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Friday, 6 March 2015

173) The British Empire – A Case of Numismatic 'Segregation’:

173) The British Empire – A Case of Numismatic ‘Segregation’

As the adage goes, “The Sun never sets on the British Empire”, the British Empire colonies stretched across the entire globe covering Asia, Africa, Australia, Oceania and Americas.

British and British-like coinage was also used across its colonies with the reigning monarch’s effigy predominantly featuring on all the coinage.  Considering that the British were rather particular about conveying their superiority and the supreme power of the monarch, this was a significant factor when the coin engravers designed the effigies portrayed on the coins of the British Empire.

From 1936 onwards, there was a strict numismatic hierarchy in the Empire and Commonwealth, whereby the colonies and crown dependencies were required to use a crowned effigy of the monarch on their coinage, whilst the UK and the Dominions were allowed to depict the monarch uncrowned.

Interestingly, this tradition fell into disuse with the creation of Arnold Machin’s famous effigy of the Queen Elizabeth II in 1964 when the Queen made it abundantly clear that the effigy should be available to any country or territory that wanted to use it.

Historically distinguishing features in Domestic/Homeland and other British Empire coinages:

If we go back to the time of Queen Victoria, one notices this hierarchy was not yet in place: various uncrowned portraits AND crowned portraits of her circulated in the colonies, including India, whilst she appeared both crowned and uncrowned on the so called Homeland coinage, or British coinage proper.

In the coinage of the succeeding monarch Edward VII, one can see a pattern emerging. He is only ever shown uncrowned on the Homeland coinage, and crowned on all other coinage - EXCEPT for India and the Indian state of Sailana, where he appears uncrowned, as in Britain. Apparently his uncrowned portrait caused a scandal in India, where they expected their rulers to be portrayed only in ceremonial dress.

By the time of George V, the split is complete. The king appears uncrowned only on the Homeland coinage; he appears crowned on all his other coinage, whether that of the Dominions or of the Colonies.  This demarcation was unpopular with the Dominions, who were after all self-governing states, on a par with Britain, and not colonies.

After Edward VIII had abdicated, a change came about. The Dominions were now allowed to use the uncrowned effigy, though the Crown Dependencies and the colonies still had to use the crowned version. This decision appears to have been made by Edward VIII, but it was only in the reign of George VI that it was put into practice.

For the record, before taking a final decision in the matter, during George VI’s reign, on 26th December 1936, Sir Robert Johnson, Deputy Master of the Royal Mint, wrote a letter to one of the Palace officials, seeking the pleasure of the new King, George VI, in regard to the policy to be followed vis-à-vis the distinguishing features of the coinage for the British dominions, colonies and dependencies, British India coinage, as well as domestic coinage during his reign. The text of his message was as under:

“As you know, it was King Edward VIII's decision that whereas hitherto the coinage for the Dominions showed crowned effigies of the Sovereign, these should in future show the uncrowned head as at home and that the crowned head should in future be used only on the coinage of India and of the colonies and dependencies of the Crown. This decision was very popular throughout the Dominions and in the main it distinguishes His Majesty's subjects of European from those of non-European origin.

I should be grateful if I might be informed as early as ever possible whether, as I assume will be the case, this decision is to be maintained for the new reign.”

 At this point in time, we can say that this new policy, of distinguishing those of     European             from non-European origin, was distinctly racist. On     the other hand, the Dominions were for the  first    time, numismatically at least, regarded as equals       with Britain - though we can be in no doubt that    Britain, as head of the Empire, was still first among equals. However, this semi-democratization, of allowing the Dominions numismatic equality with Britain,    was a phase on the road to full numismatic democracy, which occurred in 1964, when     Queen Elizabeth II declared that any Commonwealth country wanting to use the new Machin effigy should be allowed to do so.

 (The above article has been contributed as a Guest Post to this blog by Rahul Kumar, an avid Numismatist based in Hyderabad. Apart from a detailed study of the subject, Rahul has supplemented his write-up with illustrative images of coins in his collection). 


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. Hi Rajeev, thanks a lot for putting my contribution on the blog.