Last portrait of the queen

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An invitation to create a portrait of the Queen is a great honour. However, the opportunity to forever capture her likeness in precious metal is something else – a royal portrait more widely seen than any other.

Although several engravers accepted the responsibility throughout Queen Victoria’s reign, some designs were more popular than others. Towards the end of her reign, the Joseph Boehm portrait was considered controversial and depicted a small crown perched upon the Queen’s head. The decision was made in 1893 to redesign the gold and silver coinage. Thomas Brock (1847-1922) was asked to create what would be the last – and perhaps definitive – coinage portrait of Queen Victoria.

This was a momentous occasion. At the time, Queen Victoria was a celebrated iconic figure abroad with matrimonial links stretching across Europe. Her daughter Victoria had married the future Friedrich III of Prussia, her granddaughter Alice was married to Czar Nicholas II of Russia, and her daughter Marie was married to King Ferdinand of Romania. In 1862, her second son Prince Alfred was elected King of Greece, although he declined the throne. Their influence was far-reaching and the new coinage would capture the spirit of the age.

The portrait Thomas Brock shared with the world became known as the ‘old head’ bust. It was quickly used on the gold and silver coin series, later appearing on the bronze Penny, Halfpenny and Farthing. This 1893 Five Pound gold coin is a magnificent example of the Victorian engraver’s art. The obverse features a realistic portrait combined with Pistrucci’s timeless reverse rendition of St George slaying the mythical dragon.

A gold Proof Set was released in 1893 to mark the first appearance of the new coinage. Only a small number of Five Pound coins were issued, and a select few were plucked from these sets. This impressive gold piece is not only extremely rare – it’s the last portrait of a remarkable reign.

1893 Proof Five Pounds

Gold five pound pieces have become increasingly more desirable over the years. The undeniable weight in your palm and elaborate designs of these five pounds, especially the more visually stunning proof examples, have created a much higher demand for these coins in the last fifteen years. Being the last design of Victoria’s long and accomplished reign, adds to the popularity of this Old Head design. Examples in the 2005 were fetching around £2000, in today’s market they regularly sell in excess of £20,000.

Other examples from this reign...