Britain’s Queen Victoria was the nation’s longest reigning Monarch ever, on the throne from 1837 until her death in 1901. As well as shaping an era in world history Victorian coins influenced the world of numismatics - 2,000 million coins were emblazoned with the Queen’s image throughout her 64-year reign.
Coinage used in Victorian-era Britain portrayed the Queen in three different portraits throughout her life. Shortly after her coronation a picture of a young Victoria was issued on all British coins – now commonly referred to as the ‘Young Head’. From 1847 a new version of Victoria appeared, with the heavy English crown atop her head. From 1860 onwards the Queen’s head was shown coiled into a bun – famously known as the ‘Bun Head’.
The Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 1887 a new portrait on Victorian coins depicted her older with a small crown on her head (the ‘Jubilee Head’.) This remained until 1893, when a noticeably more mature version of the Queen was depicted on all coins in the British Commonwealth. Victoria was pictured wearing a veil in mourning for her husband Prince Albert, who had died thirty years previously. This design is considered by many professional coin collectors to be the definitive portrait of a British monarch ever to appear on a coin.
For the majority of British and Commonwealth subjects, Victorian coins would have been the only place they ever caught a glimpse of their Queen. It’s probable that the majority of people in the Victorian era would never have had any currency higher than shillings and pence, and highly unlikely that they would have come in contact with paper money.
The arrangement of coins in Victorian Britain followed 300 years of the nation using the same currency – based on the value of farthings, pennies, shillings, crowns and sovereigns. During Victoria’s reign two new denominations of coinage were introduced to Britain – the two shilling piece (or florin) and the four shilling piece (or double florin).
Significant Victorian coins of the period include the sovereign, the standard gold coin used throughout the British Empire and minted in London, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. It displayed a bust of Victoria with a Latin legend that translated as ‘ Victoria, by the grace of God, Queen of Britain, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India.’
Another important Victorian coin was the crown, considered to be one of the most grandiose coins of the time. Minted between 1893 and 1900 in 92.5% pure silver, the crown displayed the ‘Old Head’ profile of the monarch. Pennies were issued every year of Victoria’s reign, but those minted from 1895 to 1901 displayed a seated Britannia on the reverse, an image which became iconic for Great Britain.