza of John Edward Masefield’s Merchant Navy Poem, ‘For All Seafarers’. Struck from the very same silver, these unique commemoratives provide a fitting tribute to not only the lost crew of the SS Gairsoppa but to the 30,000 Merchant Navy sailors who sacrificed their lives during the Battle of the Atlantic... (Find Out More)

The 2017 Angela Pistrucci Gold Sovereign:
One of the latest coins to be released by the London Mint Office designed by a member of the original artist Benedetto Pistrucci’s own family 200 years later. In 1817 the Italian sculptor Benedetto Pistrucci created his masterpiece ‘Saint George and the Dragon’ design for the UK Sovereign.  An instant classic, the design has appeared on gold coins issued almost every year since then.   Today, to honour the 200th Anniversary of her great-great-great great uncle Benedetto’s iconic design, Angela Pistrucci has crafted a modern interpretation exclusively for the Government of Gibraltar and the London Mint Office.   An accomplished artist and sculptor in her own right, Angela has spent two years perfecting the design, and we believe it is one of the most stunning coins we have ever produced... (Find Out More)

Legendary Master Sculptor Raphael Maklouf famous for his effigy of Queen Elizabeth II used across many coins in the commonwealth was also present at the V&A:   

“I am happy to note that the V&A evening was a resounding success as we all know the V&A has masterpieces amongst its varied collections the work displayed by The London Mint Office stood up well in both craftsmanship & beauty. It was also very interesting to see many young visitors who came to look at the V&A permanent collection & not necessarily to see coins but having come across the coins were obviously interested enough to ask questions from the London Mint Office team”- Raphael Maklouf 2017.

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