Leonard Charles Wyon

Jersey 1870 1/13 Shilling
designed and engraved by Leonard Charles Wyon

Leonard Charles Wyon, eldest son of William Wyon, was born in one of the houses in the Royal Mint in 1826. He was educated at Merchant Taylors School, which was then in Charterhouse Square on the north-eastern edge of the City of London. His father taught him art and Leonard inherited great skill in die engraving. By the age of 16 he had already made several medals and some of his early work can be seen in the British Museum collection. In 1844 he became Second Engraver at the Mint on the retirement of Merlen. He was still only 18 and at the age of 24 he succeeded his father with the title of Modeler and Engraver in 1851. At this time de Saulles was Engraver to the Mint. A title 'Engraver to the Royal Mint' seems to have continued until the reign of Edward VII (1901-10). As will be seen, the appointment was a fortunate one. Leonard's contribution to our coinage was prolific. More than this, his association with his father and his knowledge of the rather narrow artistic requirements of coinage design may have prevented him from wider flights of artistic fancy and produced a man who, born within the Mint, appreciated only that art form which was applicable to coinage. This suggestion may be proved by the story of his work. Certainly he was trained by his father especially for this type of artistry. One of Leonard Charles Wyon's designs with which people today are still familiar is the bronze Penny, popularly known as the 'Bun' Penny on account of the queen's hair style. The story of this piece is worth telling in detail, if only because the coin was still in circulation until decimalisation some 110 years after it first appeared.

By the late 1850s it was realised that the copper Penny (and its half and quarter) was now too large to be an acceptable coin in daily use. Copper was also an expensive metal for such minor denominations. It is only remarkable that it had been used at all in its pure state from as far back as 1672. During the first part of the reign the three copper pieces still carried William Wyon's fine portrait of the queen as a young woman, though over twenty years had passed since she was crowned.

In 1860 Parliament passed an Act 'to extend the enactments relating to the copper coin to coin of mixed metal'. L. C. Wyon was invited to prepare designs for the new bronze denominations. It was stipulated that on no account was Britannia to be omitted from the reverse. To do so, it was felt, would be to admit that Britain had relinquished her position as ruler of the seas, a place which she had uninterruptedly maintained on the copper coinage since the time of Charles II; though whether, in his reign at any rate, such pretensions could be fully sustained was at times questionable. Moreover it could be questioned whether Britannia, as she originally appeared on the copper coinage of Charles II, with no sea or ships in sight, had any naval significance. The knowledge of those who framed the Act apparently went back only to 1797.

The queen herself took a personal interest in the design for the new minor coinage and gave several sittings to L.C. Wyon for her portrait. The artist submitted a number of designs for Her Majesty's approval, one of which she adopted. In 1860 the first British Imperial bronze coin was struck at the Royal Mint. According to Peck it was put into circulation in December.

A pattern Penny was struck, submitted to the queen and was approved. This historic piece was destroyed by a man who should have returned it to the authorities al the Mint. According to post, for the postman opened the letter and destroyed both it and the Penny in a closet in the Royal Mint'. One would have thought that such an important piece would have been delivered by hand by the Buckingham Palace brougham, over so small a distance of less than three miles between the Palace and the Mint.

L. C. Wyon, in his desire to give a bold relief to the designs on the new bronze pieces, engraved the original dies so deeply that they were liable to fracture after relatively few pieces had been struck from them. He therefore had to start again and, after he had produced dies of less bold relief, mass-production of the bronze coinage began.

Thus the story of the birth of the bronze Penny as we know it. A large number of varieties of the piece exist among the Pennies of the period which went into circulation. They are too numerous to illustrate here but can he studied in Peck's British Museum Catalogue.

L. C. Wyon engraved the dies for the gold and silver coinage struck for the Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. This coinage, the designs for which were prepared from life by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, R.A., produced a storm of disapproval, directed particularly against the effigy of the queen. How this obverse design was passed by the queen herself is a small mystery. At least Wyon only engraved what he was told to engrave and was not responsible for the design itself.

The queen is portrayed, as can be seen, with a very small crown perched on top of her head, over a widow's veil, which would be black and which was worn out of respect for her late husband, the Prince Consort. Place your finger over the crown and there is nothing odd about the portrait: it is just that of a widowed lady in mourning. The disapprobation therefore turns upon the ridiculously small crown. This crown still exists and can be seen among the Crown Jewels at the Tower. It is said that the queen had it made and wore it on suitable occasions because she found the full-size crown too heavy. When she (and the public) saw herself as others saw her, did she, as many of us do, suddenly become aware that she was wearing a 'hat' that did not suit her?

Save for the Crown and the three larger gold coins on which the St George and dragon design appeared, none of the obverses or reverses of the 1887 Jubilee coinage contained any of the designs of Pistrucci. On the Sovereign a crowned shield of arms appeared until 1871, a similar shield appearing on the Half Sovereign until 1893. On the Double Florin and the Florin the four shields of arms, set cruciform, returned; a reversion to the design precedent of 1662. The same applied to the Gothic Crown and Gothic Florin. Otherwise shields of arms, with or without the Garter, occupied many of the reverses. In the main both the Young Head and Jubilee Head coinage of Victoria were conservative in design, except only for that unfortunate crowned bust on the coinage of 1887 and for the exuberance of the Gothic Crown and Florin.

Leonard Charles Wyon, like his father before him, prepared many dies for coinage use in various parts of the British Empire. 'Many of the dies used for striking the gold, silver and copper, bronze and nickel coins of different denominations', says Forrer, 'which were issued for currency in various parts of the British Empire after the death of William Wyon, were prepared by Leonard Charles Wyon, either from his own designs, other artists' models, or drawings supplied to him by the British and some of the British Oversea Governments.' The countries concerned included Australia, British East Africa, British Guiana, the West Indies, British Honduras, British India; the British India Native States of Alwar, Bikanir, Dwas and Dgar; Canada, Ceylon, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Jersey, Malta, Mauritius, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and the Straits Settlements.

A large number of very fine and interesting pattern pieces were also produced by L.C. Wyon, not a few of them for suggested decimal coins. His output of medals was also very considerable and he designed a number of coins for foreign governments.

One of the most unusual pieces was produced early in his career, in 1843. This is described by Forrer:

One of the earliest known examples of Leonard Charles Wyon's work was executed in 1843, when the young artist was but sixteen years of age. It bears on one side the legend W. WYON R.A. CUDI JUSSIT and a representation of the head and truncated neck of King Louis the Eighteenth of France (not William Wyon, as erroneously stated in most catalogues). Below the truncation of the neck: LEONARD C. WYON 1843, and on the other side a copy of the obverse of the Crown of Oliver Cromwell by Thomas Simon, very well imitated. This struck piece is of much interest and excessively rare.

L. C. Wyon died on 20 August 1891 but some of his designs and dies continued to be used as late as 1901.

The Controversial Obverse for the
Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887

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