April 2005 Issue


James C. Johnston Jr. was born in the historic Oliver Pond House in Franklin, Massachusetts where he has lived for 58 years. He holds B.A. and M.A. degrees in History and is the author of several books. He has also written more than 1,500 articles and monographs in The Numismatist, Linn’s Stamp News, The Regional Recorder, and other publications.
   Johnston was a teacher in the Franklin system for 34 years and has been associated with Johnston Antiques since 1962. He is a well known appraiser of antiques, books, fine arts, stamps, and coins. He is a founding member of the Massachusetts Suburban Antique Dealers Association, a member of the American Numismatic Association, and the American Philatelic Society. He has also been President of the Franklin Historical Society since 1985.

    Johnston is also a well known lecturer whose topics cover a wide range of social history, antiques, coins, stamps, and the fine arts, as well as, politics and political and military history.


Victoria Regina ...by James C. Johnston Jr.

In 1898, British Canada issued a Christmas stamp that showed a map of the world dominated by the color red. It indicated the lands of the huge British Empire and was captioned, “We Hold a Vaster Empire Than Has Been.”

It was a simple statement of fact that was demonstrated by the billions of coins and stamps issued picturing Victoria, Queen of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, Empress of India, and ruler of the colonial empire beyond the seas.

Victoria came to the throne in a rather round-about way. Her uncle, George IV, a wife abusing cad and bounder, died without an heir in 1830. The throne then passed to his brother, who ruled as William IV for seven years. Although he had several children, none of them were born in holy wedlock. None of them could therefore inherit the crown.

In 1837, William died almost un-mourned and was succeeded by his late brother, the Duke of Kent’s daughter, Victoria. Victoria was something new. She embodied middle class virtue, which had been unknown to English rulers since the reign of her grandfather, George III. She was also the first woman to reign over England since Queen Anne’s death in 1714.

Victoria’s uncle Ernest thought that he should be king of England, the empire, and Hanover. Hanover, which had been united to England since 1714, had the Salic Law which said that no woman could rule. Ernest went off to Hanover as king. The English were pleased to see this latest of George III’s randy sons out of England. In fact, a medal was struck showing him on a horse off to Germany, galloping at full tilt. The words, “Off to Hanover,” reflected England’s joy to be rid both of him and his Germanic state.

Sir William Wyon, president of the Royal Academy designed “The Young Head” which graced Victoria’s coinage from 1838 to 1860 on the pennies and the rest of the coinage until 1887. In that year, the older Jubilee head was adopted for the silver coinage. In 1893, the much older “Widow’s Weeds” head was adopted. This version of the queen’s head was used until 1901 when Victoria died in the 64th year of her reign.

One of my favorite Victorian coins is the one called “Godless Florin” or two shilling coin of 1849. It was called godless because the words “Dei Gratia” (by the grace of god) were omitted from the obverse (front) design.

The florin, or two shilling coin, owes its existence to Sir John Bowring M.P. who thought that Britain should have a decimal based currency. The florin represents one-tenth of a pound. A pound was twenty shillings. Thus the two shilling florin is one-tenth of a pound.

Parliament adopted the scheme in 1847. The florine was popular and was minted until 1970. It was the only decimal coin minted up to the time that a decimal system was adopted in 1970. The florin caught on. The decimal system didn’t catch on until 1971.

William Wyon designed the beautiful Gothic obverse of this wonderful coin. Due to public outrage over the omission of “Dei Gratia” Wyon added the sacred inscription in 1851. The Gothic lettering about the edge of this coin provided a beautiful frame for Wyon’s fantastic Gothic portrait of Victoria.

All of these Victorian heads were used in turn on the coinage of England and her many colonies. Victoria’s image was all over the world, and her name was given to an age spanning 1837 to 1901.

Her name is applied to literature, household furnishings, architectural design, manners, morals, politics, and hundreds of other objects and abstract concepts as a universal adjective.

Victoria had a strong presence even when she was in long seclusion after the death of her beloved husband, Albert the Prince Consert. She influenced the politics and social agenda of her reign as few modern monarchs brave. She had real charisma in her way.

Victoria’s children were all part of a royal web, which connected most of Europe’s thrones together through blood relationships. For example, when she felt that  little Willie (Germany’s Kaiser William II) was out of line, she would take a little journey to Germany and set him on what she saw was the correct path. Willie was in awe of grandmama, as was most of the world.

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The Canadian Christmas stamp of 1898 showing the vast world wide Victorian British Empire.

George III, Victoria’s grandfather, sired more than a dozen children in holy matrimony. This was something that most of his children could not do, but his granddaughter, Victoria emulated both his virtue and fertility.

George IV, Victoria’s oldest uncle and King of England from 1820 to 1830, had one daughter who died while giving birth to a child who also died. He abused his wife and had no other children.

William IV had many  children, but none with his wife. The “Sailor King’s” heir was Victoria, daughter of his younger brother The Duke of Kent.

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This “Young Head” of 18-year-old Victoria dominate the coinage of her empire during most of her reign.

”This Gothic style florin has the words “Dei Gratia” restored to the Queen’s titles.

This beautiful “Gothic Head” portrait of 30-year-old Victoria stirred up a lot of controversy because the words, “Dei Gratia” (by the grace of god) did not appear of this two shilling coin. This piece was thus called “The Godless Florin.

Colonial coins, like this 50 cent piece of Canada, featured the Queen’s portrait.

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This Newfoundland 50-cent coin shows a variation of the “Young Head” portrait of the Queen.

This Jubilee Portrait of Victoria was first featured in 1887 on the half century or Golden Jubilee year of her reign.

The last eight years of Victoria’s reign featured the “Widow’s Weeds” portrait of the Queen. Her people were used to seeing her dressed in mourning for her husband and Consert Prince Albert who died in 1861. Victoria’s love for Albert was well known.

The beautiful Benedette-Pistrucci “Saint George Slaying the Dragon” was featured on the reverse of the later Victorian Crowns.

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If you want to catch up with me in April, I’ll be at the Mansfield Numismatic Society Coin Show on April 3. This is the 32nd Annual Show and will be held in the Prospect Street School Gymnasium at 233 Prospect St., at the corner of High St., in Williamantic, CT. This Sunday’s show hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. This is a big 75 table show.

On April 10, I’ll be back in Auburn at the Tom Lacey Greater Worcester Show at The Best Western Yankee Drummer Inn located on Rt. 12, just off Exit 10 from the Massachusetts Turnpike. Show hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

I loved meeting you Journal readers at the shows. I’ve also enjoyed your e-mails. My e-mail is jamescj508@aol.com . I hope to hear more from you.


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