Everyday we’re inundated with symbols and logos, and many of them pass us by. Be it on an advert at a bus stop, on our favourite brand of coffee, or even the Westminster Collection logo that was at the top of this blog. They’re everywhere. And even if we do pay attention to them, we don’t necessarily stop and think what it symbolises – I know I’m certainly guilty of this.

But there’s perhaps nothing quite as symbolic as a nation’s Great Seal – and they’re fascinating to boot! Great seals have been around since the Middle Ages, and typically feature a nation’s coat of arms or an allegorical image, as was common practice during this era to embody political entities like countries or provinces as a Grecian-style female figure.

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Great Seal of Lower Canada. Image credit: Parliament of Canada

In centuries when few people could read or write, the seal provided a pictorial expression of state approval which all could understand. They’re used as a guarantee of the most important and solemn records and documents, such as laws and treaties.

Generally speaking, the design of a Great Seal rarely changes, only after the ascension of a monarch. It is the one thing that connects all heads of state to their predecessors and those yet to come; an eternal bond.

But a delve into the Canadian archives shows us that the Great Seal of Canada has had several incarnations, and not just to mark a new head of state. Instead, each one marks a significant moment in Canadian history.

One of the most important iterations of the seal is the Great Seal of the Province that was used from 1841 to 1867. This seal is seen to mark one of the most important changes in Canada’s history – let’s take a look…

The Great Seal of the Province of Canada

In 1841 the two major British colonies of Lower and Upper Canada, now Quebec and Ontario respectively, were brought together under a single government and economy for the first time.

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Great Seal of Upper Canada. Image credit: Parliament of Canada

It was Canada’s first move toward responsible government and, according to the Canadian Encyclopaedia, was a “26-year experiment in Anglophone-Francophone political cooperation.”

Before the merger, Lower and Upper Canada had their own individual seals. To solidify the merge a new seal was created by placing the two existing seals side by side, held together by two allegorical figures with their arms around each other’s shoulders marking the unity of the two colonies.

To complete the design, the Royal Arms of the ruling monarch of the time, Queen Victoria, was incorporated over the top of the entire scene.

Steeped in symbolism

Importantly, every element in the detailed design was symbolic. Representing unity and Canada’s ties to Great Britain, some of the key elements include:

  • Lower Canada seal: engraved by Thomas Major in 1793, it depicts a graceful oak tree on the bank of a river overlooking several ships at anchor, with a typical Quebecois town featuring a church steeple in the background.
  • Upper Canada seal: originally designed in 1792 it features a peace-pipe crossed with a sword and an anchor, bound by an olive crown. The Union Jack is visible in the upper right-hand corner, alongside the royal crown.
  • The royal arms of Queen Victoria: Victoria’s shield, held up by the lion (England) and the unicorn (Scotland).
  • Two allegorical figures: two figures embrace each other with one hand while holding up the seals of Upper and Lower Canada with the other, symbolising the coming together of the colonies.
  • Floral ornamentations: the seal is decorated throughout with the Scottish thistle, English rose, and Irish shamrock.
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Great Seal of the Province of Canada 1841-1867 Limestone Medallion. Image credit: Parliament of Canada

If there was any doubt as to how important this seal is and what it represents to Canada in terms of its history and heritage, then look no further than Canadian Parliament. Here you’ll find two original limestone carvings of the Great Seal of Province – a permanent reminder of the historic union of Lower and Upper Canada.


If you’re interested…

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The Royal Canadian Mint is known for being fiercely proud of their country’s history, consequently their most significant issue of 2019 featured the Great Seal of the Province of Canada.

Expertly struck from ten full ounces of the finest .9999 silver with gold plating to a flawless proof finish this coin really has to be seen to be believed. And because of the impressive 76mm diameter you can appreciate every minute detail of the faithful reproduction of the Great Seal.

Just 900 coins were issued worldwide and it completely sold out at the Mint. We have a few of these masterful coins remaining, click here for more information >>

I’ve always loved dinosaurs. As a child I’d be glued to the TV watching The Land Before Time and Jurassic Park, and I lost count of the number of family outings to the Jurassic Coast just so I could comb the beaches looking for fossils – I found a few ammonites, but alas no dinosaur bones!

The fact that their time on Earth remains mostly a mystery has fuelled our fascination with them for years. So, I’m sure many collectors shared my excitement when The Royal Mint announced a new UK 50p coin series dedicated to the celebration of dinosaurs. And if you’re a dinosaur enthusiast like me, I’m sure you’ll appreciate the special design details of these coins, that pay tribute to the British discoveries at every possible turn…

Dinosauria

What you may not know is that whilst fossils have been found on every continent on Earth, the study of dinosaurs actually started right here in the UK. In fact, over 50 to 60 species have been discovered beneath out feet.

The term ‘dinosaur’ that we use today comes from the term ‘Dinosauria’, which was coined by British Anatomist Richard Owen in a paper published in 1842. Owen was the first to realise that the remains of three creatures found in various locations within the UK shared common characteristics.

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To celebrate Owen’s ground-breaking conclusion, the first three creatures that led him to his discovery have been featured on a UK 50p. Issued in collaboration with the Natural History Museum each one has been expertly brought-back to life by palaeo-artist Robert Nicholls.

Megalosaurus

Megalosaurus comes from the Greek for ‘great lizard’, and at seven to eight metres long it certainly lives up to its name! In terms of its appearance it can be compared to a T-Rex and comes from the same family of large carnivorous dinosaurs that can walk on two legs.

The Megalosaurus is the first dinosaur to ever be officially named in scientific literature. It’s thought that the earliest evidence of a Megalosaurus was found as early as the 17th century, but it wasn’t until years after it was first discovered that it was termed a dinosaur.

It was in 1824 that palaeontologist William Buckland produced the first scientific description of a Megalosaurus, based on fragments of jaw and bone found in Oxfordshire. This is the first non-aviation dinosaur to be formally named.

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You’ll notice on the 50p coin that the Megalosaurus is framed by a jaw fragment, as a nod to the fossil that gave Buckland his breakthrough. Likewise, Buckland is featured, as is the year of the discovery, 1824.

Iguanodon

It was in 1822 that Mary Mantell spied a large tooth at the side of the road in Sussex, and upon pulling over realised it belonged to an unknown creature. Her husband, Geologist Dr Gideon Mantell, noticed that the tooth was similar to that of an iguana, and later in 1825 came to call it an Iguanodon. This was the second dinosaur species to receive its name.

It wasn’t until several years later in 1834, when an explosion in Maidstone revealed fragments of an ancient skeleton that Mantell could conceptualise what an Iguanodon may have looked like.

As well as distinctive iguana-like teeth, other distinctive features of an Iguanodon include its large thumb spikes, which were possibly used for defence against predators, combined with long fifth fingers capable of grasping, allowing them to forage for food. The creatures belong to the dinosaur family of medium-sized herbivores that usually walked on two legs.

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You’ll see that the 50p design credits Mantell with the discovery in 1825, and also depicts the tooth that originally sparked the naming of the creature as an Iguanodon.

Hylaeosaurus

And last, but no means least is the Hylaeosaurus, the third dinosaur to be officially discovered and scientifically named.

Out of the three first dinosaurs to be discovered, it is the Hylaeosaurus’ anatomy that we know the least about as little remains have been uncovered. It is thought that the Hylaeosaurus was a herbivorous, armoured creature, around five meters long with spikes along its back. Its name means ‘woodland lizard’ and is in the same family as the Stegosaurus.

It was again Dr Gideon Mantell who can be credited with the discovery of the Hylaeosaurus. The first remains of the creature were found in Sussex in 1832, and astonished Mantell because the discovery was the most complete non-aviation dinosaur skeleton known at the time. The discovery included several spikes and armour plates, for which this dinosaur is now known. But it wasn’t until 1833 that Mantell published his findings, and the creature was officially named Hylaeosaurus.

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The design of the 50p again incorporates important details about the discovery of the Hylaeosaurus. You’ll see Mantell is noted alongside the year of discovery, 1833, and the initial spikes that were discovered as part of the first skeleton.


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If you’re interested…

The Dinosaur 50p series has proven tremendously popular with collectors, not least because this is the first time dinosaurs have ever featured on UK coinage. That said, it’s been the Coloured Silver Proof 50ps that have stolen the show.

We’re lucky to be able to offer a select number of collectors the chance to secure the Complete Silver Dinosaur 50p Collection today. Importantly, we’ve seen precious metal sell-outs across the range, so this is likely to be your only opportunity to secure ALL THREE Dinosaur 50ps in superior Silver Proof quality. Click here to find out more >>

Whether you love them or hate them, it’s fair to say that when the Bank of England issued the very first polymer banknotes, UK currency was revolutionised. As well as refreshing the designs of the notes, these polymer versions were considered a cleaner, safer and stronger alternative.

In 2016 it was the £5 that received the first makeover, and Winston Churchill was selected to feature on the note. Jane Austen soon followed on the £10 note and now, as chosen by the British public, renowned artist JMW Turner graces the new £20 polymer note.

But it’s not only the design that makes this note special. You see, the Bank of England have described this note as the most secure banknote yet. So, I’m of course curious to see what special security features have been worked into the design of our newest banknote…

Britain’s most secure banknote

Before the revolutionary polymer £20 came along, there were over 2 billion £20 paper notes in circulation. The sheer volume of them made the £20 note Britain’s most used, and consequently most forged, banknote.

So it’s understandable that the need to make it difficult to counterfeit was at the forefront of the designer’s mind! The result? A whole host of special features that make it harder to forge and stand out from other notes in circulation.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the security features incorporated into the design:

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Front of 2020 polymer £20 note. Credit: Bank of England
  • Transparent windows – the foil in the large see-through window is blue and gold on the front, and silver on the back. Plus, there’s a second, smaller window in the bottom corner.
  • Changing holograms – the hologram beneath the large clear pane will alternate between reading ‘Twenty’ and ‘Pounds’ depending on what way you tilt the note.
  • The Queen’s portrait in the transparent window – the Queen’s portrait is printed on the window with ‘£20 Bank of England’ printed twice around the edge.
  • Foil patches – a silver foil patch contains a 3D image of the coronation crown. There is a second purple foil patch which contains the letter ‘T’.
  • Ultra-violet technology – under UV light, the number ’20’ appears in bright red and green on the front of the note, against a duller background.
  • Raised dots – you’ll find three clusters of raised dots in the top left hand corner. This tactile feature helps blind and partially sighted people identify the value of the note.

JMW Turner design

When choosing the design for the £20 note, the Bank of England were spoilt for choice. They received over 29,000 nominations submitted by the general public. And the choice to select JMW Turner makes him the first British artist to ever feature on a UK banknote.

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Back of 2020 polymer £20 note. Credit: Bank of England

The note itself features Turner’s 1799 self-portrait, which is currently housed in the Tate Modern in London. And behind this you’ll notice one of his most recognisable works – The Fighting Temeraire. This famous painting is a tribute to the ship that played a pivotal role in in Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

The final nod to Turner in the design comes from the quote “light is therefore colour”, alongside the signature taken from his will. The quote is taken from a lecture Turner gave in 1818 and is a reference to his innovative use of light, shade, colour and tone.

What do you think about the new £20 Polymer note? Let us know in the comments!


If you’re interested…

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If you’re looking for a way to own this significant, revolutionary piece of British currency, then look no further than the UK 2020 £20 Polymer Banknote DateStamp™ issue. Each DateStamp™ issue has been postmarked by Royal Mail with the note’s first day of release – 20th February 2020 – forever ensuring its provenance.

First issues are always valued by collectors and by owning the DateStamp™ issue you will be one of just 2,500 collectors able to forever mark the date the new £20 polymer banknote entered circulation. We have a limited number available, so click here to find out more >>