The Royal Mint has produced a series of commemorative £5 coin sets to mark the centenary of World War One, which will be released annually until 2019. The first collection includes designs depicting gun ships, home front workers and the role of propaganda during the conflict...
Each set will include six coins covering a range of themes, from key battles and technological developments to the cultural impact of the war. Five artists were selected to design the coins – David Rowlands, David Lawrence, David Cornell, John Bergdahl and Edwina Ellis – and sets are available in sterling silver or 22 carat gold (1914 silver sets have been produced, priced at £450 each, and 20 gold, at £9,999).
The sets follow the release of a £2 coin commemorating the outbreak of the war, featuring Lord Kitchener, and a £20 coin depicting military fleets setting sail across the channel (both below). The Royal Mint says the new sets aim to tell the story of the war ‘from outbreak to armistice’, and the final collection will also reflect on the legacy of the conflict.
£2 coin and £20 coin, both designed by John Bergdahl and released earlier this year
This year’s designs include a coin honouring the British expeditionary force by Bergdahl, designed to capture ‘the optimism of the first troops departing from France:
One depicting a home front worker, by Rowlands:
Another by Rowlands of a gun drill at sea:
One by Ellis, featuring a Howitzer Gun:
One by Cornell honouring Walter Tull, the first black officer in the British army:
And a coin designed by David Lawrence, inspired by wartime propaganda. The design features a recruitment poster, a war loan poster and another advising Brits to ‘eat less bread’.
When researching the design, Lawrence says he was struck by the effectiveness of propaganda posters and their attention grabbing graphics. “This was, primarily, an age of print...but this was the first time that print, especially in poster form, was used by central government to galvanise, inform, warn and admonish an entire nation over a sustained period," he says. "The poster campaigns must have been strikingly effective: strong bold graphics, messages conveyed with wit and patriotism. I immediately saw that the propaganda coin should use posters in some form.”
With so many posters and messages to choose from, however, Lawrence says it took some ‘trial and error’ to determine which designs would remain legible when scaled down, carved in bas relief and placed behind a figure with a paste brush.
“Some very eye catching and appealing designs had to be dropped – I found a lovely poster of a hen wearing a military sash, extolling the virtues of egg production. When reduced, however, the chicken would look like a blob and the message wouldn’t be intelligible," he explains.
The figure was used to add movement, human interest and a sense of scale, says Lawrence, "[and] three, rather than more posters seemed best, as it gave the effect of posters layered on top of one another, without making them too small," he adds.
“The bottom poster still works when very much cropped by the figure ... [the St George and the Dragon poster] reflects the national sense of duty, heroism and struggle, and the war loans poster reflects on the cost of the war, and the fact that it was necessary for all, even those staying at home, to make sacrifices,” he says.
A century on from the war (and 1000 since Royal Mint first started producing coins), it seems commemorative coin sets are still incredibly popular. Shane Bissett, director of commemorative coins, medals and bullion at Royal Mint, says: “There is still very high demand. When Prince George was born last year, we gave a silver penny to every child born on the same day, and there was significant interest in that [the christening coin sold out online in a couple of days]. Our first £20 coin, produced in a run of 250,000, sold out very quickly too."
Prince George christening coin, 2013
Commemorative designs are commissioned and approved by the Royal Mint’s advisory committee. Once a theme for coins is agreed, selected artists are briefed and invited to submit ideas, before one or two are made into models and submitted for approval by both the Chancellor and the Queen.
In some cases, designs can also be submitted by members of the public: designer Matthew Dent’s coinage scheme won a national competition in 2008, and the Royal Mint is currently holding a competition to design the new £1 coin (the deadline for entries is October 31 - details here).
Shortlisted designs are usually made into a plaster model – “although some now do it all on CAD files, while others use wax,” adds Bissett. The main challenge when designing a coin, he says, is creating one that will stand the test of time. “It’s a piece of public art, and some of them can be in circulation for up to 40 years,” he says.
“It can also be difficult coming up with a unique angle on a familiar topic, and we’re always keen to ensure that people will recognise or understand the story [depicted] from the coin alone. The only restriction [for designs] is that the only living people on them are members of the Royal Family, and there are very few civilians who appear on coins."
Another commemmorative coin for 2014, this one marking Remembrance Day. The coin was printed using trichromatic techniques that layer it with different shades and colours
With the public still expressing a keen interest in coin production, the Royal Mint recently announced plans to open a visitors centre in 2015. Funding has been granted by the Welsh government, and it will be the first time the Royal Mint's doors have opened to the public in its 1000-year history. "We're hoping to have up to 200,000 people visit each year," adds Bissett. "As we're over 1000 years old, there are plenty of stories to tell."