The Royal Mint year of the Sheep Lunar coin is now officially out. (Mint and Lamb go well together don’t they?)UKH15GP_-_2015_Lunar_Year_of_the_Sheep_1o__Gold_Proof_Reverse

I spent a lot of time making pictures of rams originally, as that was what they’d asked for.

“Are you aware that rams have rather, erm, large testicles?” I asked.

” I think you’ll find that most heraldic beasts are male… and often erect” came the reply.

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I avoided the subject by making their tails discretely long and eventually cropped the offending area out…

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Then came the challenge to link the ram with the British Landscape. Henry Moore’s monumental figures in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park came to mind, but it was difficult to convey this in the limited space of the coin, and I abandoned the idea.

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However, pictures of trees in the morning mist of the park made me think: hmm, wouldn’t it be interesting if I replaced the trees with the Chinese character for the word sheep? This would be an in-joke that readers of Chinese would understand, and the number of trees would make a pun on the whole ritual of counting sheep in ancient Celtic language (Yan Tan Tether).

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After a lot of alterations, involving various re-carvings of many different versions of sheep faces, horns and bodies, I spent a fun day in the Mint working alongside engraver Lee Jones to create the final piece, and in August visited again to watch the minting process. IMG_4040_eweb

Minting a proof coin involved pushing two buttons simultaneously, much like the slot machines at Vegas. A glass screen went down and the silver was transformed into a coin with a pulsing sigh. When the screen rose up you could reach in, like Willy Wonka, and pull out the warm shiny glittering coin.

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The Lady In Charge of The Machine then inspected it for marks, dust and other aberrations, and then placed it either in the good tray (like a tray of chocolates, with all the patterns facing the same way) or a bad tray (smaller, with the offending slights facing upwards this time) and pressed the good or bad button on the machine to tell it, presumably, whether it had done a good job. Then she sprayed the dies with compressed air, gave them a wipe with alcohol, and put the next silver disc in for the next coin.

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JUST like printmaking I thought!

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1oz fine silver proof lunar sheep coin

To read an interview I did for Coin World on the commission, written by Chief Editor Jeff Starck, please see here

And to buy a coin, please see The Royal Mint’s website, where it will be live soon.

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