If ever there was a “love-him, hate-him” statesman figure of the 20th century, Sir Winston Churchill would have to be at the top of an esteemed list of candidates.
Tainted in the memories of many for his involvement in the catastrophic Gallipoli campaign, and later revered as one of the generation’s greatest Statesmen for his steadfast leadership during the brutality and isolation of the Second World War. And who could forget some of the best (and gruffest!) one-liners of any politician on record?
Regardless of one’s current views on Churchill’s place in history, he was, without question, a unique individual in terms of both personality and accomplishments. Equally unique, upon his death in 1965, was the numismatic tribute accorded him.
In September of this same year, Lady Churchill – the former Prime Minister’s widow – visited the Royal Mint and struck the very first Churchill Commemorative Crown, a large copper-nickel coin of 38.6 mm. To today’s observer, the coin appears unusual on a number of fronts. Firstly – and as is the trend with 20th century English coinage – no country name is depicted on the coin. Nor is there a denomination, which often leads to the misconception that the issue is some sort of commemorate medallion, rather than the legal-tender coin of One Crown (Five Shillings/25 Pence) that it actually is.
Most notably, with the release of the hugely-popular memorial issue, Winston Churchill became the first-ever “commoner” to appear on a legal-tender English coin, together with a reigning Monarch. This, together with the rare personal attendance of the Queen at his State funeral, effectively illustrated both the fondness for, and important legacy attached to the life and leadership of Churchill.
Just over 9.6 million examples of the Crown were eventually struck, together with a handful of rare “VIP” presentation strikings. This is not an excessively-large number, when one considers that a reported 350 million people in Europe alone watched the funeral procession on television, while England’s own then-population of 52 million could have (and, to a great extent, did) absorb this unique, widely-distributed mintage. What has always impressed me, as both a dealer and collector, however, is the remarkable pervasiveness of these coins. To this day, we encounter them on an almost daily basis, and rarely have less than 10 or 20 examples in deep-inventory at any given time. Indeed, I often – not intentionally unkindly – refer to the Churchill Crowns as “one of the world’s most interesting and cheapest” coins, usually retailing at a dollar or less. This is very likely due to both their retention as commemorative “collectibles” – as opposed to having seen extensive actual circulation, through which many/most coins eventually see their natural end – as well as the confusion often created over their actual nature and status (i.e. is this a coin or a medal?), for the reasons touched upon earlier.
All of this may quickly change, however, for as the 50th anniversary of this historic issue has suddenly arrived while most of us weren’t paying attention, so too has the Royal Mint’s surprise revisiting of the “Churchill Crown” in the form of their 2015 Five Pound commemorative coin.
Featuring an updated, though no-less-imposing full-planchet portrait of the former Prime Minister on the coin’s reverse, this new incarnation boasts the now-standard face-value of Five Pounds, and will initially be struck once again in cupro-nickel with identical diameter to the original memorial issue of 1965. Interestingly – though perhaps not surprisingly – the Royal Mint is also making the new Crown available as part of a two-piece set, which includes the former issue of 50 years ago.
It will be most interesting to see how this might affect renewed demand for the original, and perhaps we’ll see a re-energized, secondary market demand for the coin, a full fifty years after the greatest funerary assembly of world leaders ever gathered to mark the passing of a single uncommon statesman.
Standard Catalogue of World Coins, 2014 Edition
Coins of England & the United Kingdom by Spink, 2012 edition