Irregular Postings on Coin Collecting & Numismatics - Both Canonical & Conanical

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Category Archives: United Kingdom

Coinage Portraits of a “Certain Gracious Lady”

Coinage Portraits of a “Certain Gracious Lady”

“… it was a present from a certain gracious lady …”

– The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans (BRUC)

There are numerous references to coins sprinkled throughout the sixty stories of the Canon. I find it helpful to visualize the design of the coins and the other items mentioned in the stories as I am reading.

Using William S. Baring-Gould’s The Annotated Sherlock Holmes as a reference, only 12 of the 60 stories occurred after the death of Queen Victoria in 1901.  Most of the coins that Holmes was handling in the stories would bear her portrait, even after Edward VII coins started circulating in 1902.

There were three major portraits of Victoria on coinage during her 63-plus years reign. Several minor modifications occurred over the years, and we will discuss a few of these as well.

“Young Head” portrait by William Wyon on a Shilling

The bust of a young Victoria graced her coinage from 1839 until a new portrait was created for her golden jubilee in 1887. Holmes would have paid his Baker Street Irregulars with one of these in A Study in Scarlet. This portrait was the only one in use during this story and six others: “Gloria Scott,” “Musgrave Ritual,” “Speckled Band,” “Resident Patient,” “Noble Bachelor” and the “Second Stain.” This design was created by William Wyon, the Chief Engraver of the Royal Mint who in 1834 modeled the design of a then 15-year old Princess.

“Jubilee Head” portrait by Joseph Boehm on a Half Crown

For six years, beginning in 1887, the “Jubilee Head” of Victoria appeared on her gold and silver coinage. After ruling for 50 years and the British Empire having expanded to its largest size, a new portrait was needed to highlight the elegance of the older monarch and her accomplishments. Designed by sculptor Joseph Boehm, his initials appear below Victoria’s shoulder, and was the first to feature Victoria in her mourning veil. Public opinion was mixed on this design, as many believed that the design did not give the Queen the dignity she deserved with the crown precariously balancing on her head.

A few of this portrait might have been in the handful of half-crowns that Doctor Watson had in his pocket as Holmes was ranting about oysters in the “Dying Detective.”

The “Jubilee Head” design did not appear on any copper or bronze coinage of Queen Victoria. Wyon’s “Young Head” design was in use until 1860, when a new portrait was introduced as copper was replaced by bronze on the smaller denominations.

“Bun Head with wreath” portrait on a bronze  Half Penny

In “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” the coat that Hugh Boone threw into the Thames had every pocket stuffed with pennies and halfpennies – four hundred and twenty-one pennies, and two hundred and seventy halfpennies. Most would have been the bronze coinage featuring Leonard Charles Wyon’s portrait of Victoria wearing a wreath. Some of the copper coins with his father’s “Young Head” design could have been among the many coins in the coat as well.

In “The Crooked Man,” Henry Wood’s had given his landlady what looked like a bad florin, but what was actually an Indian rupee. The florin, worth two shillings, is the only denomination issued during Victoria’s reign featuring what is known as her “Gothic portrait.” With her hair in braids and wearing a crown, the portrait gets its name from the lettering style used.

A British Florin (2 Shillings) with “Gothic” portrait, compare the portrait to the one on an Indian Rupee (below)

The portrait of Queen Victoria on the Indian rupee is similar to the portrait on the florin. With the limited number of florins in circulation, it is easy to understand the confusion if just looking at the portraits.

The last major portrait of Victoria was introduced in 1893 and is known as the “Old Head.” The design was created by Thomas Brock, who would later sculpt the Imperial Monument to Queen Victoria, which was erected in front of Buckingham Palace.

“Old Head” portrait on a Gold Sovereign

This design would have gone into circulation after “The Final Problem” took place and while Holmes was on his Great Hiatus. This portrait was used on all of her majesty’s coins – bronze, silver and gold.

This portrait of Victoria is one of the most famous images of her and is often used when dramatizing the stories for the big or small screen. An excellent illustration of this is from the first episode of the Granada series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

In this episode, as in the actual story, Holmes is given a gold sovereign by Irene Adler. Watching the episode carefully, it can be clearly seen that the sovereign features the “Old Head” portraiture.

If we continue to use the dates established by Baring-Gould for chronology as 1887, they should have used either an “Young Head” or “Jubilee Head” coin,

Jeremy Brett as Holmes holding an “Old Head” gold sovereign from the A Scandal in Bohemia episode of the Granada series

They used the wrong coin….

This post was originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of The Serpentne Muse, official publication of the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes

The Iconic London Numisproof Collection’s 221b Baker Street Medal

The Iconic London Numisproof Collection’s 221b Baker Street Medal

“… near the museum …” – The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle (BLUE) Between 2012 and 2014, the Numisproof Collection issued a series of 18 designs that it called its Iconic London Collection, with each medal being plated in 24 karat gold. Designs included in the series included: British Museum, Leicester Square, Greenwich Observatory, London Zoo, The… Continue Reading

2020 Version of Kingdom of Great Britain Fantasy Banknotes Now Available

2020 Version of Kingdom of Great Britain Fantasy Banknotes Now Available

“No living man could tell a Prescott from a Bank of England …” – The Adventure of The Three Garridebs (3GAR)     The sixfth different “edition” of the fantasy Kingdom of Great Britain 10 pound banknotes has recently been issued. You can read about the 2015 version HERE, the 2016-2018 editions HERE.and last year’s 2019 version… Continue Reading

Hey Buddy – Want to Buy a Watch?

Hey Buddy – Want to Buy a Watch?

“Holmes had taken out his watch …” – A Study in Scarlet (STUD) Since the 2019 Sherlock Holmes 50 pence coins was released we have reported examples being altered with decals, placed in special holders, made into keychains and bells. Now, you can buy a watch with the coin as the design. Currently being offered in… Continue Reading

Holmes and Watson in the Great War: The Decorated Duo of Rathbone and Bruce

Holmes and Watson in the Great War: The Decorated Duo of Rathbone and Bruce

The noteworthy British actors received military honors NIGEL BRUCE (left) AND BASIL RATHBONE portrayed Dr. John Watson and detective Sherlock Holmes in the 1939 film adaptation of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. From 1939 to 1946, well-known British actors Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce costarred in 15 films and 220 radio programs as Sherlock Holmes and… Continue Reading

Windsor Mint Strikes 2019 Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective Medal

Windsor Mint Strikes 2019 Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective Medal

“It might be his portrait.” – The Hound of the Baskervilles (HOUN) In the fall of 2019 the Windsor Mint, a private United Kingdom organization, released a gold plated medal honoring Sherlock Holmes. The obverse of the medal closely resembles the cover drawn by Frederic Dorr Steele for September 24,1904 issue of Collier’s that contained The Adventure of the… Continue Reading

British Royal Mint Issues 2020 Agatha Christie 2 Pounds Coin

British Royal Mint Issues 2020 Agatha Christie 2 Pounds Coin

“… my hated rival …” – The Adventure of the Retired Colourman (RETI) The British Royal Mint has released the designs of the United Kingdom’s 2020 coinage, and they feature a 2 pound coin honoring mystery writer Agatha Christie and 100 years of mystery. Currently, these coins are only available as part of the annual coinage… Continue Reading

No Bar For Maiwand (1965)

No Bar For Maiwand (1965)

“… I should have had a medal …” – The Adventure of the Three Garridebs (3GAR) In dusty corners of old curio shops, there is often a little tray of tarnished trinkets. Amongst the buttons and pen-knives, I have sometimes found an old campaign medal with faded ribbon – and finally, after a long search and many… Continue Reading

Financial Anaylsis of “The Man With the Twisted Lip”

Financial Anaylsis of “The Man With the Twisted Lip”

“Every pocket stuffed with pennies and half-pennies….” – The Man With the Twisted Lip (TWIS)   “Every pocket stuffed with pennies and half-pennies….” “For seven hours I plied my trade, and when I returned home in the evening I found to my surprise that I had received no less than 26s. 4d. “… had a writ served… Continue Reading