The reign of George V is not the longest in history or in numismatics; the king in question just made it to his silver jubilee, unlike Victoria (Diamond) and George III (also Diamond if they'd celebrated such things back then). Numismatically, his reign is not perhaps the equal of George III, but then, whose was? However, it could be argued that his 25 years saw a wealth of numismatic interest that is as great as Victoria’s 60, or at least, not far behind.
This article will explore the coinage of George’s reign, mostly year-by-year, except when a redesign occurs over more than one year, for example the Modified Effigy of 1925-26. It will look at all currency denominations and proofs, but will omit patterns and Maundy Money. Generally, the focus will be on numismatic matters, but where other events have an effect on the coinage - the First World War, the Abdication of Edward VIII (oh yes..), to name but two - they will be referred to.
So, to begin at the beginning.
The reign opened with coins in general continuing in similar vein to that of his predecessor, Edward VII. Like Edward, the obverse effigy is a bare-headed bearded portrait with similar legend, and facing left instead of right. For the reverses, the 3 bronze denominations are identical to Edward’s, as are the threepence, shilling, and - with one minor change - the halfcrown. The sixpence is a breakaway from the crowned SIX PENCE in a wreath, used almost without exception since the time of William IIII; however, it is not a radical move, being the same design - lion on crown - used for the shilling of both monarchs. The breath-taking florin reverse of the previous reign was sadly not continued, but was replaced with a minor modification of the ‘crowned orb and sceptre’ design used for the Jubilee Head florin reverses of Victoria.
As customary for the first year of a new reign, a small number of proof sets were issued : these contained either silver and gold denominations, or silver on its own. Unlike Edward VII, the crown was deemed wholly unpopular and not struck even for the 1911 proof sets. However, Maundy Money (4d down to 1d) WAS included.
As far as varieties are concerned, there are two obverses for 1911: the so-called ‘hollow neck’ and the ‘flat neck’ varieties. The hollow neck is characterised by a pronounced ridge running down the centre of the king’s neck, on either side of which there is a ‘hollow’ area before the neck rises again slightly towards either edge. The flat neck variety also has this feature, but the ridge+hollows are very much less pronounced.
For most denominations, the two varieties occur in broadly equal quantities, but the ‘hollow neck’ penny - also referred to as ‘Gouby X’, after its designation by Michael Gouby in his book ‘The British Bronze Penny’, the first authoritative work to catalogue it - is very much scarcer than the regular issue. In 2014, an ‘average condition' example (Fair/Fine) would have cost you between £50 - £100, unless you were lucky enough to find an example on eBay that no-one else had spotted.
The second year of the reign is largely uneventful, but two things can be noted with respect to pennies. First, the Heaton Mint produced pennies for the Royal Mint, and their trademark ‘H’ - to the left of the date as opposed to underneath it on bun pennies - appeared on some pennies, for the first time in 30 years. They are not scarce - 1 in every 4 1912 pennies minted (16m as against 48m), and the survival rate is even higher as every schoolboy collected them before decimalisation. This is reflected in their values: approximately 3 times that for the normal issue, except in BU where the attraction of owning a BU ‘H’ penny makes them a bit more desirable.
The other fact is one of the “not a lot of people know that" variety. 1912 was the year when - according to Michael Freeman in his seminal work “The Bronze Coinage of Great Britain - the other subsidiary mint, Kings Norton began to supply blanks to the Royal Mint for minting pennies. They of course struck a small number themselves in 1918 and 1919, and the tiny ‘KN’ to the left of these dates makes those two particular varieties highly collectable in any grade higher than Fine. But if you have seen examples of pennies between 1912 and 1919 without an H or KN, with a characteristic red/brown colour when the lustre has gone, they are highly likely to have been struck on Kings Norton blanks, which have that hue.
To close this opening section of the George V survey, we come to a year where the silver coins - which had been struck in similar quantities to those of Edward VII - reached their lowest mintages. This makes most of the silver coins of 1913 more valuable than 1911 and 1912, especially in high grade, and such low mintages do not occur again until the mid-1920s.
However, it is pennies which once again ‘hog the limelight’, as they will do for much of the reign. The portrait of George V was always in higher relief than that of Edward, and there was tendency for such a high relief to ‘suck metal’ away from the reverse during strike, and consequently a ghost image of the portrait’s outline is often seen on the reverse, especially the pennies. The high rims used on the obverse, and the comparatively shallow rims of the reverse, did not help matters.
'ghost image' - Photo JNCoins
1913 saw the first attempt to do something about this phenomenon, and both obverse and reverse dies were very slightly modifiede in this year. (For full descriptions, see Freeman’s book). The obverse rims were reduced, and the entire legend was recut, resulting in changed ‘pointings’; the reverse was given a wider rim, and the waves below Britannia were recut, among other tiny differences. The obverse and reverse dies are designated 1, 2, A, and B respectively by Freeman. The earlier 1+A and later 2+B types are common enough. However, there are much scarcer ‘mules’ - 1+B and 2+A - which are highly prized by some collectors, who will pay a sizeable premium for higher grade examples.
It should be pointed out that the differences between the earlier and later types are not easy to spot, especially on more worn examples, and some experience (or a copy of Freeman’s book) is necessary to differentiate them.
The next part of this survey of George V will look at World War One and its effect on the coinage.