One of the most innovative sets of national coinage of its day (many would say they can still hold their own against some of the most innovative coinage concepts today) were the designs which came to be affectionately known as the “Barnyard” series. They are once again resurrected as Ireland issues the first of three coins in a new series of silver collector crowns.
In 1926, a commission organized to decide the themes for circulation coins of the newly established Irish Free State came into being and was headed by the poet (and later Senator) W. B. Yeats. As agriculture was still very much the cornerstone of Ireland’s economy during this time, the decision to feature animals and birds was agreed. The committee assigned an animal to appear on the denominations as follows:
- The farthing would carry the image of a woodcock;
- The half penny – a pig or a ram (the choice was left with the artist);
- The penny – a hen;
- The three-pence – a hare;
- The sixpence – a wolfhound;
- The one shilling coin – a bull;
- The florin or two shilling coin – a salmon; and
- The half-crown or two and a half shillings coin – a hunter horse.
The well-known and much-loved designs would be the work of artist and sculptor Percy Metcalfe (1895 – 1970) born in Wakefield, Englan. Metcalfe studied art in Leeds and in 1914 also attended the Royal College of Art London. Although known for his Branyard designs for the new Irish Republic, he is also remembered for the design of the George Cross in 1940, particularly the portrait of H.M. King George VI which appears on the obverse. Percy Metcalfe was also involved in the design of the Great Seal of the Realm. He produced designs for the coinage of Australia. Another well known portrait which he designed was that of King George V which was used as the obverse for coins of Australia, Fiji, Mauritius, New Zealand, Southern Rhodesia, and most especially that of the silver Jubilee Dollar coin issued from Canada in 1935.
Metcalfe’s animal designs were adopted after he won the competition which included several other well-known Irish and international artists of the day. The first of these circulation coins was struck in 1928 at the Royal Mint in London. His Bull design on the shilling and the salmon design on the florin would make the transition onto Ireland’s new decimal coinage in 1969 as five and ten new pence coins respectively. The woodcock, previously seen on the farthing, (last struck for circulation in 1959) was reprised once again on the fifty new pence coin in 1970, and the hunter horse, used previously on the half crown, was once again called into use on the new 20 pence coin issued in 1986.
With this rich history for such an enduring series of coins in use from 1928 until the introduction of the EURO in 2002, the new collector set of coins will only add to the admiration and appeal of these iconic symbols of Ireland’s establishment as an independent state. Fiscal difficulties and ECB bailouts aside, international coin collectors have always had a particular fondness for these wonderful depictions of the animals of Ireland, and I think these new crowns will only enhance and add to that fondness. With this new issue of collector coins until 2012, Percy’s name and admirable artistic efforts have come back into the spotlight once again after so many years. I hope he would be pleased with some of the attention and tribute to his timeless depictions, I know I am!
The following is an interview with Mary Kennedy, Head of Marketing of the Central Bank of Ireland’s coin and currency division.
Michael Alexander: It’s a pleasure to speak to you today about the new Metcalfe souvenir series of collector coins. So first things first, what was behind the decision to re-issue these wonderful coins?
Mary Kennedy: Firstly, I have to correct you in that we are not re-issuing the original Percy Metcalfe coins. We are issuing new coin designs as a tribute to the wonderful original designs. A Design Committee was established in mid-2009. Coin designers, Central Bank staff with expertise in the numismatic area, and a member of the Board of the Bank were represented on this committee. A number of options were considered for the theme for the Annual Mint set series and a complimentary €15 Silver Proof Coin. It was felt that the issuance of a series based on some of the iconic designs of the 1928 circulating coins would be very fitting.
MA: At the beginning of the concept for the designs back in 1926, can you tell our readers who decided on the actual animals to be included on the coins, was it the committee or was it up to the artists themselves?
MK: The committee chaired by WB Yeats decided that the Irish harp would be used as the national symbol on the obverse of the coinage and that the reverse designs would feature a series of animals important to Ireland’s mainly agricultural economy. Each of the eight denominations would depict different animals. A closed competition was organized and seven well known sculptors and coin designers were invited to submit patterns for the coinage. A prize was to be awarded to the winning artists. When the committee reviewed the designs, all identifying marks had been removed so that the committee did not know the identity of the designers. As you know, when the Governor launched the €15 Horse coin on 13 October, he mentioned that the committee chose the winning design for each denomination separately and it was only after the event that the eventual winner for each one was, in fact, Percy Metcalfe.
MA: What is the time frame for the issue of the remaining two coins, and can you tell our readers what other animals will be included in this three coin series?
MK: Well, Michael, the 2011 coin will feature the salmon, and the 2012 coin will feature the hound. In keeping with the design of this year’s coin both will depict animals and their young. It is expected that each coin will be issued in October of the respective year.
MA: And how were these new designs chosen? After all, there were eight original designs to choose from.
MK: The Design Committee were tasked with selecting a theme for a three year series. While we could, of course, have extended this series to cover all of the Metcalfe original designs, it was deemed preferable to select these three as examples of the Metcalfe series as a whole. The designs by Percy Metcalfe were chosen for their depiction of agriculture which was essential to the economy of Ireland at that time. The three designs chosen for this project remain synonymous with many aspects of Irish life today including agriculture, sporting, and leisure/tourism activities. In addition, it was felt that the numismatic community may lose interest with the series if it were extended to 8 years.
MA: If Irish coin collectors could convince you that they would be interested in acquiring the whole series, would your department consider issuing the all of the old revised set?
MK: While we have received a number of queries from the numismatic community with regard to the reproduction of the entire 1928 set, it is unlikely that the series will be continued after the three-year set is completed. However, depending on the level of interest from the numismatic world, I could not rule out the possibility of the production of a proof set in the years to come, but there are no guarantees on this front.
MA: Since the adoption of the EURO in Ireland, do you think there has been a bit of nostalgia on the part of the public for the Punt and pence coins and maybe even further for the old shillings?
MK: To some extent there has been, people of a certain age who remember the legacy currency with fondness (in particular the pre-decimal currency) would always be interested in having a memento of the older coinage to keep for nostalgia reasons. However, I do believe that as the harp, which is so symbolic of our Irish nationality, remains on our euro coinage, this continues to ensure that our national identity prevails on our currency.
MA: Speaking of the harp, it is to Ireland is what Britannia is to Great Britain, certainly as far as symbolic images for coinage is concerned. If the harp were ever to be replaced on Irish coins, is there some other national symbol which you think the Irish public would like to see depicted on their coins?
MK: To be honest Michael, I could not envision that scenario, the harp is such an integral part of our national identity. We’re so fortunate as a country to have a national emblem or symbol that anyone who sees it instantly identifies it as “Ireland” there’s no better symbol for the country I think.
MA: When designs for the new Irish EURO coins were being considered, was there ever any discussion or suggestion to retain the barnyard designs and just transition them on EURO’s?
MK: Not really. With the criteria regarding the design for the new EURO coins, this was not an option. As you are aware, each country can decide what they will depict on their own national side for the EURO coins, and as is always the case for our Irish currency, this would automatically be the harp.
MA: Getting back to the new Barnyard coins, where and when will collectors of Irish coins be able to buy one of these examples for their collection?
MK: The 2010 €15 Silver Proof coin featuring the horse will be launched on 13 October 2010 and will be on sale to the public from 14 October, at a cost of €36 per coin. An official order form is available from the Central Bank by phoning +353 1 890 307 607 or from the website www.centralbank.ie. The coin may also be purchased directly from the Central Bank’s premises in Dame Street which is easily accessible when visiting central Dublin.
MA: Mary Kennedy, Marketing Manager of the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland’s Currency Services, thank you so much for your time today.
MK: It’s been my pleasure, thank you for the interest you’ve shown in our coins!