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UK commemoratives: how are they chosen?

Started by <k>, February 26, 2017, 03:17:45 PM

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<k>

Here is a Telegraph article that gives some clues about the Royal Mint's choices for commemoratives:

New 60p coin to mark Queen's Diamond Jubilee among scores rejected by the Royal Mint

Extracts:

"The Royal Mint regularly suggests ideas for new coins to the Treasury and must secure ministerial and then royal approval for new designs."

If the Treasury likes an idea, it makes a submission to the Queen, asking if she would welcome such a proposal. If she does (the Queen is advised on these matters by the Privy Council but also occasionally conveys her dislike of certain proposals), the Queen then issues a proclamation to legalise the new coin issue.

Sometimes ministers make their own suggestions for commemoratives. The EEC 50p was the idea of Edward Heath, who was very proud of taking Britain into the forerunner of the European Union.




Another extract:

'A proposal for a coin to mark the 150th anniversary of the Football Association in 2013 was rejected due to concerns over "substantial criticism" of the FA.'

The Royal Mint and the Treasury try to avoid controversial subjects.

"The sinking of the Titanic on her maiden voyage was not regarded as an appropriate theme, as it was a 'national tragedy' ".

In addition to avoiding controversy, the Mint looks for subjects that will be of general interest to all age groups. That is, they generally wish the themes to be as "popular" as possible:

"Similarly, the 100th anniversary death of Captain Scott while returning from his South Pole expedition, was not deemed appropriate and was judged 'likely to appeal more to older audiences' ".

"A proposal to mark the 100th anniversary of George V's coronation was not found to be 'sufficiently popular' ".




Then there is suitability:

"The 100th anniversary of the birth of Wilvert Awdry, creator of Thomas the Tank Engine, was 'not regarded as the sort of theme that should appear on a United Kingdom coin' ".

Who decides what is suitable? What are the criteria? There are many people who think that a fictional rabbit was not a suitable subject for a coin, but millions disagreed. How do you weigh "suitability" against popularity? Why was Peter Rabbit worthy but not Thomas the Tank Engine?

Then there is the question of how many commemoratives to produced in a year, and how many commemoratives of a specific denomination to produce. I believe that six or so 50p commemoratives were produced, all on the theme of Beatrix Potter's fictional animals. Once the public gets used to a high number of commemoratives per year, people are liable to complain if that number is cut back in later years. Occasionally Gibraltar and the Isle of Man have had complaints when they decided not to mint their usual Christmas 50 pence.

Do you agree that Peter Rabbit was 'suitable' and Thomas the Tank Engine was not? Royal Mail issued some stamps of Rupert Bear in the 1990s, and a few people complained that he - as a fictional animal - was not a suitable subject for a stamp. Do you agree?
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FosseWay

For me, it's not so much a question of whether Peter Rabbit or Thomas the Tank Engine are "suitable" subjects for commemoratives, but rather how you make a reasonably impartial decision about which such character/author/work you commemorate. You can't commemorate everything/everyone, so the events and people you do choose to commemorate need to stand out in an objective way. What about the Famous Five? Harry Potter? The Lord of the Rings?

The further back you go in time, the easier it is to decide, in a way. Only the truly momentous occasions, people and creative works are remembered several generations after those who were part of them died. So commemorating the Battle of Hastings (though preferably on a round anniversary, not 950  ::)), Shakespeare and Jane Austen were pretty failsafe choices. But then, of course, literary figures from long ago don't appeal to everyone, so they may fail the "popular" test while Harry Potter passes it and then some.

I therefore think that subjects for commemoration should be outstanding in their field. That is not a fixed value judgement, but a relative quality, arrived at by comparing the likely candidates and seeing whether one is far and away more popular, loved, known about than the others. Take Shakespeare. There are several authors and poets from that period whose works are still fairly commonly read and performed - Marlowe, Donne, Herbert, Jonson for example - but Shakespeare is far and away the best known and most performed of those. I'm not sure that any children's author - or indeed any author at all - from the 20th century passes the Shakespeare Test, not yet at least.

<k>

Quote from: FosseWay on February 26, 2017, 05:10:24 PM
I therefore think that subjects for commemoration should be outstanding in their field...but a relative quality, arrived at by comparing the likely candidates and seeing whether one is far and away more popular, loved, known about than the others.

Again, it's difficult. Loved by whom? The lads down your local pub? Or the graduates you work with? And which fields do you include in the first place? Think of soap opera. "Coronation Street" is probably the most famous example. I don't enjoy soaps but millions of people from all classes do. Even Camilla, as in "Duchess of Cornwall", is a Corrie fan. But would anyone even think of commemorating such a popular and relatively modern phenomenon on a coin?

Quote from: FosseWay on February 26, 2017, 05:10:24 PM
Take Shakespeare. There are several authors and poets from that period whose works are still fairly commonly read and performed - Marlowe, Donne, Herbert, Jonson for example - but Shakespeare is far and away the best known and most performed of those. I'm not sure that any children's author - or indeed any author at all - from the 20th century passes the Shakespeare Test, not yet at least.

More difficulties, as you are not comparing like with like: Shakespeare versus children's fiction. And fiction in the 20th century is bound to be very different in many respects from Shakespeare's work. Why should a comparison with Shakespeare exclude it? Again, it's a very difficult subject.

There are also lots of common objects that were hugely useful for a few decades but are never celebrated - probably because we don't know who invented them anyway. Mangles and crank handles are two examples from my early childhood. Why not a coin for them? And the Queen apparently likes doing jigsaws. Oh, I forgot - Matthew Dent has already addressed that one.  :-[  Also, in the early 1960s, British housewives still talked excitedly about the opening of a new supermarket, because they were a new phenomenon. When did the first American one open, I wonder? I'm sure they originated in the USA. Before that department stores were the big thing. When was the first one opened? The Nazi program of the 1920s included their proposed banning as one of its key points - good enough reason to celebrate them.  :D

I'm not being entirely facetious here. Royal Mint employees and Treasury officials of the 1970s and 1980s would have been appalled, had they been able to glimpse a future in which six 50p coins showing fictional animals were produced in one year, not to mention the multiple sets of 2 pound coins issued in recent years. It's very hard to know where to draw the boundaries.
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FosseWay

Quote from: <k> on February 26, 2017, 08:55:36 PM
More difficulties, as you are not comparing like with like: Shakespeare versus children's fiction. And fiction in the 20th century is bound to be very different in many respects from Shakespeare's work. Why should a comparison with Shakespeare exclude it?

No, you misunderstand the "Shakespeare test". I wasn't comparing Shakespeare with 20th century children's authors, but rather with his contemporary dramatists and poets. He was not alone in writing plays and poems in the Tudor/Stuart period, but his legacy is much better known today than that of his fellows, and thus if you want to celebrate literature from that period on a coin, he is a clear choice and no-one is going to seriously question that you choose him over e.g. Marlowe.

With 20th century children's authors, I would argue that there isn't one single one who stands out above all the rest in popularity or "critical acclaim" (however you feel like measuring that). In a couple of hundred years, there may be one who has stood the test of time better than all the others, but right now, it is no more than subjective opinion that steers whether Beatrix Potter gets a coin but Enid Blyton doesn't.

Essentially I guess I'm arguing that for subjective topics like the arts in general, we should be wary of celebrating too recent subjects. It's the same problem that the BBC had when running the 100 Greatest Britons poll - the popular choices were hugely skewed towards people active in the late 20th century because people know about them more, quite independently of their relative merits to be called "great".

Objective facts - votes for women, for example, which may come up as a commemorative subject next year - are different.

<k>

I see what you mean. I'm not sure if Enid Blyton is still read much these days. Maybe upper-middle children of that era date in a way that Peter Rabbit doesn't. Of course, she still had Noddy, who wasn't human, tho one of his side-kicks is certainly offensive these days, and Noddy's very embarrassing car surely disqualifies him.  :D
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See: The Royal Mint Museum.

FosseWay

Quote from: <k> on February 26, 2017, 10:02:38 PM
I see what you mean. I'm not sure if Enid Blyton is still read much these days. Maybe upper-middle children of that era date in a way that Peter Rabbit doesn't. Of course, she still had Noddy, who wasn't human, tho one of his side-kicks is certainly offensive these days, and Noddy's very embarrassing car surely disqualifies him.  :D

FWIW I agree with you about the relative merits of Beatrix Potter and Enid Blyton, and some of the latter's text is positively cringeworthy. You are probably right about the subject matter - anthropomorphised animals are more timeless than class-conscious kids. Which goes to show what a subjective matter it is!

eurocoin

In my opinion there should most certainly be a coin for Enid Blyton although I do not know how her works should be represented on a coin.

Anyway, a coughing man in a rainsuit told me that this topic will soon be updated with further unused themes so stay tuned  ;)

eurocoin

#7
Themes that were considered for UK commemorative coins for 2014:

--400th anniversary of Walter Raleigh's 'History of the World' [Close but not recommended]

"While a well-known figure from British history, the specific anniversary in question was not judged to be of genuine national importance and the reputation of the work in question as an historical text is relatively obscure"

--100th anniversary of the birth of Dylan Thomas [Rejected]

"Dylan Thomas is regarded as one of Britain's most accomplished poets and still enjoys a popular reputation, but celebrating the 100th anniversary of his birth did not research at all well, with the subject coming close to the bottom of the results. Moreover, the success of commemorating all but the most well known of literary figures has been proved questionable in recent years."

--200th anniversary of the end of the Peninsular War [Rejected]

"The subject did not research particularly well and, with the major anniversary of the Napoleonic Wars in the shape of he bi-centenary of the Battle of Waterloo falling in 2015, it was not judged an appropriate theme".

--250th anniversary of the death of William Hogarth [Rejected]

"His cartoons still stand as an important record of their time but to a modern audience research suggests he is a relatively obscure figure and the anniversary should not be regarded as amongst the most nationally important arising during the year".




Themes that were considered for UK commemorative coins for 2015:

--Rugby World Cup 2015 (50 Pence) [Close but not recommended]

"Commercially viable but in a strong year as 2015, it was not judged as appropriate as the other themes being recommended."

-- 250th anniversary of the launch of HMS Victory [Rejected]

"Further examination of the history of the building, launch and refitting of the ship suggested that the date was not significant as might first appear"

-- 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt [Rejected]

"By no means an insignificant battle in British history but in the context of other themes, including the ongoing programme relating to the centenary of the First World War, was not considered sufficiently strong"




Themes that were considered for UK commemorative coins for 2016:

-- 400th anniversary of Pocahontas coming to England.

The theme was not chosen because further consideration by the Royal Mint suggested that the theme was not sufficiently well known and would not have resonance with collectors, "not commercialy viable".

-- 100th anniversary of the rescue of Shackleton and his crew.

The theme was not chosen because further consideration by the Royal Mint suggested that the theme was not sufficiently well known and would not have resonance with collectors, "not commercialy viable". 

-- 200th anniversary of Humphry Davy's testing the Davy Lamp. [Rejected]

More significant anniversaries connected to the Davy Lamp, such as the invention occured in previous years and were not commemorated on coins.

-- 50th anniversary of England winning the Football World Cup (50 Pence)

"Football is the national sport and the victory in the World Cup in 1966 is an event regarded with huge national pride and affection. A popular theme amongst a wide range of the sample audience"

-- 200th anniversary of the adoption of the Gold Standard (2 Pound)

"Britain was the first country to adopt the gold standard, during the nineteenth century, it became the basis for currency systems throughout the world. Was popular in research amongst Royal Mint customers, would be an appropriate theme to be commemorated on the British coinage"

-- Sporting heroes series

-- Roald Dahl (Likely one or more collectors coins)

"Associated with antisemitism and not regarded as an author of the highest reputation."

eurocoin

As was yesterday pointed out by <k>, some of the themes that were not used on coins of the UK, were eventually used on collectors coins of Alderney (e.g. Dylan Thomas and the Battle of Agincourt).

Figleaf

#9
It appears from the above that themes are chosen by "popular vote" or "focus group" and related marketing tools. I think that method is basically wrong. The popular vote is in favour of a) persons recently mentioned in the media and b) persons figuring large in school history books. Example: according to a poll organised for Dutch TV, the 10 most important people in Dutch history were Pim Fortuyn, William the Silent, Willem Drees, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, Erasmus, Johan Crijff, Michiel de Ruyter, Anne Frank, Rembrandt and Van Gogh. How many have you heard of?

The first group should be completely irrelevant. I was recently invited in the peer's restaurant in the Westminster parliament. Our way led along a gallery of statues (St. Stephens' Hall). You may assume that they were of politicians that were notable in their time. I recognised some names, ranging from William Pitt and Charles Fox (both figure on tokens) to Margaret Thatcher. However, a large majority of the names were completely unknown to me, while an important man like Wellington was missing. Those who financed the statue had an insufficient view of the historical importance of their subjects. Another example: most of their contemporaries considered Christopher Marlowe and Henry Neville as equals of William Shakespeare.

School books are a better guide to importance, but they are by necessity very superficial. Consider this one: was Aristotle more important than Alexander the Great? School history books typically give Alexander a section or chapter and Aristotle a sentence, if he is mentioned at all. I think Aristotle is clearly more important. Young Alexander was hyper-arrogant, easily giving offence and offended, given to drunken rages and a risky life. Aristotle calmed him down to the point where he became a competent military leader and negotiator (though still liable to have drunken fits.) Without Aristotle, Alexander could well have been an abject failure or murdered after a short reign.

A better alternative selection method for themes would rest on some guiding principles: exclude any theme less than a century away in order to create the necessary distance, set a framework for defining relevance (I would take elements such as influence on defining British culture and shaping history and science), let anyone be able to propose themes, but let a panel of historians without political connections make a short list, with the final choice coming from the royal household.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

FosseWay

Quote from: Figleaf on July 01, 2017, 11:43:34 AM

A better alternative selection method for themes would rest on some guiding principles: exclude any theme less than a century away in order to create the necessary distance, set a framework for defining relevance (I would take elements such as influence on defining British culture and shaping history and science), let anyone be able to propose themes, but let a panel of historians without political connections make a short list, with the final choice coming from the royal household.

I broadly agree with those criteria, except I would loosen the bold bit a smidgen. I think commemorating the life of someone who is clearly fundamental to their nation's recent history is fair enough when they die. Nelson Mandela is probably the most obvious in recent times, but earlier, Churchill and Lenin both qualify (the latter within the timeframe of the USSR, obviously, not now). The same goes for game-changing constitutional change - commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War was obvious, and it would have attracted comment if it hadn't been commemorated on coins of countries affected by it. The same goes for the Soviet issues of 1967 commemorating the revolution.

That said, specifically in the British context I don't think anyone, leaving aside royals, has died in the last 50 years who is particularly worth commemorating so soon. As for events - the only thing that came close was the accession to the EEC, which was commemorated on the coins at the time and at a couple of anniversaries, but obviously will not be relevant in 2023 at the 50th anniversary.

eurocoin

#11
Quote from: eurocoin on June 30, 2017, 09:56:37 PM
-- Sporting heroes series

The Mail on Sunday today revealed that a commemorative coin for George Best was considered as part of this sporting heroes series which was considered in 2014 for possible issuance in 2016. No such coin was issued because the Royal Mint Sub-committee on the Selection of Themes for United Kingdom Coins considered his reputation outside of football was not good enough.

eurocoin

Hereby the release of the themes that did not make it onto UK commemorative coins of 2017:

--150th anniversary of the opening of the first Barnardo's home for homeless children

"On researching this theme idea, it became apparent that the 150th anniversary of the opening of the first shelter is actually in 2020. In 2017 it is 150 years since he opened a ragged school in the East End of London. It is recommended to postpone the commemoration until 2020."

--100th anniversary of the establishment of the order of the British empire

"The OBE medals tender is due in March 2015. The Royal Mint is planning to bid for this contract. If The Royal Mint are successful in their bid, there will be an opportunity to link this theme to the Medals issue. If not, it is unlikely that without the Medals contract this theme will be commercially successful"

"The theme did not rank well in customer research and was not judged to be an appropriate theme."

--350th anniversary of Milton's paradise lost

"Product Marketing feel that this is too niche a theme to be an acquisition vehicle, and that without a great deal of marketing spend, there is nothing to suggest that this could be an acquisition tool and that, even with significant marketing spend, it is unlikely to provide a good return on investment."

------------------------------

Collectors coin:

--50th anniversary of the Concorde


eurocoin

According to a Scottish newspaper The Royal Mint opted not to produce a commemorative coin to mark the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn in March 2014. It would have featured an image of Robert the Bruce, marking his victory over Edward II's army. However, advisers feared it would not be "prudent" to produce the coin in that year, referring to the Scottish independence referendum.

It was also revealed that an advisory committee scrapped plans for a coin marking 300 years since the death of Queen Anne, with the Act of Union coming during her reign. Minutes from a 2012 meeting at Buckingham Palace state: "A crown piece to commemorate the death of Queen Anne had been proposed but, with the Act of Union being one of the main achievements of her reign and a referendum on devolution being planned for 2014, political concerns were raised."

The Scottish newspaper also obtained documents stating that the Mint decided not to issue a 50p coin for the 50th anniversary of England winning the Football World Cup as instead of a celebration they considered it an embarassement that England hadn't won it more often.

eurocoin

#14
Hereby the release of the themes that did not make it onto UK commemorative coins and collectors coins of 2018:

--50th anniversary of the death of Enid Blyton (50 Pence)

Although there were issues with the language used in the original versions of some of her books, her continuing huge popularity and steps taken to revise the language stood in favour of endorsing the theme.The Royal Mint sub-committee on the selection of themes for United Kingdom coins did however mention issues related to the holders of the intellectual property rights which the Royal Mint still had to look into.That is likely the reason that no such coin was issued.

--150th anniversary of the formation of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (50 Pence)

Recommended but not fully endorsed. There were doubts about the significance and the Master of the Mint did not like the theme.

--150th anniversary of the first Trades Union Congress held in Manchester (2 Pounds)

The theme was recommended by the RM sub committee but not fully endorsed. There were doubts about its relevance and the Master of the Mint did not like the theme.

--200th anniversary of the birth of Emily Brontë

As a possible alternative for the Mary Shelley Frankenstein 2 pounds coin.

--500th anniversary of the foundation of the Royal College of Physicians

-- The European Sports Championship 2018

The theme was recommended but there was not a huge deal of enthusiasm.

Themes that were close but not recommended:

-- 50th anniversary of the last steam passenger train service that ran in Britain

-- 100th anniversary of Stonehenge donated to the nation

-- 400th anniversary of the execution of Walter Raleigh

Themes that were rejected:

-- 30th anniversary of World Aids Day

-- 50th anniversary of the Race Relations Act being passed

-- 50th anniversary of the official opening of the first phase of building the Royal Mint's new site at Llantrissant

-- 50th anniversary of the introduction of the decimal 5p and 10p coins.

-- 100th anniversary of the English Speaking Union

-- 150th anniversary of the statue of Nelson being placed on Nelson's column

-- 150th anniversary of the opening of St Pancras railway station

-- 200th anniversary of the first blood transfusion using human blood

-- 250th anniversary of the first weekly number of Encyclopaedia Britannica published in Edinburgh.

-- 300th anniversary of the death of Blackbeard