Until our current Queen surpassed her, Queen Victoria was our longest reigning monarch. As a result, there were three major depictions of her on UK coinage, but the story of her portraits are much more intriguing than that.
And those portraits tell a story of secrets, controversy and even death…
You probably recognise the three major depictions of Victoria on her coinage; the Young Head, the Jubilee Head, and the Old Head.
So let us start right at the beginning with the first portrait of a fresh-faced Victoria – the Young Head.
The record breaker…
The Young Head portrait was the first official effigy of Queen Victoria to be used on circulating coinage. William Wyon’s design represented a youthful 18-year-old queen.
A UK 1839 Farthing featuring the Young Head portrait
To this day it is the longest that a portrait has featured on our circulating coinage, having been issued on bronze coins up until 1895.
The Young Head effigy is considered the most favoured portrait of Victoria’s coinage, undergoing only minor changes throughout its lifespan. A variation was even designed by Wyon’s son, called the ‘Bun Head’ portrait.
The “most beautiful”…
In 1847, William Wyon created a second portrait of Queen Victoria and it would go on to be regarded as one of the most beautiful representations of the Victorian age.
A UK 1849 Florin featuring the Gothic Head portrait
The revival of Gothic culture was seen across Victorian life. This particular portrait drew its name from the distinct gothic font used for the inscription around the edge, and the intricate detail on the crown that Victoria wears is considered a numismatic masterpiece.
The secret portrait that never made it to Britain…
There’s a portrait of Queen Victoria that I suspect you’ve never seen. That’s because it was never used on a UK coin.
It was an Australia-only affair, hence the distinctly uncatchy ‘Sydney Mint Type II Portrait’ name. It even had a distinctly Australian feel, with a sprig of banksia (an Australian plant) in a young Victoria’s hair.
The Sydney Mint Type II Portrait
Victoria’s portrait was used on coins that were issued at imperial mints within the empire, but the Sydney Mint Type II portrait was only ever seen on Australian coins. First issued in 1857, it was produced exclusively on Australian coins for only 14 years.
The most controversial…
By 1887 Victoria had ruled for over 50 years and had overseen the expansion of the British Empire into the largest the world had ever witnessed. A new portrait was needed to reflect the achievements and elegance of an elder monarch.
The Jubilee Head portrait was designed by Sir Joseph Boehm and was the first to feature Victoria in her mourning veil.
A UK 1887 Double Florin featuring the Jubilee Head portrait
The portrait was only circulated for six years, partly because the public thought that the crown was balanced precariously on her head and didn’t reflect the queen with the grace that she deserved.
It’s also said that it’s a portrait disliked by Victoria herself.
The Queen in mourning…
By 1893 Thomas Brock had created the Old Head portrait. It depicted a mature Queen with her mourning veil draped over her shoulder and tiara.
Victoria’s veil had become integral to her image since the death of her husband in 1861, right up until her final years.
This is one of the most famous images of Victoria and features on the final sovereign of her reign, issued in 1901.
A UK 1901 Sovereign featuring the Old Head portrait
Of all the monarchs, Victoria’s reign seems to have captured the imagination of the public more than any other.
Every coin and portrait tells a unique story – from the Young Head which depicted a promising Queen, right through to the Old Head which represented an aging and graceful monarch.
If you’re interested…
I have a very small number of Australian 1oz Silver coins issued specially this year to mark the 200th anniversary of Victoria’s birth. It’s a coin that features Victoria’s “secret” portrait only ever seen in Australia.
Just 5,000 were issued and very few made it into the UK. I’m down to my last few, so don’t miss your chance to add one to your collection for just £125.