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Thursday, 30 May 2013

102) Commemorating the 100th Birth Anniversary of Christopher Ironside (July1913-July 1992) with his "Royal Arms" design on a 50 pence coin issued by the Royal Mint, U.K.

102) Commemorating the 100th Birth Anniversary of Christopher Ironside (July1913-July 1992) with his "Royal Arms" design on a 50 pence coin issued by the Royal Mint, U.K., in 2013:

Christopher Ironside’s early Career and as an eminent coin designer:

Christopher Ironside was born on 11.07.1913.

He studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts after which he worked variously as a painter, sculptor, draughtsman, designer and teacher.

During World War II, he worked at the Directorate of Camouflage and the Art Ministry in Leamington Spa. After the war he worked at the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, then as education officer for for the Council of Industrial Design from 1946 to 1948.

He taught at the Maidstone School of Art and worked with his brother on theatrical design and postage stamps.

Only in his middle age, did Ironside start working on numismatic design when he was awarded a Royal Mint commission in 1962 to design UK’s decimal coins. That project was on and off until 1968, but in the meantime, he found time to design  coins for other countries being finalised by the Royal Mint.

Ironside designed various coins for the Royal Mint, including the reverses of the 50 pence, 10 pence, 5 pence, two pence, one penny and the former half penny coins.

He is also credited with the designing of commemorative medallions including the Britannia Commemorative Society’s Medallion No. 7 “The Spanish Armada” and No.42 “The Royal Navy”, a medal for the 1974 Centenary of Sir Winston Churchill’s birth “This was Their Finest Hour”, a brass relief memorial for the Earl and Countess Mountbatten in Westminster Abbey and a Brass relief for the 16th Duke of Norfolk in Fitzalan Chapel in Arundel Castle.

 Ironside, also, designed coins for several other countries, as well as the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations Organisation (UNO).

He was awarded the OBE in 1971.

Christopher Ironside’s contribution to Britain’s decimal coinage:

In 1960, it was mooted that coins of the United Kingdom (U.K.) would be decimalised. The pound which hitherto comprised 20 shillings (or 240 pence), would, after decimalization be worth 100 pence.

In 1961, a Committee of Inquiry was appointed to consider ways and means for a smooth transition into the new decimalised currency. Naturally, it was required that the entire coinage goes through a major redesigning process.

In 1962, When the implementation of decimal coinage was a near  certainty, no official announcement was made, but the Royal Mint wanted to be prepared for decimalization as and when decimal coinage was implemented in the U.K.

Accordingly, various artistic Institutions like the Royal Academy, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Faculty of the Royal Designers for Industry and the RCA were asked in strict secrecy to invite eminent artists to submit designs for the new decimal currency. Ironside worked on the combined RDI/RCA team, working on his own designs.

 From 1962 to 1966, Christopher Ironside worked tirelessly to make several designs for the decimalised coinage.

However, in 1966, the secret programme came to an abrupt halt when it was announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the House of Commons that Britain would introduce the decimal coinage shortly, however, the announcement came with a catch – the coin designs would be selected after an open competition for the designs.

Ever optimistic, Ironside prepared designs for the open competition in which the designs were displayed anonymously before the Royal Mint Advisory Committee which was judging two major competitions. Every design was studied meticulously by the Royal Mint Advisory Committee, before the final designs were announced to the public.

Ironside’s designs won convincingly for the reverse sides. Some modifications in his selected designs were suggested by the Royal Mint Advisory Committee, which he worked on meticulously, till his modified designs were finally approved for minting.

With hundreds of millions of coins being produced at the Royal Mint, designing of coins, provided Ironside a unique opportunity to showcase his talent at conceptualizing and designing of several coins.

Ironside is said to have written in an article published in 1969 which inter alia mentioned:

“The work of a great many artists who are geniuses is never recognized and probably eventually disappears. But if one is a coin designer, one’s work lasts possibly long after death, everyone becomes familiar with it and it forms a small part of the history of the country for which it was designed, and one becomes famous. Not because one is a genius, or a saint or a monster, but simply because one is a coin designer”.

He passed away in July 1992.

In 2008, Ironside’s extensive design portfolio was given to the British Museum where it has been exhibited for posterity. Several of Ironside’s drawings, notebooks, plaster models etc. have been exhibited in the British Museum showcasing his methods of conceptualizing a coin design to its final appearance on U.K. coins.

The Commemorative Coin brought out by the Royal Mint, U.K.:

Ironside’s famous design of Britannia was adopted for the 50 p (pence) in 1969. He submitted several designs to the Royal Mint at the time the decimal coinage was being put in place. This design of the Royal Arms was adjudged second-best to his winning design of Britannia.

Ironside’s second-best design was equally liked by the Royal Mint Advisory Committee members who had expressed a desire that trial pieces of that design should also be made in case the design could be used at a later date.

The Royal Mint Advisory Committee’s wish has come true with Ironside’s design featuring the Royal Arms being placed on the 50p commemorative coin brought out by the Royal Mint U.K. on his Birth Centenary, 44 years after this design was created by Ironside.
To honour the 100th Anniversary of his birth, the “Royal Arms” Design, that was much admired by the Royal Mint Advisory Committee, but was never struck, has been placed on the reverse of this Commemorative coin for the first time. 

These images are from the BU Annual coins set 2013, received by me from the Royal Mint U.K.
The reverse of this 50p coin, features the Royal Arms design of Christopher Ironside. The Royal Arms appear in the centre of this coin with the words “Fifty Pence” on the upper periphery and the numeral “50” on the bottom of the coin. (In Ironside’s design the words “NEW PENCE” had featured, since a new decimal coinage was being introduced in the 1970s, which has been amended to “FIFTY PENCE” on this coin).

The obverse has the familiar Queen Elizabeth II’s portrait facing right by Ian Rank-Broadley.The peripheral inscription reads" ELIZABETH II, D.G. REG. F.D. 2013" (Elizabeth II, By the Grace of God Queen, Defender of the Faith").

A picture of Christopher Ironside with the obverse of the 50 pence commemorative coin in the centre
The specifications of this coin are:

Metal Composition: Cupro-Nickel (75% copper,25% nickel);Weight: 8 gms; Coin Quality: Brilliant Uncirculated; Diameter: 27.30 mm; Shape: seven sided or equilaterally curved heptagon; Edge: Plain.

Other interesting facts about the 50 pence coin:

-      The first 50 p coin (nicknamed fifty pee”) was issued on 14.10.1969. The original reverse of the coin designed by Christopher Ironside depicted a seated Britannia alongside a Lion. For the sake of differentiating the decimal issues from the coinage in circulation, the words “NEW PENCE” (1969-1981) or “FIFTY PENCE” thereafter, above the Britannia image were used, with the numeral “50” below the seated figure. The coin replaced the ten shilling Note.

-      Despite the coin’s unique heptagonal shape, initially there was some confusion among users and the coin was mistaken for both the old half crown and the new ten pence coins.

-      Between 1969-1997, the 50 p coin weighed 13.5 gms and had a diameter of 30.0 mm. The old size 50 p coins ceased to be legal tender from 28.02.1998.

-      The seated Britannia design of Ironside featured on the large 50 p coins in the following years: 1969 -1972, 1974-1981 and then 1982-1984, 1985-1993, 1995-1997 (1971-1972, 1974-1975, 1986-1993 and 1995-1997 were issued in collector’s sets only, as the usage of the 50 p coins decreased with the issue of one pound coins in 1983 which replaced the one pound notes and due to inflationary pressures.

-      On 01.09.1997, the present smaller dimensions of the coin given under the commemorative coin above were introduced.

-      From 1997, the smaller sized 50 p coins were issued. 

Obverse of the 50 pence coin showing Queen Elizabeth II’s portrait facing right together with the year of issue “1997”. On the Periphery is mentioned “ELIZABETH II D.G. REG. F.D.” (“Elizabeth II , By the grace of God, Regina – Queen – Defender of the Faith”).

   Reverse of the seated Britannia coin with the shield, trident and the lion alongside facing right, designed by Ironside, issued in 1997 by the Royal Mint, U.K. for general circulation. This coin was collected by me during my London trip during the Christmas vacations in December 2006.  It is among the first of the smaller sized coins issued in 1997, which were minted in very large numbers because the earlier larger 50 p issues were to be withdrawn from 20.02.1998.

-      The seated Britannia design of Ironside figured on 50 p coins issued in 1997 to 2008 in which year Matthew Dent’s design of the Royal shield spread over the smaller denomination coins below 1 and 2 pounds was implemented with the bottom apex of the Royal Shield being shown on the 50 p coins.

-      Miscellaneous trivia:

-      Given below are images of a one penny and a half penny coins featuring a Britannia design, issued during the reign of George V.

-      Ironside’s design had added a Lion alongside the seated Britannia and repositioned the trident held by Britannia and made Britannia lean back somewhat to give her a more Regal bearing.

World-wide recognition of Christopher Ironside’s designs/work as a coin designer:

In addition to the above, Ironside, also, designed coins for several other countries, as well as the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations Organisation (UNO):

Bahrain, Qatar Abu Dhabi and Dubai (1965):

In 1965, Ironside submitted three sets of designs to the Royal Mint Advisory Committee for a joint currency for Bahrain, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Dubai:     –   one design set depicting each denomination within its own geometric Arabic design,

the second set depicted variously, a goitred Arabian gazelle (which is now extinct), a peregrine falcon, a local fish, a mosque, an Arab Dhow, oil derricks and a date palm,

while the third set represented Arabic designs.

None of these sets was taken up further, but Qatar and Dubai showed interest in some of his designs.

Qatar and Dubai (1966):

In the mid 1960s, Qatar and Dubai entered a separate Currency Union, and their joint currency was issued in 1966. On the reverse, a design of a goitred gazelle designed by Ironside appeared on all their Dirham coins.

Tanzania (1966):

Tanzania’s first coinage after becoming an independent country came out in 1966. The designs on all the Shillingi and Senti coins, including the portrait of President Nyrere on the obverse and African Wildlife animals on the reverse, were made by Ironside. 

Brunei (1967):

In 1967, Ironside designed the reverses of all Brunei sen coins, representing a flower (1 sen), a bird in flight (5 sen), a land animal (10 sen), a tree (20 sen) and the Brunei Coat of Arms (50 sen), brought out by the Brunei Currency Board.

 Jamaica (1969):

Jamaica released its first decimal coinage in 1969, with all the reverse designs (except 50 cents and ½ penny), being made by Ironside. The obverse showed the Jamaican Coat of Arms with National symbols on the reverse – Ackee fruit which is, also, the National Fruit (1 cent), American Crocodile (5 cents), Butterfly within leafy sprigs of the lignum vitae, the National Flower (10 cents), Blue Mahoe, the National Tree (20 cents), the swallow – tailed Humming Bird, the National Bird, sipping nectar from a flower (25 cents).

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations Organisation (UNO) (1970):

In 1970, the FAO brought out a limited edition box set of 45 coins representing 33 countries (10000 box sets only). 23 designers from all over the World, contributed to this effort out of which, Ironside designed the reverses of the British Commonwealth.

Mauritius (1971):

During 1971, Mauritius released a ten rupee coin depicting the extinct dodo bird designed by Ironside.  In 1974-75 Mauritius released a two coin set under the “World Wildlife Fund Silver Proof Coin Collection” series in which the reverse of the 50 rupees coin depicting the Mauritius Kestrel was designed by Ironside. Also, in 1988, a 25 rupee gold coin was issued depicting the dodo design made by Ironside.

Gibraltar (1971):

The Gibraltar 25 pence coin depicted a Barbary macaque monkey, commonly called the “Barbary Ape” which was designed by Ironside.

Isle of Man (1971):

Ironside also created the reverse designs for the first modern circulation coins (1971 first decimal set) issued by the Isle of Man. These coins were issued from 1971-1974. The following designs appear on them made by Ironside – Cushag yellow field flower, National Flower (½ penny), design of a ring chain cross based on 10th and 11th Century Norse decorations (1 new penny), Tower of Refuge (5 new pence), the Tree Legs of Man, the official Arms of the Isles of Man (10 new pence), a Viking ship (50 pence) and a Manx cat (1 Crown).

Malta (1972):

In May 1972, a new set of Maltese coins were issued. The new coin designs sought to proclaim the country’s Independence and to feature distinguished personalities, historical monuments and edifices, flora, fauna and folklore of Malta. The coins were all designed by Ironside – on the obverse the Maltese Cross , National symbol of Malta (2 mils ), Maltese bee wings outspread over a honeycomb (3 mils), figure of a water carrier (5 mils), George Cross (1 cent), Knights Hospitaler wearing an elm (2 cents), temple altar found in the Mnajdra, a megalithic temple structure complex in Malta (5 cents), Grand Master’s barge (10 cents) and man with sword and shield flanked by two women (50 cents).

Singapore coins (1985):

In 1985, Ironside designed the reverses for the “floral series” of coins of Singapore. The theme was to highlight the Botanical diversity of Singapore. These designs still appear on Singapore’s coins.  This was one of his last contributions to numismatics. Vanda Miss Joaquim, National Flower of Singapore (1 cent), fruit salad plant or “Monstera deliciosa” (5 cents), star jasmine or “Jasminium Multiflorum” (10 cents), powder puff plant or “Calliandra Surinamensis” (20 cents), yellow Allamanda or “Allamanda cathartica” and periwinkle  or “Lochnera rosea” (1 dollar).

(The above coin images are from my collection, except for the George V one and half penny images which are from Jayant Biswas' collection. Article Researched and coins scanned by Rajeev Prasad). 


British Crown Dependencies:

1) Specimen Banknotes from the States of Jersey

2) Coinage and Currency from the States of Jersey

3) Currency & Coinage of the Bailiwick of Guernsey

4) Currency & Coinage of Gibraltar : An Overseas Territory of Great Britain

5) Coinage of Gibraltar: (A British Overseas Territory): An Uncirculated Decimal Coin Collection Set minted by the Tower Mint, UK in 2010
6) The Isle of Man: An Uncirculated Decimal Coin Collection Set minted by Pobjoy Mint, UK in 2015

7) The Centenary of the ill-fated Titanic (15.04.1912 - 15.04.2012): An Alderney Five Pound Coin Commemorating the Maritime Legend

8) "Man of Steel": A Superman Movie: A set of stamps brought out in 2013 by Jersey post, the States of Jersey, commemorating Henry William Dalgliesh Cavill who played Superman in the Movie

9) Coins & Currency of Bermuda

10) The Bailiwick of Jersey - Presently circulating coinage - Pounds and Pence 

11) St. Helena & Ascension Islands: An Uncirculated Coin Set from 2003 

12) The Legend of the "HMAV Bounty" is interwoven with the heritage of the Pitcairn Islands: An uncirculated coin set from Pitcairn Islands in 2009 depicting the icons/relics of the Bounty minted by the New Zealand Mint 

Famous Battles

1) Bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo and Napoleon's Exile to St. Helena: (Part I): A One Crown Commemorative coin issued by the Ascension Island (minted by Pobjoy Mint UK) 

2) Bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo and Napoleon's Exile to st. Helena: (Part II) 1) A 5 GBP Coin issued by the Royal Mint UK. 2) A"Drie Landen Zilverset" ( ot the "Three Lands Silver set") containing coins issued by the Royal Dutch Mint including coins of Netherlands, Belgium and UK

3) Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain by issuing a 50 Pence coin by the Royal Mint UK

Gold Coins:
1) Gold Sovereigns issued in 2013 & 2014 by MMTC-PAMP in India under licence from the Royal Mint, UK, carrying the "I" Mint Mark

2) Gold Half-Sovereigns minted by MMTC-PAMP in India in 2014 under licence from the Royal Mint UK bearing the "I" Mint Mark 

Silver Coins:

1) A 20 Pound Silver coin minted for the first timr by the royal Mint UK: reverse design carries the famous St. George slaying the dragon design found on Gold Sovereigns 

British India Coinage:

 1) East India Company Quarter Anna Copper Coin which is one of the first issues under the Coinage Act 1835

2) Victoria Coinage: When she was Queen and afterwards Empress

3) Edward VII: King & Emperor  Coinage

4) George V King Emperor Coinage

5) George VI: The last of the British India Emperors Coinage 

Other British Royalty: 

1) Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee Celebrations (1952-2012): A Five Pound Commemorative coin issued by the Royal Mint, UK

2) Commemorating Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation in 1953: A Five Pound Coin minted by the Royal Mint UK in 2013, depicting the Imperial State Crown

3) The Royal Coat of Arms of the UK: Great British 2012 Coin Set (Uncirculated) issued by the Royal Mint UK

4) Prince George's Christening Ceremony celebrated with coins issued by the Royal Mint UK in 2013

5) The British Empire:  A Case of Numismatic "segregation": (Guest Post by Rahul Kumar)

6) 1) The Portrait Collection: Various Portraits of Queen Elizabeth II on Coinage 2) The Fourth & Final Circulating coinage of the Portrait designed by Ian Rank-Broadley and the First Edition of the portrait of the Queen made by Jody Clark

 British Coinage:

1) The contribution of the Great British One-Pound coins in keeping alive the historical legends/emblems/heritage of the UK (1983 onwards)

2) Transformation of a Five shilling Coin (Crown) into the UK Twenty-five Pence & then the Five Pound Coin

3) Transformation of the Two Shilling Coin (Florin) Coin into the UK Ten Pence

4) The 350th Anniversary of the Guinea: A Two Pound Coin issued by the Royal Mint UK celebrating the milestone

 Commemorative British Coinage:

 1) Commemorating the Bicentenary of Charles Dickens: A Two pound coin celebrating his literary contributions during the Victorian Era

 2) Commemorating 50 Years of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) - presently called the World Wide Fund for Nature by issue of a Fifty Pence coin by the Royal Mint, UK

3) Coins commemorating London Olympics & Paralympics (2012)

4) Commemorating 150 Years of the London Underground : Two pound Coins minted by the Royal Mint UK, showing the "Roundel" logo and a train emerging from a tunnel 

5) Commemorating the 100th Birth anniversary of Christopher Ironside with his" Royal Arms" design on a 50 Pence coin issued by the Royal Mint, UK 

6) 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta - the Universal Guidepost to Liberty and Freedom

Inspirations from Scottish History: 

1) The Legend of King Bruce & the Spider on Banknotes

Banknotes from Scotland:
1) Commemorating Sir William Arrol and his creation the Forth Rail Bridge by issues of Britain's first ever 5 Pound Polymer Banknote


  1. Thanks for the detailed background on this beautiful coin. I found this from circulation in UK but was not aware about the design. Very interesting indeed and I quite agree with the Ironside "coin designer becomes immortal once his design is implemented on a coin"

    1. Thank you, Rahul. Interestingly, as a corollary to your comment, some coins depict the smbol of Lemniscate or the sideways "figure of eight" in the hope that their coins/coinage would last for ever/infinity.

    2. cool.. Lemniscate is a new term i have been introduced to.. never realized the infinity symbol was called such. Thanks

    3. I have an interesting post on the Lemniscate on our tarot blog, link as follows: