Why Royal Mint coins are treasures in anyone's Artistic Currency

by Cass Art

Not all the great artists die penniless like Vincent van Gogh.

Many of the best-handled creatives have deservedly made a mint out of art. But it is often overlooked that the converse is also true. Several UK coins in circulation are stand-alone artforms and have even been described as a way people can accrue their own private art galleries. This is why The Royal Mint has launched a campaign to highlight the quality of art on its coins.

Take, for example, its extremely rare Kew Gardens 50p piece. Christopher Le Brun designed this unmissable coin to mark the 250th anniversary of the Royal Botanic Gardens in 2009. The 62-year-old Portsmouth-born painter's work shows the gardens' famous pagoda encircled by a twisting vine and accompanied by the dates “1759” and “2009”, with the word “KEW” at its base.

Only 210,000 of the Kew 50p coins were minted. This compares to 22.7 million of the shield of the Royal Arms 50p design in 2008.

Shane Bissett, The Royal Mint's director of commemorative coin, wants to encourage Britons to more closely scrutinise the coins they use every day. He said: “They really are miniature works of art worth looking out for, admiring and collecting - and keeping hold of them is a great way for us to build our own private art galleries.

Mr Bissett recommends The Royal Mint’s 50p, £1 and £2 Collector Albums as the “perfect way for people to start appreciating the beautiful works of art that are in our pockets”. The 50p somehow seems to attract more brilliant designs than any other since being introduced in 1969. Here are four of the most beautifully crafted coins of that value:

1969-1982 - Britannia

Christopher Ironside designed the original 50p, with a figure of Britannia on the reverse. She is shown sat beside a lion, with a shield resting against her, holding a trident in one hand and an olive branch in the other.

1973 - United Kingdom's accession to the European Economic Community (EEC)

David Wynne created this design of the coin's value and date surrounded by nine hands, symbolising each member of the EEC, clasping one another in a mutual gesture of trust, assistance and friendship.

2004 - 50th anniversary of the first four-minute mile by Roger Bannister

James Butler devised this coin depicting the legs of a running athlete with a stylised stopwatch in the background.

2011 - Wheelchair Rugby

Natasha Ratcliffe designed a wheelchair rugby player in action, with the London 2012 Paralympic logo above to commemorate the Games.

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