Queen Victoria’s bun

We’ve recently been watching first series Victoria on the ABC, which has finally shown it eighteen months after its first release in the UK.

In one of the early episodes Victoria has her hair done in an elaborate style with looped plaits over her ears.

Afterwards, J asked me if I knew of any photographs showing her using that style, and I pointed out that 1840 or thereabouts is just too early for photographs, but that there are portraits and also she was depicted using that hairstyle on Indian Rupeesqueen victoria elaborate head rupee

and some English silver coins

gothic_florin queen victoria elaborate head

note that the portraits are slightly different – the hairstyle is not the same nor is the dress, and the profile is a little different, which is not that surprising as the Indian rupee dates from the early 1860’s after the administration of India had been taken over by the British government after the events of 1857, but before Disraeli created Victoria Empress of India.

So, hairstyle problem solved, J had a second question. She remembered that before decimalisation getting worn Queen Victoria pennies in her change, and that they seemed to show her hair in a bun, or else when she was very old and veiled.

Well, the old and veiled head is one I remember getting in change in predecimal days half a world away in Scotland as well

queen victoria late head

though they were usually very worn. I don’t remember Queen Victoria pennies with her hair in a bun, but I did remember writing about the early 1840’s East India company rupees and how some of the dies had given an indefinably Indian cast to her features, so I showed J the post, only for her to say that it’s not quite how she remembered them.

Easiest way seemed to be to buy an old Queen Victoria penny from ebay. I picked one that had a head like the rupee coins

queen victoria early bun head

and dating from the 1850’s. The coin, when it arrived was heavier and thicker than the predecimal pennies we both remembered, and not the correct head. What had happened is that the old heavy pennies had been withdrawn in 1860 to be replaced with the (relatively) lighter ones we both remembered.

Back to ebay to buy a post 1860 penny, and hey presto, the correct head

queen victoria later bun head

showing her with a more distinct bun and a ribbon hanging down

queen victoria later bun head detail

as can be seen in this more detailed view which also shows her as looking older and more jowly than in the early heavier coins.

The only other question is why there were still Queen Victoria pennies circulating in 1960’s Australia, when Australia had had a separate coinage since 1910.

The answer probably goes back to 1825 when the British government decreed that the same coinage should be used everywhere in the Empire. That of course never happened, India and territories governed from India such as the Gulf states stuck to the Rupee, the Straits Settlements, which later became Malaysia and Singapore, preferred the silver dollar beloved by Chinese merchants and traders, as did Hong Kong.

Canada pragmatically chose the dollar because of its proximity to the United States, but Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean possessions, Cape Colony (later South Africa), and a few other places ended up with the British Lsd system, and a common interchangeable coinage. Oddities, such as Jersey and Guernsey, who had established local currencies continued to issue their own coins well into the nineteenth century.

The other great oddity was Gibraltar which used a currency tied to Spain’s currency until 1898 when the Spanish peseta crashed in the wake of the Spanish American war leading to a swift adoption of the British system.

As the various Dominions went their own way in the early 1900’s they began to issue their own coins – New Zealand not doing this until 1933 – and the older British high value coins were replaced with local issues.

However it wasn’t worth the expense of replacing all the old lower value coins, so the old British pennies continued to circulate, even though they weren’t strictly legal tender, much in the same way as Australian and New Zealand 10 and 20c coins, which were the same size and weight (and based on the old British shilling and two shilling coins) used to circulate side by side in a completely unofficial arrangement until New Zealand reissued its coinage with newer lighter coins a few years ago.

You also used to see the same unofficial co-circulation in Ireland until the Irish pound separated from the pound sterling, and the same sort of thing continues in Gibraltar and the Channel Islands where local coins circulate alongside British coins.

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About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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One Response to Queen Victoria’s bun

  1. Pingback: Queen Victoria’s bun in Jamaica | stuff 'n other stuff

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