12/03/2018
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Coins of the three kings: George V, Edward VIII and George VI

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An exploration of coins issued during the reigns of King George V, King Edward VIII and King George VI.

On 20 January, 1936, King George V died at Sandringham Palace after a long illness. The sad news saw his son become King Edward VIII, but by the end of that tumultuous year, a third king had taken the throne.

King George V coins

Despite his dying so early in the year, coins were issued in 1936 for George V. The reign of George V saw the quality of British coinage decline markedly after 1921. In this year the silver content in all silver coins was significantly reduced from .925 to .500 and Britain came off the gold standard. This was one of the economic results of the First World and the ensuing complications that prompted the post-war depression though, compared to many other countries, Britain came off fairly lightly.

Many British coin designs had been revised months before George V’s passing, thus influencing the proposed coins for King Edward VIII. While the penny and halfpenny designed by Bertram Mackennal remained the same, crowns were struck from in sterling silver rather than being debased to .500. The striking new designs featured a crown within a wreath on the reverse and a redesigned portrait of George V on the obverse. The half crown got a complete makeover with a royal shield flanked by two royal monograms; a design that would be re-employed in 1937 when George VI issued his first coins.

The florin of George V had been redesigned too, a distinct improvement on its predecessor, with the reverse showing more detail; the imperial titles were introduced and the shields in each angle enlarged. The shilling also had an improved design with a more assertive and larger lion on the reverse. The sixpence and threepence shared the same design on the reverse, of acorns and branches, and for the first time the word ‘threepence’ was written on coins of that value– a major departure from tradition. The farthing also got an important makeover as a result of the disappearance of the half sovereign; the previous dark matte finish replaced by a bright finish in 1926.

Perhaps the most amazing coin of George V’s final year was the Jubilee Crown; almost three quarters of a million were struck in sterling silver to mark the King’s Silver Jubilee. The coin features an Art Deco rendering of St George and the Dragon reflecting the design trends of the time.

Edward VIII coins

King Edward VIII succeeded his father but famously lasted less than a year; forced to abdicate the throne thanks to his relationship with the American divorcee Wallis Simpson. He took the title ‘Duke of Windsor’ and went to Paris where he spent most of the rest of his life apart from the war years, when he was as Governor of Bermuda.

Despite his limited time on the throne, a number of designs for a complete set of coins were produced for Edward VIII. The coins reflected a theme of defiance with the young king shown facing the same way as his father; normal protocol was for the monarch’s profile to face the opposite way from that of their predecessor, a custom which curiously dates back to the days of the Roman Empire.

Convention was, however, followed in the design of the £5 gold piece. The early 19th-century depiction of St George slaying the Dragon was approved but never got to the production stage. The proposed crown was similarly attractive; on the reverse was a shield flanked by a lion and a unicorn, the obverse showed the Humphrey Paget king’s head. The half crown was completely radical in having the royal ensign flanked by monograms on the reverse. This design was done by Kruger Gray who had worked on the coinage of George V.

The florin was also designed by Kruger Gray with a crown surmounting a rose flanked by a shamrock and a thistle; a design that was to be adopted by King George VI. It was also innovative in that it had the words ‘two shillings’ instead of ‘florin’ on the reverse.

The Scottish shilling was another innovation that was to be taken forward by George VI. It showed the lion of Scotland holding a sword and a sceptre surmounting a crown. It is flanked by two shields, one with the cross of St Andrews and the other containing a thistle.

The designs of the sixpence and three pence which showed interlocking rings, meant to represent loyalty and trust in marriage, were ultimately rejected. This would not have gone down too well with many of the public in 1936 who looked down very much on a monarch marrying a divorcee.

Did Edward VIII actually have any coins struck for circulation? He did; coins were struck for British West and East Africa, Fiji and New Guinea. However, none of these shows his portrait. The only place one can see his portrait is on the set of four stamps which were issued in Great Britain. But that’s another story.

Coins of George VI

The two designs of a brass threepenny bit, showing the thrift plant were much admired and the design without the border was to be adopted by George VI after the silver threepenny was gradually faded out of service in teh Second World War. Two other innovations were to survive; the first of these was the ship halfpenny which replaced the old style halfpenny, a junior version of the penny featuring an image of Britannia. Last of all there was the farthing, appropriately depicting the wren – one of smallest birds in Britain on the nation’s smallest coin.

Influence of EVIII on QEII coins

The early coins of Queen Elizabeth copied some of the designs for Edward VIII; these were the brass threepenny sometimes referred to as the wooden threepenny; the ship halfpenny and the wren farthing. This proves that the work of Edward VIII’s design team was not wasted. The threepenny and halfpenny remained in general circulation until 1967. Then in 1970 a special pack of non-decimal coins was issued for collectors prior to the change to decimal in 1971.

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