On the day of her 21st birthday, in April of 1947, the then Princess Elizabeth gave an address from Cape Town, South Africa, where the royal family was on tour. The speech was heard on radios around the world in addition to being filmed for subsequent broadcast on television and in news reels. She spoke of dedication and service, not to oneself but rather to others in the wake of the Second World War. Unbeknownst at the time, it would be less than five short years later when she herself would ascend the throne.
2017 marks the 65th year of Queen Elizabeth II's reign as British monarch. On February 6th 2017 she commemorated the 65th anniversary of her accession to the throne, a memory that must surely be bitter sweet as it came at the steep cost of losing her father, King George VI. As a sign of respect, the Queen usually spends this day in seclusion.
A Sapphire Jubilee has never before been achieved in British history, the only other monarch to even come close was Elizabeth's great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria who managed to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. In addition to that, she is counted as Britain's longest lived and the world's oldest living,still reigning, monarch. She is also now ranked as the longest reigning female head of state in recorded history.
Looking at this from a numismatic perspective the queen has had five official portraits that have appeared, for the most part, on the obverse of circulating and commemorative coinage. The Royal Mint has also been there every step along the way to help celebrate and commemorate significant events and milestones, such as Jubilee celebrations, with commemorative and circulating coins alike.
The Queen's first official portrait appeared on circulating coins across the commonwealth in 1953 following her coronation ceremony on June 2nd of that same year. The portrait was designed by Mary Gillick and depicts a daring and youthful image of Elizabeth crowned by a wreath. The image speaks of optimism, pride and hope for the future.
The portrait is strongly reminiscent of Elizabeth's great-great-grandmother's first portrait, the Victoria Young Head as it is known. Whether the similarities were intentional or not is unknown. However, given that other elements such as the unbroken legend on the obverse were likely inspired by the coinage of Elizabeth I for example, it is not unreasonable then to assume that the Young head portrait served as inspiration for the Gillick design.
Similarly in 1953 the Queen's Coronation Crown was also issued, in order to commemorate the coronation ceremony. While the official portrait doesn't feature on this coin, the design by Gilbert Ledward has become fairly iconic in it's own right and it would serve as inspiration for future coin designs for decades to come.
The obverse depicts the Queen on horseback, riding side-saddle, and in full uniform as she would appear during the annual Trooping of the Colour ceremony in her capacity as Colonel-in-Chief of the Grenadier Guards. The silver five shilling coin depicts the royal crown at the centre of the coin's reverse, surrounded by the heraldic and national symbols of the United Kingdom : an English rose, Irish shamrock, Welch leek and the Scottish thistle.
Unity and harmony amongst the nations of the commonwealth and especially the United Kingdom has always been of great importance to Her Majesty. She alluded to it in her 21st birthday address, and at her insistence the national flowers of the nations of the Commonwealth were embroidered onto her coronation gown. The English Tudor rose, Scottish thistle, Welsh leek, Irish shamrock, Canadian maple leaf, Australian wattle, New Zealand silver fern, South African protea, lotus flowers for India and Ceylon, and Pakistan's wheat, cotton, and jute were all finely embroidered in the detail.
By 1977 it was time for the Queen's first Jubilee celebrations, and again she insisted on using the Silver Jubilee event as a rallying cry to unite a sometimes divided kingdom. Elizabeth embarked on a national tour of the United Kingdom and later that year the Queen and Prince Phillip toured the Commonwealth. In all they visited 36 countries during the Jubilee Year.
The Royal Mint was keeping busy also, the currency had decimalised by 1971 and the Queen's second official portrait by Arnold Machin was in circulation by the time that the Silver Jubilee was being celebrated. Here again the mint was ready with the official Silver Jubilee Crown. This commemorative coin too, was designed by Arnold Machin.
The obverse features an updated version of the 1953 equestrian portrait from the coronation crown while the reverse shows the oldest and most precious object used in Her Majesty's coronation ceremony. The Ampulla and Anointing Spoon which are set inside a circle with St. Edward's Crown above it. The design is completed by an ornate floral border.
There wouldn't be another official Jubilee for another twenty five years, but that didn't stop the Royal Mint from celebrating significant milestones along the way in it's own right. 1993 was such a year when the Mint commemorated 40 years since the royal coronation in 1953. The 40th Anniversary Crown coin depicts Mary Gillick's portrait on the obverse, encircled by trumpeting horsemen. The reverse was designed by Robert Elderton and depicts St Edward's Crown surrounded by forty trumpets, one for each year of the Queens reign.
By now the circulating currency was bearing the third official portrait designed by Raphael Maklouf. This image depicts the Queen wearing the more prominently placed George IV diadem along with the coronation necklace and earrings. This is the first portrait that shows the queen wearing any jewels other than a crown.
The next officially celebrated Jubilee would only take place in 2002, here again the Maklouf portrait was replaced by the now all too familiar Ian Rank-Broadley effigy of Her Majesty. The fourth portrait was a stark departure from previous incarnations. Where the 3rd portrait was sometimes criticised for creating an effigy of the Queen that was perhaps ‘flatteringly young’, the Rank-Broadley design cast's her in a more realistic light.
Queen Elizabeth II was now a woman in her seventies who was celebrating fifty years as a reigning monarch. The world had come a long way since her coronation and there was simply no need to idealise either the monarchy nor the Queen herself. As Ian Rank-Broadley himself explained :
“(there is)no need to disguise the matureness of the Queen’s years. There is no need to flatter her. She is a 70-year-old woman with poise and bearing ”.
That same sense of 'poise and bearing' was brought forth not only in the design of the Golden Jubilee Crown, which was again designed by Mr. Rank-Broadley, but by Queen Elizabeth herself when at a lunch held at the Guildhall during the Golden Jubilee Weekend she expressed the following sentiments :
“I would like to give my heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you – here in Guildhall, those of you waiting in the Mall and the streets of London, and all those up and down this country and throughout the Commonwealth, who may be watching this on television. Thank you all for your enthusiasm to mark and celebrate these past fifty years.
Gratitude, respect and pride, these words sum up how I feel about the people of this country and the Commonwealth – and what this Golden Jubilee means to me”
The Golden Jubilee Crown itself depicts a very regal figure of Queen Elizabeth II on it's obverse. A contemporary three-quarter portrait with her shoulders draped in the Robe of State along with the Collar of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. She is wearing the Coronation necklace and earrings and is crowned by the George IV State Diadem.
In keeping with tradition, the reverse of the Golden Jubilee Crown again depicts an equestrian portrait of her majesty. A young Elizabeth, almost reminiscent of the Mary Gillick portrait, is seen riding confidently atop a horse. Most likely inspired by a chestnut gelding called Winston, that the Queen preferred to use at the Trooping of the Colour ceremony during the early years of her reign.
The next Royal Jubilee would only be celebrated in another ten years, bringing us to the 2012 Diamond Jubilee. The fourth Portrait is still circulating on pocket change and for the first time the same designed is responsible for designing consecutive Jubilee crowns. For this 50th anniversary Ian Rank-Broadley decided to break with tradition and did not depict an equestrian theme for the Diamond Jubilee crown.
In her Diamond Jubilee message the Queen again harked back to her 21st birthday address, but also remarked that while it is important to remember our past that we should turn our gaze ever towards the future:
“In this special year, as I dedicate myself anew to your service, I hope we will all be reminded of the power of togetherness and the convening strength of family, friendship and good neighbourliness, examples of which I have been fortunate to see throughout my reign and which my family and I look forward to seeing in many forms as we travel throughout the United Kingdom and the wider Commonwealth.
I hope also that this Jubilee year will be a time to give thanks for the great advances that have been made since 1952 and to look forward to the future with clear head and warm heart as we join together in our celebrations.”
It seems almost as if Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee Crown Coin was created in that same spirit of forward-looking retrospection. Seeing as Elizabeth was the second only British monarch to reign for 50 years, Mr. Rank-Broadley sought inspiration from the first to do so. Queen Elizabeth II's great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee was celebrated over a hundred years prior, and produced for the first time in English history a set of Diamond Jubilee medallions.
Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee commemorative crown coin is almost an exact reproduction of the Victoria Diamond Jubilee design. The Victoria piece featured the Victoria young head effigy on the reverse and the Victoria old head portrait on the obverse.
Likewise the 2012 Five Pound coin depicts Ian Rank-Broadley's version of the 1953 Mary Gillick effigy on the reverse and a cropped version of an installation he created for the supreme court is featured for the obverse. On the obverse the Queen is seen wearing her garter robes while crowned by “The Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara”. This tiara was a wedding gift to Elizabeth in 1947 from her grandmother Queen Mary. On the reverse Ian Rank-Broadley added an olive branch just below the Queen's effigy, again similar to the Victoria medallion.
The Latin phrase inscribed to the right on the reverse of the coin reads : “DIR IGE DEUS GRESSUS MEOS”. This translates as “May God direct my steps” and is believed to be the first words that a young Queen Victoria spoke following her crowning ceremony. The words also have appeal to numismatists as they rather famously appear on the absolutely superb “Una and the Lion” £5 gold coin. This coin was struck in 1839 to commemorate the beginning of Queen Victoria's reign.
While the Diamond Jubilee may have ended in 2012 the celebrations carried over to 2013 as the 60th anniversary of the Queen's official coronation ceremony were now being commemorated. Designed by Emma Noble, the 2013 60th Anniversary £5 Coronation Coin is less steeped in history than the 2012 Diamond Jubilee coin, . The obverse is the standard Ian Rank-Broadley effigy of the Queen that appears on all circulating currency. The reverse of the coin is a simple yet direct design anchored by a large image of the Imperial State Crown. The crown occupies the majority of the coin's surface and is surrounded by the words : “TO REIGN AND SERVE”, “A VOW MADE GOOD”.
That then brings us to 2017, and the historic sapphire Jubilee. Celebrating 65 years as Britain's longest reigning monarch, surpassing her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria's record. Since the 2013 commemorative coin's release the official portrait has also been updated to the new 5th portrait of the Queen. This is now the standard effigy featuring on both commemorative and circulating currency. This portrait was designed by Royal Mint engraver Jody Clark, and features the now 90 year old Queen Elizabeth II wearing the George IV State Diadem along with her Queen Victoria Pearl Drop earrings.
The Royal Mint, not failing in their duty to create a tangible record of historic events, has issued two new commemorative coin designs to celebrate the Queen's Sapphire Jubilee. First we have a design inspired by the heraldry of the royal family. Bishop Gregory Cameron, best known for designing the last ‘round pound’ coin, has designed a modern representation of the Queen's Coat of Arms, flanked by a single olive and oak branch on either side. This is meant to represent the Queen’s steadfast service and faithfulness to the nation and the larger commonwealth.
Then there is the £5 coin design by Jody Clark, used on the commemorative crown coins. Here again, as with the 2013 coin, the Imperial State Crown is depicted. However this time it is shown from the back so as to more prominently display the Stuart Sapphire, in keeping with the Sapphire Jubilee theme. This coin, more than merely alluding to, directly quotes the then Princess Elizabeth's 21st birthday address on the reverse. The quotation reads :
“MY WHOLE LIFE, WHETHER IT BE LONG OR SHORT, DEVOTED TO YOUR SERVICE”
A Lifetime spent in service to a nation, a vow made 70 years ago and a historic reign documented on these commemorative coins for time immemorial. The Queen has remained true to her vow and the Royal Mint has remained constant in it's dedication, and I'm sure they will continue to do so.