WORLD

Keep the change, Britons say

KATE LUNAU May 12 2008
WORLD

Keep the change, Britons say

KATE LUNAU May 12 2008

Keep the change, Britons say

Nobody said change was easy. This summer, the British Royal Mint will roll out its first new set of coins in over 40 years, but traditionalists complain the new design is confusing, hard to read, and just plain weird. Worst of all, Britannia—the iconic helmeted woman who first appeared on British currency in Roman times—is being left out for the first time in 336 years. “I can see nothing in the new designs to like,” Virginia Ironside, daughter of Christopher Ironside (who designed the current coinage), wrote in the Independent newspaper, “and all I can hear is the creaking sound of my father turning in his grave.”

Chosen through a public competition that drew over 4,000 entries, each of the seven new coins shows an abstract slice of the shield of the Royal Arms (the one-pound piece shows the shield in its entirety). Like a puzzle, when the coins are arranged together, the complete shield is revealed. “I want my new designs to intrigue, to entertain, and to raise a smile,” says London-based graphic designer Matthew Dent, 26, whose idea was selected by the Royal Mint Advisory Committee and eventually submitted to the Queen for formal approval. “I love to think that they may be enjoyed as much by children at school as by folks in a pub.”

But the primary purpose of currency isn’t to “entertain,”

Ironside insists: it’s to be “easily readable.”

And if you don’t read English, these coins are not: they express value through words instead of numbers, which could confound non-English speakers. What’s more, the dragon, Wales’ heraldic symbol, is absent (a curious omission, since Dent is a Welshman). But it’s Britannia’s exclusion that’s proved most unpopular of all. After collecting over 50,000 signatures (including 81 MPs) to save her, British tabloid the Mail on Sunday sent a reallife Britannia, in full regalia, to the home of the Royal Mint’s John Porteous. “There is certainly no anti-Britannia agenda,” Porteous said as he invited her in for coffee. Another regal woman’s image is staying put: the portrait of the Queen remains unchanged on the front of each new coin. M

KATE LUNAU