In 1927, the Mint issued a proof set to commemorate… well, nothing really. There was no Jubilee, no great national or royal event. There were, however, new reverse designs for all silver coins, the first since 1911. The set contained 6 coins ranging from crown (the first of George’s reign) down to threepence. The shilling was also issued as currency, but the other four currency denominations would be issued in 1928, the old reverse designs being used in 1927. 15,000 sets were issued.
As with all regular proof sets in the post-1860 bronze era, no base metal coins were included, though it was the last time this would happen. Nevertheless, there was a change to pennies and halfpennies from 1928 : the Modified Effigy of 1925/6 was reduced in size to eliminate completely the reverse 'ghosting' problem seen since 1911. The smaller portrait allowed the legend attractively to almost completely encircle it, and the amended design lasted until the end of the reign.
The new silver designs formed a fairly harmonious group, even though some - the halfcrown, florin, and shilling - were vaguely Art Deco variations on what had gone before; the halfcrown with slimmer heraldic shield and no garter, the florin a slightly fussier but more balanced reworking of the previous ‘sceptre and crown’ design, the shilling with a more upright lion on a crown, but not surrounded by a circle. The sixpence and threepence reverses however, were both new and radical : sprigs of oak with six and three acorns respectively, plus the denomination and date, but with no royal or heraldic elements for the first time ever. It is true that sixpences had had a floral motif before - from 1831 to 1910 - but always capped with one of the royal crowns.
Speaking of crowns... The big star of the 1927 proof set was the first crown since the commemorative 1902, which had featured the oft-used Pistrucci ’St George and dragon’ reverse. The 1927 design was new : a large stylised crown surmounted by the date, surrounded by English roses and Scottish thistles, set within a wreath of shamrocks, leading to the name of ‘Wreath Crown’. So popular was the proof 1927 crown that the same design was issued annually for collectors on an even more limited basis each Christmas (except 1935) until the end of the reign; 9,000+ in 1928 but only 900+ in 1934 - this breaking of the psychological barrier of 1,000 means the 1934 fetches probably more than its comparative rarity would indicate, but also makes it a prime target for forgers.
The wreath crowns, after being a largely static collectable for decades, have now come into their own and though quite frequently offered for sale, are highly sought after. The same cannot be said of the Silver Jubilee crown issued in 1935, whose design featured an Art Deco variant on the St George & the Dragon design, often described as the ‘rocking horse crown’; this was minted in comparatively large quantities - 750,000 - and can generally be picked up in high grade for around £20-25. There are some very rare precious metal proofs of it, and a scarce “error edge” variety.
Crowns aside, the currency denominations were issued from 1928 until the end of the reign in 1936. There are micro-varieties, for example the large silver of 1928 and 1929, and the milling on the edge of sixpences after 1931, and there are also a few scarcities : the most famous of these are the 1930 halfcrown and 1932 florin, both with sub-one million mintages and very hard to find in top grades. The 1932 penny has always been collected, though by no means rare - 8m minted - and the less scarce 1934 penny which is notable for being issued with the lustre ‘mint toned’ - not dark as with farthings between 1897 and 1918, but a dull reddish colour achieved using sodium thiosulphate (‘hypo’).
Nestling between those two dates is probably the most famous British coin of all time. When I was a schoolboy - even before I became a collector - I would scan my change for a 1933 penny, as rumour had it there was at least one in circulation. There almost certainly was not! But what are the facts? No pennies were planned for that year, but a few were struck to complete sets traditionally buried beneath the foundation stones of buildings laid by the monarch. Three such sets were produced: 2 were laid beneath churches in Yorkshire and the other at the University of London. A few more pennies were struck as specimens of record for the Mint and British Museums. In all, it is thought that “six or seven” were struck, but no-one knows the precise number. One from a church set was stolen in the 70s, and the other church penny was subsequently sold to prevent theft and raise church funds. At least one of these is now in a private collection.
There is a question arising from their production though: no pennies were struck in 1923, 1924, or 1925 either - did George V not attend any foundation stone ceremonies in these years? If he did - and presumably all royal duties have been recorded somewhere - then why were no pennies struck to complete sets for them? Or perhaps they were...
There are many forgeries of 1933 pennies. Some of these have been so expertly made from a penny of another date in the series, that it is not at all easy to see it is not a genuine example, except perhaps on very close inspection. Consequently, collectors are willing to bid up to a few hundred pounds on eBay for such a fake, to fill a gap. A genuine specimen would command a minimum of £80,000 now. There is also a modern fantasy design which would not fool anyone.
The situation is complicated further by the existence of a pattern 1933 penny designed by André Lavrillier. This shows a more ‘military looking' George V, with a very slightly varied Britannia on the reverse. Again, no-one knows the precise number struck (the Colin Cooke website - which features a good photograph of an example which they sold - refers to 4 only). They appear on the market occasionally and make huge sums, as they are 1933 pennies after all! One of them is an obverse-only uniface.
The story of 1933 pennies is endlessly fascinating. Literally endless, as - like the penny variants of 1922 and 1926 - the full truth behind them may never be known.
George V, who had suffered poor health for much of his reign, died on 20th January 1936. Early in the year, yet coins of his dated 1936 are plentiful, particularly bronze; the penny - at over 150m - was the largest mintage by far until the 1960s. Why were so many minted? The numismatic story of this fascinating reign continues after the monarch’s death.
He was succeeded by his eldest son Edward, who became Edward VIII. Flouting tradition in more than one arena, he may have precipitated a minor crisis at the Mint by refusing to adopt the convention that successive monarchs face the opposite way on the coins to their immediate predecessor; a vain man, he wanted his ‘best side' to appear. This might have caused a delay in producing new coins, but eventually a complete set of designs was ready when a new issue arose : Edward refused to abandon plans to marry his mistress, the divorced American Wallis Simpson. This precipitated a constitutional crisis that rumbled on, putting on hold plans to begin minting the new coins apart from a limited striking of a new 12-sided brass threepence for testing purposes. On 10 December, Edward abdicated the throne and was succeeded by his younger brother Albert, who became George VI.
What were the Mint to do? They had continued with a posthumous issue of George V coins dated 1936. Meanwhile they had produced a complete set of 1937 designs and proofs for his successor, but in the space of 11 months this entire effort was wasted. There was a new king for whom no designs had yet been prepared, and yet the banks needed supplies of pennies and other coins. The only option available was to continue striking using George V 1936 dies. Before 1953, annual mintage figures issued by the Mint tell us only how many coins of a particular denomination were struck in that year, not how many bear that year’s date. Is it possible that a proportion of the figures for 1937 include some of George V dated 1936? We may never know, but 1936 coins are undoubtedly common, more so than some of the mintage figures suggest.
I do hope you have enjoyed this odyssey through one of the most interesting numismatic reigns; I have certainly enjoyed writing it. One final thought : George V was himself a coin collector, and it is a nice irony that the coinage of his own reign produces so much of interest.