New Releases

A Long-Awaited Medal

Published July 9, 2024 | 4 min read

By Louis Golino

The year 2024 could be called the Royal Mint’s year of Benedetto Pistrucci—the famed 19th-century Italian coin engraver known for his obsessive pursuit of numismatic perfection. 

In addition to the new bullion pieces that feature his St. George and the Dragon design, the mint’s popular Great Engravers series has honored the artist’s most celebrated designs on its seventh and eighth coins. The series, which began in 2019, has featured only two other engravers—William Wyon and Thomas Simon.

On February 15, the mint launched a series of silver and gold proof coins that feature an elaborate modern recreation of Pistrucci’s original gold sovereign design.

Waterloo Battle

On June 24, the mint struck coins with Pistucci’s famed Waterloo medal design, which depicts an intricate tapestry of the battle on both sides. He worked on it for 30 years, but it was never struck. However, the Royal Mint retained the artist’s original tooling and plaster molds and used them to create the first silver and gold legal-tender coins that depict what is known as the Allied Leaders side (the obverse) of the medal. 

Pistrucci spent 30 years working on his Waterloo medal. His Allied Leaders design appears on the reverse of 2024 coins struck by the Royal Mint. (Photo: Royal Mint)

In 1819 the British government commissioned the Waterloo medal as instructed by George Prince Regent (who later became King George IV). Examples were to be given to the generals and leaders of Britain’s allies in the Battle of Waterloo. By 1849, when Pistrucci finally completed the tooling, most of the intended recipients had passed away. Plus, Britain’s relations with France had improved, making it awkward to present the medals.

The Royal Mint preserved Pistrucci’s original tooling in the Royal Mint Museum. Using the originals and modern minting technology, the mint created the first legal-tender coins with the Allied Leaders side this year.

The medal is widely viewed as one of the greatest masterpieces of numismatic art and a testimony to Pistrucci’s engraving skills. It features on its obverse a rich, highly detailed allegorical tapestry of the battle along a wide inner rim. Cameo portraits of four Allied leaders appear in the center: George, Emperor Francis I of Austria, Czar Alexander I of Russia, and King Frederick Willliam III of Prussia.

The original reverse has equestrian figures and Victory at the center. It is surrounded by more detailed scenes of the battle in the Grecian style Pistrucci used for his St. George and the Dragon design.

The four Allied leaders on Pistrucci’s design include the rulers of England, Austria, Russia and Prussia. (Photo: Royal Mint)

Pistrucci and the Royal Mint

Although Pistrucci often did the work of the Royal Mint chief engraver, he never held the role in an official capacity. Instead he was named chief medalist. He had been promised the chief engraver position, but as a foreigner he was not eligible to occupy the role. That became a source of considerable frustration for him.

The other source of his strained relationship with the mint developed when he was asked to create steel dies of a design prepared by John Flaxman. Pistrucci refused to copy the work of another artist and fell from grace at the mint in 1823. 

As for the Waterloo medal, he likely thought that once he completed it, he would be fired. His health declined in this period too. These concerns resulted in slow progress on the medal, even after those in charge repeatedly asked him to finish it.

When he finally submitted two plaster molds of the original dies (or matrices) for the medal in 1849, the mint did not want to risk damaging the 130mm matrices by hardening them. It made only electrotypes and soft impressions at the time.

Numismatic Legacy

Benedetto Pistrucci will always be remembered as one of the British Royal Mint’s greatest designers of coins and medals. He is also one of the greatest engravers of all time. 

Experts have noted that his Waterloo medal is among the finest examples of European medals, a testament to his genius and perhaps the finest example of intaglio engraving. His work is preserved not only at the Royal Mint Museum but also at the museum of the Italian Mint in Rome, which has his wax models.

In 1990 the British mint struck a reduced-size medal in bronze for its 175th anniversary and a large silver piece for the 200th anniversary of the medal. In 2014 examples were struck for the approaching bicentennial of the medal and given to ambassadors of several European countries. Various private mints have also struck examples of the medal. 

Next year the reverse of the medal will appear on silver and gold proof coins struck by the Royal Mint.

For specifications and other details on the new coins, see the Royal Mint’s website.