Posted by Allison on 5 April 2009, 10:53
If you live in the UK you will probably have heard about the brand new designs for our loose change by now. They were announced in early April after being unveiled by the Royal Mint.
Every single coin that is currently in circulation (apart from the two pound coin, which will remain the same) is to be given a new style, but the new designs mark a real departure compared to what we have seen in the past. It could even be argued that the new designs are a first in the world of currency, and they have certainly sparked off some lively debate from all quarters.
So why are the new coins so intriguing?
The main reason is because the design of them is based on one overall design which everyone would probably recognise but may not know the name of – the Royal Shield of the United Kingdom. England, Scotland and Ireland are all represented on the Royal Shield, which is somewhat ironic given that Ireland now uses the Euro and won't be affected by this new change to our small change, whereas Wales will use it and doesn't appear on the shield itself.
The Royal Shield is split into four sections. Two of these are in honour of England, and each one depicts a slightly different image of three lions, all facing in the same direction. These two sections are diagonally opposite each other, while the other top quarter has a lion to represent Scotland, and finally there is a harp in the other quarter which is a symbol of Ireland.
So how does the design appear on the coins, and what has caused it to get so much attention?
The first thing to remember here is that it's not the design itself that is notable (after all the Royal Shield of the United Kingdom has been around for years!), it's the way that it has been used. The pound coin features the entire shield in all its splendour, surrounded by no more than the words 'pound coin'. All the other coins in the design feature only one part of the whole shield.
It is this fact which makes the coins look really different from any other design we've ever seen. Each one almost looks unbalanced, since every coin before this has always had a central design rather than featuring only one part of another design which is used off centre.
However, for all this they look stunning. And the real beauty lies in the fact that if you lay all the smaller coins out in a specific fashion (omitting the pound coin which of course shows you how the others should lie) the whole Royal Shield is displayed. This virtually guarantees that every British person will be playing with the coins to see the full design for the next few months, as the new designs start to be introduced into banks, building societies and shops, and gradually find their way into our pockets.
So what do we think of them? It's pretty obvious that any major change in coinage in any country is likely to be both heralded and derided in equal measure, but a lot of people seem to like the new designs. They are certainly very modern while still using one of the most recognisable designs in our history.
One of the main reasons why some people aren't happy with the new designs is that they no longer feature the value of each individual coin in numbers as the old ones used to. While this might not bother the British people too much - since we are all familiar with the shape and size of each coin (which hasn't changed) and rarely if ever look to see the actual value of it – some people have said that it is not very friendly towards people from other countries who come over on holiday or to stay for any reason.
Whatever your own opinion may be on this, it is certainly a marked change from the small change we have used for years up until this point. The off centre designs of all the coins except for the pound coin have also caused a lot of discussion, although most people do seem to like them and ironically it could be argued that the five pence coin looks the most strange of them all. This is the one which features the centre of the Royal Shield, and unlike all the other coins, the words which reveal the denomination of the coin are written across the middle. The others have the words around the edge, which is more what we're used to.
The five pence coin is probably also the one coin that best shows up another change in our change – the fact that the little line of dots which used to go right round the rim of the coin is no longer there. Apparently those dots didn't have any real significance however, so it is not likely that anyone in particular will miss them – except perhaps for a few ardent coin collectors.
One of the most controversial features of the new collection for the traditionalists is the fact that it's goodbye Britannia – she was pictured seated on the reverse of the fifty pence and has now been consigned to the past, thanks to Mr Dent's new designs. But it would seem that the traditionalists will stand alone on this, since most people are suitably impressed by the new images. Any change in an everyday object such as this is going to be derided by some, and it is usually the longest standing images which are most fervently held onto.
But we are now in the 21st century and maybe it's time to see a fresh new look on our coins. We will no doubt get used to them, just as we got used to the decimal system when it first came in (and just as we would have to get used to the Euro if we ever succumb to that too). It's all a matter of letting go of the past and looking to the future. It could certainly be argued that our coins are long overdue for a major overhaul – it's actually been four decades since they have been changed so profoundly.
A British designer called Matthew Dent came up with the design for the new coinage in response to a competition to inspire new ideas. Ironically he hails from the only part of the United Kingdom not featured on the Royal Shield – Wales. That has been one of the main bugbears of those who are opposed to the designs, but Matthew Dent obviously saw the promise that was held in the shield, otherwise he wouldn't have used it.
Matthew Dent is in his mid twenties and is a graphic designer – the ideal background for a winning design of this magnitude to spring from. No doubt his career will receive a welcome boost considering his work will soon be in the pockets of everyone in Britain.
So keep an eye out for the new coins coming soon. They're bound to take a little getting used to.