The Gruffalo 50p Coin

Author: Victoria Toothill - Guest Writer

Published: 19 May 2020

Last Updated: 22 Dec 2022


In 1999, author Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler introduced us to The Gruffalo, a story that would become one of the most popular picture books in the world. Twenty years on, 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 charming coins. 

Gruffalo Coin BU Reverse

Reverse Design

Designed by Magic Light Pictures, the reverse (pictured above) features the Gruffalo as he was originally illustrated by Axel Scheffler. The monster himself takes up most of the face of the coin but the words The Gruffalo curve above his head. Looking very smiley for a monster, the Gruffalo grins out at us, showing off his “terrible teeth”. We also see his tusks, horns, spines and the famous “poisonous wart at the end of his nose”.

Gruffalo Coin BU Obverse

Obverse Design

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 · 2019.

A Spectacular Success Story

Creators Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler who brought The Gruffalo to life, couldn't have predicted that they would soon become one of the most successful partnerships in the world of children's books, seeing The Gruffalo sell over 13.5 million copies worldwide. As popular today as it has ever been, it's no wonder that The Gruffalo is selling coins almost as fast as it is selling books!  Understandably excited to have their work celebrated in this way, Donaldson and Scheffler had this to say:

"I can't believe it's twenty years since 'The Gruffalo' was first published... and now he's got his own 50p coin! When I wrote the story, I never imagined anything like that but it's lovely to see how the character has become a part of so many people's lives." Julia Donaldson

"When I first envisaged him, over 20 years ago, I never anticipated that my artwork would be used on a coin. The Gruffalo was born of an Anglo-German creative collaboration and it's amazing to see how his universal appeal continues to connect with families across the world." Axel Scheffler

The story follows a quick-witted mouse on a thrilling adventure in search of a nut, but he stumbles upon something far worse. On its travels the mouse finds the company of various wildlife that share little interest in finding the nut, instead trying to eat our protagonist. However, in each of these encounters the mouse outwits these predators, deceiving them into believing in a beast with horns, bright orange eyes and a black tongue; the Gruffalo. Once the mouse meets the Gruffalo, finding the creature to indeed be real, his witty comments continue as he tells the Gruffalo he is the scariest creature in the forest, and he can prove it! Asking the Gruffalo to follow him through the forest, the pair confront the snake, owl and fox ending with them all running in fear.  

Coin Varieties

Date Variety Mintage
2019 The Gruffalo 50p Gold Proof 600
2019 The Gruffalo 50p Gift Set 1,000
2019 The Gruffalo 50p Silver Proof With Colour 5,000
2019 The Gruffalo 50p Silver Proof With Colour LEP 25,000
2019 The Gruffalo 50p BU UNLIMITED

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 five. Unlike other literature inspired designs (like Beatrix Potter and Paddington Bear) no Gruffalo 50p pieces were ever put into general circulation. 

The Gruffalo 50p Gold Proof

The rarest Gruffalo coin available is the gold proof version. With an extremely limited mintage of only 600 pieces, it is no surprise that these beautiful coins are now sold out at The Royal Mint. Don’t despair though, you can still get your hands on one as many of them have already popped up on well-known websites. Most of them are reasonably priced too as sellers have added only £40-£80 onto the original £1,020 price tag. However, as always, there are some sellers who want nearly double that. So, make sure to shop around! The coin comes in a high-quality wooden case and is accompanied by an informative leaflet about the story and an authentication certificate. Make sure you’ve seen proof of all elements before you agree to purchase.

Gruffalo Gold Proof

The Gruffalo 50p Gift Set

This gift set is now the only way to get your hands on the silver proof version of The Gruffalo 50p coin direct from The Royal Mint. At the time of writing, there are limited numbers of this set still available on The Royal Mint website. The beautiful set comes in a colourful box complete with illustrations and quotes from the story. Inside, the coin nestles next to a special hardback edition of the story. The cover is stunning, with gold foil lettering perfectly complementing the vibrant green illustrations. As the issue limit is only 1,000, we’re sure it won’t be long until they’re all gone.

Gruffalo Coin Silver Proof Reverse

The Gruffalo 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 Gruffalo 20th Anniversary packaging, whereas the Maximum Coin Mintage (MCM) is the total number of coins struck. The Gruffalo LEP is 25,000 and the MCM is 30,000, 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 Gruffalo 50p Silver Proof With Colour LEP

This is one of the fastest selling coins to be issued by The Royal Mint. Just hours after their release all 25,000 pieces had sold out. The coin, struck to perfect proof quality, was then printed so that the Gruffalo appears in all his purple-prickled, orange-eyed, green-warted splendour. The coin is protected by an acrylic block, which incorporates illustrations of the mouse and The Deep Dark Wood. The quote “Oh help! Oh no! It’s a gruffalo!” sits in the top-left corner of the block. Along with a leaflet of information about the story, the coin is packed into a colourful box, which is illustrated with pictures from the tale.

Silver Proof Limited Edition Presentation in Acrylic Block
BU Packaging

The Gruffalo 50p BU

Embedded into its bright, multi-coloured information leaflet, the brilliant uncirculated version of the Gruffalo coin makes a cheerful 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. If you buy from The Royal Mint, which you can still do at the moment, then it definitely will. Also, if you buy from Chards, it certainly will and it will cost you a little less as we are selling the BU version for only £9! 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.

The Gruffalo - Even Scarier Than He Looks

Although many would argue that the plucky little mouse is the star of the story, this first commemorative coin honours the eponymous monster the Gruffalo. Taking a closer look at this character can unveil some interesting characteristics. Despite being part of a loveable children's tale, the Gruffalo is the embodiment of some rather unnerving ideas. Just as he is an amalgamation of the scariest attributes that the mouse can think of, the Gruffalo is also an amalgamation of some of our deepest fears. 

An Overwhelming Other

A stereotypical depiction of the other, the Gruffalo borrows heavily from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. He is a monster created by the impressive brain power of the little mouse. Pieced together from the most threatening parts of other animals to create a ‘super-monster’, if you will. Yes, the story is one of animals living in the Deep Dark Wood, but essentially the animals are very human. They share our fear of the unknown. As the mouse goes on his merry way terrifying the creatures with his tale of the Gruffalo, he is exploiting an evolutionary, emotional reaction designed to protect from danger. The other is unknown; therefore, we cannot know that it is safe. Although (we hope) humans have climbed a little higher on the evolutionary tree, we still subconsciously submit to our base instincts at times. Studies have shown that not only does this fear of the other mean that we exaggerate the threat that ‘others’ pose but that anecdotes about the other (precisely the weapon that the mouse and some politicians choose to use) are more convincing to us than cold emotionless facts and figures (which require time and logic to process). In this way, the poor Gruffalo becomes the horrifying symbol of a powerful and threatening other to the animals of the forest. They instinctively react rather than logically interrogating the situation to find that he is actually a very ‘human’ creature who is just as vulnerable and fallible as they are. Shown when he falls for the mouse’s tricks just as they did.

Imagination – Our Own Worst Enemy And Our Saviour

Perhaps most potently, the Gruffalo can be seen as a representation of our imagination and its tendency to escalate and exacerbate situations. The Gruffalo is not just a children’s book bad guy but part of ourselves. He’s the worry that drives writers and philosophers to this question. What is real? Something that is very real to one person can seem utter poppycock to another and something that is harmless can be made alarming in our imagination (and vice versa). Think of the tendency to procrastinate. We build up an unpleasant situation or task in our minds until it is too terrifying to contemplate tackling. So, we don’t, essentially disabling ourselves with our own apprehension! On the other hand, our imagination takes us to places we could never go and gives us the ability to create and change the world around us. It can even change us. In the case of the Gruffalo, the mouse’s imagination conjures the Gruffalo to protect him from a world of deceitful predators. He fakes it until he makes it, talking big to convince them that he is too much for them to take on. However, his imagination is much more powerful than he gives it credit for. He begins to believe in this alter ego (think Jekyll and Hyde), which then threatens to consume him entirely.

“You’ll taste good on a slice of bread.” The Gruffalo

Anything that the mouse was before will disappear and the Gruffalo will be left in his place. In order to keep his sense of self the mouse must fight back against this new intimidating side of him. By convincing it (himself) that he is enough. He doesn’t need the protection of his alter ego because he is even more powerful than it. Of course, this struggle is entirely internal. In parading past the animals that he has already terrified, the mouse believes he is showing the Gruffalo his power but really, he is reassuring himself of the power that his imagination, guile and wit give him. As he walks back through the forest the animals all address the mouse not the Gruffalo. “Oh help! Goodbye little mouse!” suggesting that what they see is the threat that the mouse convinced them of earlier, not an actual monster stalking along behind him. Having thus assured himself of his continued safety he vanquishes his troublesome alter ego with another quip about food “Gruffalo crumble”. In this way, the mouse regains control over the powerful imagination that could so easily have destroyed him. Our Dr Jekyll has won against his Mr Hyde.

More Than A Book

Audiences around the world have fallen for the Gruffalo and he is now a cultural icon in his own right. Jumping right off the page, the Gruffalo is now a huge brand including merchandising just about anything you can imagine. It also has its own theatre show that premiered in 2001 and is still going strong after touring the UK (including extended West End runs), Europe, North America, Asia and Australia. It even has its own and an Oscar and Bafta nominated short film, watched by nearly 10 million people on Christmas Day in 2009. The film features the voice talents of an astounding cast including: Helena Bonham Carter, Rob Brydon, Robbie Coltrane, James Corden, and John Hurt. These performance-based adaptations are very important to Donaldson as she herself began her working life as an actor not a writer. To this day, she loves to perform in plays and dramatic readings of her books and poems.

“Performance is a very important, enjoyable part of my work. We take it very seriously. Every time I write a story I have to think – could it work on the stage? Can just Malcolm and me act it out? Or should we do it with puppets? It’s a creative procedure in itself.” Julia Donaldson.

As she makes this part of the creative process such an important part of her inspiration, Donaldson is clear she never “starts off with a message”. However, she certainly champions the little guy often leaning towards a David and Goliath theme. For the Gruffalo in particular, Julia got her inspiration from a Chinese tale about a young girl who scares off a fearsome tiger by telling a little white lie. When the girl faces the wrath of a tiger, she quickly thinks on her feet saying she is the queen of the jungle. Just like in The Gruffalo, the tiger follows the girl through the jungle where the tiger sees the animals run in fear and is led to believe the girl is indeed a queen.

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