Friday, October 1, 2010

Britain's numismatic panaroma and dilemma

I have spent the last week sorting out modern British coinage in the cosmopolitan city of London and couldn't help making some wry observations.
I discovered that apart from the decimal system of the Brish Pound coin, 1p, 2p, 10p 20p 50p and so on, the coinage of United Kingdom features a myriad of symbolic representations of the federal regions of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
Despite a national competition for designing a new coinage in 2008 with a new concept of using the British Shield in bits and parts, its pre-2008 coins merrily circulate till this day carrying symbols of the Celtic Cross representing Northern Ireland (see picture on left), the Welsh Dragon representing Wales, the Rampant Lion symbol of Scotland, and the Three Passant Lions (three lions appearing together which also appears on the British Shield) representing England. There exists a set of floral representations of these regions which I shall illustrate later.
The old 50 Pence coins feature Brittania the physical manifestation of Britain much akin to India's Bharat Mata.
However, the obverse is much staid and traditional with a bust of Queen Elizabeth II with her regnal titles in Latin as Defender of the faith with the year of issue.
Moreover, the switchover to the new coins hasn't been smooth as the British Shield doesn't have any representation of Wales; also the new coins are a post-modern artistic representation whose significance is not observed by the majority.
My take is that if coinage is drastically changed, its symbolic representation has to be made with more popular designs than modern artistic standards which is not appreciated by the common man. New coins pose problems everywhere but their acceptance is gradual and an over the time affair. Strangely, I have not come across any new coins here and many Indian colleagues I spoke to think these old coins are the only ones that exist in U.K.!
The British establishment battling recession can do little to assuage these numismatic grouses especially since redesigning the coins will drain its coffers unnecessarily. Hence, I believe it has taken no cognizance of this issue. The 2 pound coins are less controversial featuring Darwin and an ape to represent the 200th anniversary of the great man in 2009.
If we were to apply the British style of symbolic representation to Indian states, there would be absolute chaos. Imagine having twenty eight types of coins with as many symbols on the reverse of the Indian rupee. India's numismatic problems have been lessened by simple adoption of the Ashoka Chakra which is a fairly ancient symbol to arouse any modern sectarian grouses.