Una and The Lion: British Gold Coins Exhibit from the Thos. H. Law

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Una and The Lion: British Gold Coins Exhibit from the Thos. H. Law Collection
A half millennium of British gold coinage glittered in this spectacular exhibit at the American Numismatic Association Money Museum from February 8 to April 26, 2002.

The display features Thos. A. Law's 2001 Howland Wood Memorial Award for Best-in-Show Exhibit entitled "104 Rare English Gold Coins, 1344-1839." It filled the lower galleries of the Money Museum and showcased selected material never before allowed outside the Royal Mint. Also included are nearly 700 years of English coronation medals, and artifacts from the early days of Colorado Springs, once known as "Little London."

One of the many features of this brilliant exhibit is a £5 piece known as "Una and the Lion" - considered one of the most beautiful English coins ever made. Issued early in Queen Victoria's 64-year reign, the 1839 gold piece depicts the 20-year-old monarch on the reverse as "Una" (Truth) - one of the principal characters in Edmund Spenser's 16th-century allegorical poem The Faerie Queene - accompanied by a lion that guards her virtue.

On the obverse of the gold coin is the 'Young Head' portrait of Queen Victoria, with her hair caught in a graceful bow. This engraving of the young queen appeared on coins of the British Empire for nearly 30 years.

As part of this exhibit, the original dies used to strike the 1839 £5 gold piece were on display. This marked the first time the dies have been allowed outside the British Royal Mint.

The British gold coronation medals on exhibit, struck from the 1300s to the present, were from the collection of token and medal specialist David E. Schenkman.

From the time of the Stuart kings in 1603 to the crowning of Queen Victoria in 1837, specially struck medals were scattered randomly to the onlooking crowd during the coronation ceremony as an expression of largess, however, the crowds became more aggressive, and the cost of this generosity grew. Not wishing to have the splendor and gravity of his coronation ruined in 1901, King Edward VII established the current tradition of presenting medals only to those who assisted in the ceremony.

Material from the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum in the exhibit highlighted the city's early days. Founded in 1871, the town attracted a great many British visitors and investors from the thousands of English tenant farmers and younger sons of large landowners who sought their fortunes in the American West. In the 1870s and '80s, a Colorado Springs advertising campaign in British newspapers promoted the new community as "Little London." The moniker remains today.

Edward III, 1327-1377

Until the reign of Henry III (1216-72), the need for higher-denomination coins had always been met with Byzantine and Arabic gold coins that circulated among the English merchants and traders. As a time of prosperity settled over the kingdom, Henry ordered his goldsmith, William of Gloucester, to produce a 20-pence English gold coin to attract commerce and improve the monetary position of the state. But the coin was undervalued, containing almost 24 pence worth of gold. The experiment was halted and most of the 20-pence coins were melted. Few specimens survive today.

Edward III made a second attempt to introduce a gold coins in England with the florin or "double leopard," struck only in 1344. Edward hoped the coin would become a monetary standard for all of Europe, not just England. However, problems were encounted--the opposite of those experienced by Henry III--Edward's coins were over-valued and unacceptable to merchants. The florins were recalled, melted, and used for Edward's second, much more successful attempt at an English gold coin: the noble.

Edward's noble was the first gold coin to be produced in any quantity in England. The coin was a great success, and thousands were minted, giving numismatists today about 20 different varieties from which to choose. Smaller gold denominations--the half noble and quarter noble--completed the monetary reform. The gold noble was to be the standard English denomination for the next 150 years.

The Enduring Noble, 1377-1467

In "Annals of the Coinage of Great Britain and its Dependencies", Rogers Ruding describes the obverse of this noble in graphic detail.

"The king, armed and crowned, [is] standing in a ship, which has a streamer at the mast-head with St. George's cross. A naked sword in his right hand, and in his left a shield bearing the arms of France (semé-de-lys) quartered with those of England. On the upper part of the side of the ship are lions passant guardant, towards the left, and fleurs-de-lis, alternately. Under these two tiers of ports, the lower of which has four projecting spikes, placed alternately with the ports."

Ruding believes this coin was struck to commemorate the decisive English victory over the French in 1340. He takes issue with those who believe differently and uses Ville d'Eu town records and French historians to support his argument.

"These ports, or openings, if such, are equally proper for arrows and other missiles as cannon, which, though not mentioned in the accounts of the naval and signal victory (1340) hereby commemorated, was used by the English with great success the year before. 'Robert Lord Morley, with the fleet under his command, destroyed eighty ships in the ports of Normandy, burnt Treport, and some places in the neighborhood. It was at this time (1339), and in the attack of Ville d'Eu, that (the records of this town, and from the French historians, observe) cannon was first used by the English.' [Carte, History, vol ii. p. 433] It is certain that gunpowder was known and used long before: Rogeri Bacon Opus Majus, Jebb, Lond. 1733, fol. Præfatio; and artillery also, according to Mezeray, Etat de la France, as early as 1318. So that it must have been from ignorance of the records of Ville d'Eu, that he and other historians after him relate that the English first taught the French the importance of cannon at the battle of Cressy (1346), as they had done that of the cross-bow 147 years before. A MS. describing the mode of sea-fights with missles, written temp. Hen. IV., is in the British Museum."

Ruding's description of the reverse is not quite as venturesome.

"In a double tressure of eight arches with trefoils in the outward angles, a cross fleury voided. Over each limb of the cross a fleur-de-lis. In the quarters the lion of England under a crown. In the centre a rose of four leaves, pointed with as many trefoils saltirewise, including the letter E."

value 6 shillings 8 pence (80 pence), wt. 7.80 grams
Richard II (1377-1399), Calais Mint
Henry V, 1413-1422

Henry VII, 1485-1509

Henry VII, the first of the Tudors, became King of England in 1485 by defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. His marriage to Elizabeth, elder daughter and heiress of Edward IV, terminated the civil conflict known as the War of the Roses by uniting the Lancasters and Yorks ("the red and white roses").

In 1489 Henry VII directed Lord Giles Daubaney and Bartholomew Reed, joint Mint Masters of the Tower Mint, to strike a magnificent new gold coin, double the size and weight of the noble (or "ryal") that had circulated in earlier reigns. As suggested by the design, which showed the King enthroned in majesty, the new coin was called a "sovereign." The first regular-issue sovereign was of standard fineness, weighed 240 grains and was valued at 20 shillings. The mintmark was a distinctive five-pointed device known as a "cinquefoil." Four specimens are thought to exist: one in the British Museum, one in a Scottish museum, one in a private collection in Belgium, and the one in this collection.

Henry VIII, 1509-1547

The first gold coinage of Henry VIII, struck in 1509 under an indenture with Lord Mountjoy, Master of the Mint, was of standard 23.5kt fineness. In 1536 Henry increased the stated value of English gold coinage by 10 percent, without changing the weight or gold content. Thus, instead of having a value of 20 shillings, a sovereign suddenly was valued at 22 shillings. In 1544 Henry continued debasing the coins to help finance the Court's inordinate extravagances. Gold content was reduced to 23 karats, then to 22, and finally to 20, the lowest state of degradation ever reached in England.

Two general types of sovereigns were struck during the reign of Henry VIII. The first was similar in almost every detail to those struck by Henry VII, with only a telltale lis mintmark on the obverse and an arrow on the reverse. The second sovereign type shows a fat and aged King Henry VIII with a flowing beard.

Edward VI, 1547-1553

Edward VI, the only son of Henry VII, was 9 years old when he succeeded to the throne upon the death of his father in 1547. Because of his young age, Edward's reign was under the protectorship of his uncle, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset. The boy-king was a frail child, but was given a strenuous education in Latin, Greek and French. He died in 1553 at the age of 15.

Edward's coins show him both as a young boy and as a teenager. In general, his coins were debased from 23 1/2 kts to 22kts. Those struck by the Tower Mint show a barrel (or "tun") as a mintmark, representing the last syllable of the name of the mintmaster, Throgmorton.

Mary I, 1553-1558

Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was the first English queen to reign in her own right. A precocious child, she was fluent in Latin and studied Spanish, Italian, and French. After she became Queen, Mary desperately sought a husband who would love her and with whom she could produce an heir to the throne. But this was not to be. Her eventual marriage in 1554 to Philip II of Spain was an unhappy alliance both personally and diplomatically. He demanded that he be given the title "King of England," which demands Mary granted. However, he was never crowned, for Parliament refused to give its consent. Philip was a king in name but not in function. Indeed, he had little interest in England and no real love for Mary. His overriding concerns were to maintain the supremacy of Spain in Europe and to bring about the triumph of Catholicism over the Reformation.

Mary had an indenture made with Thomas Edgerton and Thomas Stanley to restore her gold coins to the old standard of 23kts. Many of her coins, including the fine sovereign and the ryal, are extremely rare, particularly in the superb condition these specimens exhibit.

Sovereign of 30 value 30 shillings, wt. 14.84 grams.
1553-1554, Tudor rose reverse, Tower Mint, EF
The reverse inscription translates as "This is the Lord's doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.

Elizabeth I, 1558-1603

Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, succeeded to the throne following the death of her half sister, Mary. From the beginning, Elizabeth possessed both a scholar's mind and a sharp instinct for politics. Her reign has been described as "the most colorful and splendid in English history." It saw the foundation of the British Empire; the power of Spain challenged on the seas and finally broken by the defeat of the Armada; the flowering of the Renaissance and the work of Shakespeare; and the transition from the medieval twilight to a more progressive age.

Elizabeth continued to strike some gold coins of beautiful design in the fineness standard established by Henry VII and Mary. But in other instances, she reverted to the debasement practiced by Henry VIII, lowering the gold content to 22kts.

Half Crown value 2 shillings 6 pence, wt. 1.40 grams

Milled Issue (1561-1570), London Mint, EF+

An exceedingly rare Elizabethan milled half crown. The public disliked such a small coin with such a high value, so very few pieces were struck.

James I, 1603-1625

When Elizabeth died without heirs in 1603, James VI of Scotland was crowned King James I of England. The son of Mary, Queen of Scots, his lineal claim to the throne arose from the fact that he was the grandson of Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII.

On October 20, 1604, a proclamation was issued ordering the title of "King of Great Britain, France and Ireland" to appear on all coins. Crown gold (22kt) was to be used exclusively, except for the ryal. The gold coins struck during James I's reign include some of the most intricate and beautiful in the entire hammered series.

An interesting feature of the Jacobean coins is the commemoration of the union of the crowns of England and Scotland by virtue of James' ascension. Examples include extending and altering the royal titles to include designation of James as "King of Scotland" as well as "King of England", placing a Scottish lion rampant in the coat of arms; striking a denomination called a "unite", and adding Latin legends which lauded the King for "uniting Scotland and England." Thus, the reverse of the half laurel carries the Latin Henricus rosas regna Jacobus ("Henry united the roses, James the kingdoms"). And the laurels and unites carry the legend Faciam eos in gentem unam ("I will make them one nation"--Ezek. 37:22).

 Rose Ryal value 30 shillings, wt. 13.73 grams

2nd Coinage (1605-1606), London Mint, VF+
James I sits enthroned on this ornate obverse.

Charles I, 1625-1649

The reign of Charles I was beset by strife and contention, finally resulting in the Civil War that temporarily eliminated the monarchy. Under pressure, Charles signed a declaration that he would "preserve the Protestant religion, the known laws of the land and the just privileges and freedom of Parliament." This statement, which came to be known as "the Declaration" was inscribed in abbreviated Latin on the reverse of certain "Declaration unites": RELIG: PRO LEG: ANG LIBER: PAR.

Charles retained Sir Edward Villiers and Sir William Parkhurst as masters of the mint. He also introduced many new coin legends to replace those in use since the time of James I. Most of these legends ("the love of the people is the King's protection"; "God protect his worshipers") are indeed ironic, given the fact Charles' life ultimately was ended by his being beheaded.

Bust Styles and Die Varieties

The sovereigns of Charles I include numerous minor differences in the king's portrait. Points of variation occur in the king's crown, neck ruff, beard and robe. This coin series, like most others in the English hammered gold series, is complicated further by the fact that individual die varieties exist for each bust style.

Triple Unite value 60 shillings, wt. 421 grains
1643, Declaration reverse, Oxford Mint, VF+
The largest hammered gold coin ever produced in England, the coin shows the king holding an olive branch and sword, indicating his willingness to embrace peace or war in the English Civil War.

Charles II, 1649-1685

In 1649, Charles I was tried for treason and beheaded. Two years later, his son Charles II sought to overthrow Oliver Cromwell, but was defeated and forced to flee to the Continent. However, following the death of Cromwell and the demise of the Commonwealth, Charles II was invited by the people of England to return as their king in 1660.

Two events of historic importance for numismatics occurred during Charles II's quarter-century reign. The first was the ceasing of hammered coins in 1662; all coins struck thereafter were "milled," meaning they were struck by machine rather than hand. This allowed all of the coinage of the realm to be standardized in size, weight, fineness and value.

The second event was the introduction of the "guinea." Named for the region in Africa from where the gold was imported, the new denomination became the most utilized and internationally familiar English coin for the 150 years, through the reigns of eight kings and queens.

The Roettier family continued to be a major presence at the Royal mint, with John (1631-1700), James 1663-1698) and Norber Roettier (1665-??) all serving as royal engravers for five different monarchs during the so-called "Roettier era."

Unite value 20 shillings, wt. 9.06 grams
Hammered coinage (1660-1662), London Mint, EF
The unite was replaced by the one guinea coin.

James II, 1685-1688

Upon the death of Charles II on February 6, 1685, his younger brother, the Duke of York, succeeded to the throne as James II. James had served with distinction in the English navy and had been appointed Lord High Admiral. As head of the navy, he improved its organization and created a permanent and professional body of naval officers. His royal title of Duke of York was memorialized in America by the naming of New York City in his honor.

James was a devout Roman Catholic. As king, he angered many of his subjects by favoring Catholics in his appointments and policies. However, his Protestant subjects accepted him because they expected that his Protestant daughter Mary would succeed him. The birth of his son and heir in June, 1688 raised the prospect of permanent Catholic rule. It was this fear that incited the bloodless "Glorious Revolution," the invasion of England by William of Orange, ruler of the Netherlands, who had married Mary in 1677. Encouraged by the Protestant English, William and his army of 14,000 met no real resistance. James thereupon fled to France and spent the rest of his short life in exile.

Jan Roettier was the designer/engraver of the James II guinea, which was produced on the mill and screw machinery of Pierre Blondeau. They generally are similar to the coins of Charles II, except that the head faces left. The reverse depicts (clockwise from top left) the shields of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, each topped by a crown and separated by scepters. Since the reign of James II was one of the shortest in English history, his coins are quite scarce in comparison with those of other reigns.

Five Guinea value 100 shillings, wt. 41.69 grams
1688, London Mint, AEF

Cromwell and the Commonwealth

The English civil war was a period of unrest and upheaval. On February 6, 1648, the House of Commons determined that the House of Peers was "useless and dangerous" and ought to be abolished. In keeping with this thinking, the Commonwealth ordered Sir Robert Haley, Master of the Mint, to strike new coinage. Haley found the design and inscription to be unacceptable and he refused to comply. He was quickly removed from office. Aaron Guerdain then was appointed Master and proceeded with the minting as directed.

All the gold coins produced by Guerdain were struck in crown gold of 23 1/2kts. The obverse features a shield with St. George's cross, a sprig of laurel to the right and a palm to the left. To avoid any signs of popery, the inscription "The Commonwealth of England" and all other legends were in English, The Commonwealth gold coins generally are considered to be the ugliest in the English gold series.

In 1656 and again in 1658, the Mint struck a few 20-shilling pieces with Cromwell's bust on the obverse and a crowned shield on the reverse. Engraved by Thomas Simon, this coin's Latin legend proclaimed Cromwell to be the "Protector of the Republic of England, Scotland and Ireland." But Cromwell dissolved the Parliament after 16 days because it would not submit to his authority. When he died in 1670, the Commonwealth soon followed suit.

Unite value 20 shillings, wt. 9.08 grams

1653 (one-year type), London Mint,

William III and Mary II, 1689-1702

James II, though himself a Catholic, had two Protestant daughters, Mary and Anne. Mary the older and the first in line to succeed her father, married William of Orange, ruler of the Netherlands, but was still in line to become Queen. However, in 1688 she was displaced when a son was born to James. The Protestant English thus were faced with the possibility of permanent Catholic rule. With this prospect, they encouraged William and Mary to displace James. Accordingly, William crossed the channel with an army of 14,000 and invaded England in 1688. James was allowed to flee to France, thus avoiding bloodshed, and giving rise to the designation of the historic event as the "Bloodless" or "Glorious" Revolution. William forthwith summoned Parliament, which declared Mary and him co-rulers of England and Scotland, as had been expected. In 1689 it passed the Bill of Rights, which banned Roman Catholics from the throne and made it illegal for a monarch to suspend laws, keep an army or levy taxes without Parliament's consent.

As with the case of James II, the issues of William and Mary were engraved by Jan Roettier and produced by Pierre Blondeau on a screw press. They are the only English coins to show the profiles of two monarchs. The reverse shows a garnished shield, with the arms of England and France in the first and third quarters, Scotland in the second and Ireland in the third, topped with a large crown. In the center is a new and significant device: an escutcheon bearing the rampant lion of Orange, identifying the monarch as being of the House of Orange.

Five Guinea value 100 shillings, wt. 41.60 grams
1694, London Mint, EF

Anne, 1702-1714

Anne, the second daughter of James II and younger sister of Mary, succeeded to the throne upon the respective deaths of her sister Mary and William III. John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, a preeminent general of his day and direct ancestor of Winston Churchill, was one of her closest advisors, a power behind the throne. Her reign saw the union of England and Scotland, the establishment of a general post office, and the founding of the nation's first daily newspaper. Out of 22 pregnancies, Anne bore only one child who lived past infancy, and he died at age 11 in 1700. Thus, the Stuart dynasty expired.

Gold coins struck during Anne's reign are similar to those of the four prior monarchs in that they were struck to the same specifications. However, the style of the coins changed significantly when Johan Croker, a German, became chief engraver. The modest queen objected to being represented with bare neck and chest as her predecessors had been and therefore Croker's portrait depicts her with draped shoulders. With the union of England and Scotland, the English leopards and the Scottish lion were joined on the reverse in both the top and bottom shields, with the arms of France to the right and those of Ireland to the left.

An interesting sidelight is that Sir Isaac Newton, one of the most brilliant scientists of all time, served as Anne's mintmaster. Newton introduced several new technological innovations that greatly improved the minting process.

Five Guinea value 100 shillings, wt. 41.75 grams
1706, London Mint, EF+

George II, 1727-1760

George II, the only son of George I, succeeded to the throne upon the death of his father in 1727. Born in Hanover, he was almost as German as his father, who actually was not even able to speak English when he first became king.

In 1741, the death of the Emperor Charles VI brought on the War of the Austrian Succession. George II, as a Hanoverian prince, took the side of Maria Theresa and placed the safety and interest of Hanover above those of England. Though a weak king, George was the last British ruler to lead troops on the battlefield. During his reign, the Seven Years' War laid the foundation of the British Empire in India and Canada.

Under George II, all hammered gold coins were called in and declared to be no longer current, having been diminished by filing, clipping and wear over the years. As to milled coins, there was an all too frequent practice of filing the edges of milled money and then imitating the reeding with a file. In 1739, new dies were made for every denomination of coin that used curved lines on the edges, making the much more difficult to imitate than reeded edges.

Five Guinea value 100 shillings, wt. 41.90 grams
1753, "Old head", London Mint, AU
Engraved by Johann Tanner, this was the last time this denomination was struck.

George III, 1760-1820

The 60 year reign of George III was second only to that of Victoria as the longest in British history. George III was the last king to rule the English colonists in America. During his reign, the Declaration of Independence was signed, the Revolutionary War was fought and won, and the Constitution was adopted. This was also the period of the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars and the Industrial Revolution.

George III's reign was of special significance for numismatics because the last guinea was struck while he was king and the Royal Mint was moved from the Tower of London to Little Tower Hill. The new mint was fitted with steam-driven machinery supplied by Boulton and Watt, making it the most advanced minting facility in the world.

One Guinea wt. 8.39 grams.
1761, 1st head, London Mint, EF

George IV, 1820-1830

George IV, eldest son of George III, was a naturally gifted child, schooled in the classics and with a well-developed taste for music and the arts. He served as Regent for his father during his incompetence from 1811 until the latter's death in 1820. But George IV's dissipation and profligacy destroyed his effectiveness as a ruler. He lowered the prestige of the royal family and is considered to have been one of the least successful monarchs.

No 5-pound coins were issued for circulation during George IV's reign, though 150 proof 5-pound pieces and 450 2-pound pieces were struck in 1826. The reverse features an ornate shield encompassing smaller shields representing England, Scotland and Ireland, plus the Hanoverian inescutcheon.

Five Pounds wt. 39.94 grams.
1826, London Mint, Proof

William IV, 1830-1837

William IV, the third son of George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, succeeded his older brother George IV upon the latter's death in 1830. William was then 66 years of age and was known as "the Sailor King" because of his service in the British navy when he was young. He was well-meaning and conscientious, but his timidity and irresolution drove his ministers to despair. Nevertheless, two significant political accomplishment occurred during his reign: the Reform Bill of 1832 and the abolition of slavery.

All of William's gold coins feature a profile of the king engraved by William Wyon. They are also all excessively rare.

Five Pounds wt. 37.19 grams.
1831, London Mint, Proof
One of eight known presentation pieces.

hammered gold coin milled gold coin

Una and the Lion

The 5-pound gold coin colloquially known as "Una and the Lion" is considered to be one of the most beautiful English coins ever minted. Shown on the obverse is the so-called "Young Head" of Queen Victoria. The reverse likewise pictures the young queen, this time leading the British lion forward into the arena of world events.

"Una" was the first official pattern and first proof coin minted in Victoria's long reign (1838-1901), and it received nothing but praise when it was first introduced. The design was described as being "most attractive" and "stately," with the standard of workmanship and strike "beyond improvement." The coin was included in the official Royal Mint proof sets for 1839, though it technically is considered a "pattern." The shield-shaped carrying case included 14 other proof coins of varying denominations.

Despite the praise for the coin's beauty, the design was considered to be "too medallic" for regular-issue coinage and the relief too high for business purposes. Patterns were struck in gold, silver, white metal, tin, copper, pewter and aluminum; the coin was not accepted and never circulated. Several major varieties are known, based upon differences in edge lettering, the design of the hair ribbons, and a misspelling on the reverse. There also is a silver pattern crown of the same design. Most specimens remain in the proof set case in which they were originally issued, along with the other 14 proof coins of 1839.

Denomination: 5-pounds, though no denomination is noted on the coin

Metal: 23kt gold, patterns struck in several other metals
Weight: 38.7 to 39.3 grams
Diameter: 37mm
Mintage: 400 pattern proofs
Value: The coin rarely comes up for sale, but usually sells for at least $50,000 when it does appear.


The coin's obverse shows Victoria as "a lovely young girl, her hair bound across the top with two fillets, or headbands, and caught into a graceful bow at the back." Known as the "Young Head" design, the same portrait was to grace British and Empire coins for the next three decades.

Engraver Wyon said he was trying to capture Victoria's "spontaneous youthful charm and at the same time create an excellent likeness." Most critics agree he was successful:

    "The graceful arrangement, character and expression of the whole bust; its breadth and softness; the perfect youth, yet sweetly defined womanhood, of the feature; and the exquisite delicacy of the line connecting the cheek and neck; and the surpassing beauty of the lower part of the face and lip, strike us as a combination of excellences where all the truth of nature is displayed in all the perfection of art."

The 20-year-old Queen was described as "young, chaste and beautiful" when she posed for Wyon's classic design.

D.G. "Dei Gratia" (By the Grace of God)
This royal title dates back to the 8th century and has been used consistently by all monarchs since Henry II in 1172. It implied the king was set apart by God (rex et sacerdos) and ruled by Divine Right. This principle clashed with that of Parliamentary Supremacy during the English Civil War, 1643-49.

F:D: "Fidei Defensor" (Defender of the Faith)
This controversial title was conferred on Henry VIII by Pope Leo X as a reward for a book Henry wrote condemning the heresies of Martin Luther. Later popes and kings variously confirmed, withdrew or ignored the title; Parliament both passed and repealed laws demanding its use on the nation's coinage. Since 1953, the title is mandated for the coins of England. Canada, Australia and other nations in the British Commonwealth may use the title if they so choose.
Interestingly, the "Fidei Defensor" title rarely was used on coronation medals, occurring only on those of Edward VI, George IV and Victoria.

Wyon's name appears on the truncated bust. The initials R.A. stand for Royal Academician, indicating Wyon had been elected a member of the prestigious Royal Academy of Arts in London.


The reverse of the coin shows Wyon's engraving of Queen Victoria, at this date a young woman of 20. She is depicted as Una, or "Truth," so-called because truth is one. Una was the principal character in Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene, written between 1590 and 1611. The lion she is leading also played a part in Spencer's work, and is generally thought to represent the British lion. Other interpretations suggest the Lion is standing by the Queen, indicating the British people's acceptance of their new leader.

"DIRIGE DEUS GRESSUS MEOS" (May God Guide My Footsteps)
The Latin motto might have been Queen Victoria's personal prayer, although others have considered the legend to be a cry for help rather than a pious wish. The word DIRIGE is misspelled on one variety as DIRIGIT.

The Una and the Lion 5-pound pattern coins were struck only in 1839.

Latin Legends
The wording on both the obverse and reverse is in Latin, as is Queen Victoria's coronation medal. The coin's engraver, William Wyon, preferred English legends as demonstrated by his engraving of the coronation medal for William IV. But Wyon's artistic rival and jealous boss at the Royal Mint, the irascible Italian artist Bendetto Pistrucci, had engraved Victoria's coronation medal in Latin and wanted a Latin motto on her coin as well. Thus, despite his enthusiasm for placing English wording on English coinage, Wyon had no choice but to use the detested neoclassical Latin on the Una coinage, the last English coin to bear a Latin motto.

Coin Dies

Shown here are one set of obverse and reverse dies engraved by William Wyon and used in striking the "Una and the Lion" coin in 1839. The coins were minted on steam-operated coins presses in the Tower Mint in London.

There are two obverse die variations of the 5-pound coin, based upon the spelling of DIRIGE. The three reverse varieties are dependent upon the pattern of the queen's hair ribbon (fillet).

Notice the obverse die has been damaged at the 6 o'clock position. This break in the die would have resulted in a raised area, or "cud" on the coin's rim. The damage has rendered the die unusable. None of the Una dies have ever been allowed outside of London before appearing in this exhibit.

Dies and tooling from the British Royal Mint Collection.

Steel reverse die for "Una and the Lion" 5-pound piece of 1839 (Hocking 1139).

Edge Lettering Collar

The three-part "collar" used to hold the coin during striking contained lettering that imparted a message in relief on the coin's edge. Each segment contained a different part of the motto. The message was highly complimentary to the Queen: DECUS ET TUTAMEN ANNO REGNI TERTIO "An ornament and a safeguard in the third year of reign".

Four different edge types are known: "large letter," "small letter," "plain," and "milled." These were coupled with the two obverse dies, three reverse dies and the variety of metals used for planchets, resulting in many different varieties of pattern coins.

George VI, 1936-1952

Elizabeth II, 1952-present

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