The 2018 Snowman 50p Coin
In 1979, author and illustrator Raymond Briggs gave up on words for a while. Having worked on his previous project Fungus the Bogeyman for two long years, Briggs wanted a project that would be ‘quick’, ‘clean’ and 'wordless'. So, The Snowman was born. Forty years on, The Snowman had become a staple of Christmas day tele and a favourite picture book of kids far and wide. To celebrate this impressive anniversary, the Royal Mint issued a pair of coins to celebrate the popular tale. In this blog, we take a look at the first of these festive coins.
Designed by Natasha Ratcliffe, the reverse (pictured above) features the snowman and his little friend James as they fly through the early morning sky over Brighton Pier. Reimagining one of the classic scenes from the original book, a tiny but detailed Brighton Pier nestles in the bottom of the coin. The snowman in his scarf and floppy hat takes up most of the centre of the coin with little James, in his pyjamas, tucked in on the left-hand side of the coin. Filling the sky around them, raised dots of snowflakes complete the background of the coin.
The obverse of the coin bears the fifth portrait of The Queen. Designed by Royal Mint engraver, Jody Clark, the fifth definitive UK coin portrait features a bust of Queen Elizabeth II wearing the King George IV State Diadem. This portrait shows an 88-year-old Queen with deep wrinkles around the eye and mouth areas. The Queen wears Diamond Jubilee drop pearl earrings and her chin is lifted slightly, which has been said to indicate that she is looking positively towards the future. The truncation is shaped into a sweeping curve. This portrait was introduced in 2015 and continues to be used today. The inscription reads: ELIZABETH · II · D · G REG · F · D · 50 PENCE · 2018.
A Snowy Success Story
The Snowman has become something of a household name over its forty years. It has sold 8.5 million copies and been translated into 15 languages. It has even become popular in places like Malaysia and the Philippines where snow has never fallen. The original tale has also been adapted several times. It was made into the animated film we know and love, but also has been turned into a stage show and a staggering range of merchandise ranging from quilt covers to cupcake cases and even toilet roll. The famously wordless story has also been given words by beloved children’s author Michael Morpurgo. However, the man himself, Raymond Briggs remains largely unimpressed. Sticking with the simple life, he prefers to bag a bargain: “I buy clothes from charity shops, although I draw the line at trousers.” And is flabbergasted at what some people will pay for their fancy garb: “I saw a shirt for £88! Mine cost £3.” However, he does see the value in the important things:
“They say The Snowman sold 8.5m, but I've no idea what I'm worth - and I’m not interested. I never thought about success. The fact it’s published is all I want. Middle-aged people say they had The Snowman as a child and read it to their children – it’s what every author dreams of.”
Despite its creator’s blasé attitude to material gain, the story continues to sell and delight old fans and young. It has even gained a whole new audience through the creation of its celebration coins.
|The Snowman 50p Gold
|The Snowman 50p Silver with Colour
|The Snowman 50p Silver with Colour LEP
|The Snowman 50p BU
Capitalising on the popularity of the story, The Royal Mint produced several limited edition versions of the coin. Minted in different metals and sold in different packaging, collectors can choose which version they like the look of or splash out on all four. Unlike other literature inspired designs (like Beatrix Potter and Paddington Bear) no Snowman 50p pieces were ever put into general circulation.
The 2018 Snowman 50p Gold Proof
The rarest Snowman coin available is the gold proof version. Given the extremely limited mintage of only 400 pieces, it is no surprise that The Royal Mint has long since sold out. Now, you can still get your hands on one but you might have to have seriously deep pockets. Sellers are taking advantage of the very low mintage number and the very high demand for this coin. Most have more than tripled the original selling price of £795 and some have even gone as high as the £3,000 mark. More recently, with the onset of coronavirus, there are those who are having to sell parts of their collections, and sets including both the 2018 and 2019 Snowman 50p have surfaced. These generally seem to have a price point of around £3000 but you are getting both coins for that price. The coin comes in a high-quality wooden case and is accompanied by an informative leaflet about the story and an authentication certificate.
The 2018 Snowman 50p Silver Proof With Colour
These 5,000 coins are quite the mystery. We do not know for sure how (or when) they will be sold. The Royal Mint Website explains that, “Limited Edition Presentation (LEP) refers to the number of coins presented in our [Snowman 40th Anniversary] packaging, whereas the Maximum Coin Mintage (MCM) is the total number of coins struck. The [Snowman LEP is 15,000 and the MCM is 20,000,] meaning there is an allocation of 5,000 coins available for alternative presentations.” So, that’s all we can say for now. We will keep our eyes peeled and let you know when more details have been released.
The 2018 Snowman 50p Silver Proof with Colour LEP
A beautiful piece for fans of The Snowman. The coin, struck to perfect proof quality, was then printed so that the scene appears just as it does in the picture book. The coin is protected by an acrylic block, which is illustrated with snowy hills, pine trees and gently falling snowflakes. The title, The Snowman, sits above the coin at the top of the block. Along with a leaflet of information about the story, the coin is packed into a colourful box, which is also illustrated with pictures from the tale.
Interestingly, there is a scarce 'blue hat error' 2018 Snowman coin. The silver proof coin has a printing error which has caused the snowman's green hat and scarf to be blue. An unknown number of the coins were produced with this error, making them quite scarce and collectable. Take a look at the one we found here.
The 2018 Snowman 50p BU
Embedded into its charming, nostalgic information leaflet, the brilliant uncirculated version of the 2018 Snowman coin makes a festive addition to any collection. However, you do have to remember to check whether or not the coin you are ordering will come in this presentation leaflet. As you can no longer buy this coin directly from The Royal Mint, it is now especially important. If you buy from Chards, it definitely will. Ordering from other dealers can mean that the coin may come in their own packaging, which is often a disappointment in comparison to The Royal Mint official presentation.
Meet the Designer
Taking on the job of getting the iconic snowman onto a 50p coin was a little intimidating for artist Natasha Ratcliffe. However, having worked with The Royal Mint before she certainly had the skill for the task. You may have seen her previous work in the London 2012 Sports Collection. In 2010, her Wheelchair Rugby and Handball designs were chosen to feature on 50p coins released to celebrate the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. She is also a member of the Council of the British Art Medal Society and has displayed collections of her work at both the British Museum and The V&A in London. But this didn’t stop her feeling at least a little anxious:
“Growing up, I remember reading The Snowman and sitting down on Christmas Day to watch the animated version was something of a family tradition. When I was asked to create a design for this new series, I was excited but also nervous as I know the story means so much to people and the illustrations are a huge part of that.”
But she needn’t have worried. The coin was very well received. The silver proof coin sold out on the day of its release at a rate of 1 every 2 seconds. Although, Ratcliffe can’t take all of the credit. Robin Shaw, Assistant Director on The Snowman and the Snowdog (who also worked on the original animated film) collaborated with Ratcliffe on the project. A long-time Raymond Briggs collaborator, Shaw offered a key link to the original illustrations that captured the hearts of so many.
The Original Story
"I remember that winter because it had brought the heaviest snow I had ever seen. Snow had fallen steadily all night long and, in the morning, I woke in a room filled with light and silence, the whole world seemed to be held in a dream-like stillness. It was a magical day... and it was on that day I made The Snowman." Raymond Briggs
This feeling of dream-like stillness seems to have drifted into the bones of the story of The Snowman. The story begins on a day much like the one described by Briggs above. A young boy discovers his garden has been turned into a blank canvas of snow. He merrily builds himself an impressively tall snowman, with coal for his eyes and buttons, a clementine for a nose and a snazzy, green scarf and floppy hat. Mealtime and then bedtime roll around and the boy heads upstairs taking one last look at his lovely snowman. At the stroke of midnight, the boy sees that the snowman has sprung to life and he rushes outside to ask the snowman to play. The two have a great night, playing with toys and exploring the house until the snowman takes the boy outside to show him his neatest trick. He can fly! He takes the boy on a whirlwind flight over the South Downs and Brighton Pier. After a wonderful night, the snowman returns the boy home and he heads back to bed. Unfortunately, when the boy rushes to see his snowy friend in the morning, he has melted.
With its bittersweet ending, the tale has often been used as a way to introduce children to mortality, and this isn’t something that Briggs shies away from:
"I don't have happy endings. I create what seems natural and inevitable. The snowman melts, my parents died, animals die, flowers die. Everything does. There's nothing particularly gloomy about it. It's a fact of life."
But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t see the crisp beauty in his story. The Snowman is at once a wonderfully comforting, magical and exciting story. In particular, its illustrations call to mind a feeling of nostalgia and also an uncomplicated childish wonder that shows Briggs achieved the aim he was set on when he started work on his frozen fable:
"For two years I worked on ‘Fungus’, buried amongst muck, slime and words, so... I wanted to do something which was clean, pleasant, fresh and wordless and quick."
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