In 1844 Wyon received a private commission from Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, to design a personal medal for the Prince Consort. Albert was known as a progressive thinker with largely liberal views; he was an evangelist for technological progress, a supporter of human rights causes such as emancipation, and frequently showed empathy for the working classes. Perhaps most famously, Prince Albert was a patron of the Arts. He became President of the Society of Arts in 1843 before the organisation gained its royal charter in 1847, and to this day the RSA presents an annual ‘Albert Medal’ to recognise the work of individuals or organisations who use creativity to tackle some of the world’s most challenging issues.
During the 1840s the Society would hold annual exhibitions to showcase creativity and innovation, and as these grew in popularity one of the society’s most energetic members, Henry Cole, had the idea to hold a ‘Great Exhibition’ that would celebrate ingenuity and brilliance from across the globe. He gained a key supporter in Prince Albert, who became President of the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 and campaigned passionately against objections and concerns raised in public and Parliament, committed in his belief that the Exhibition would create great national benefit by placing British engineering and manufacturing on to the world stage.
The medal that Prince Albert commissioned from William Wyon was presented to Henry Cole as part of a set of seven medals following the success of the Great Exhibition. Other medals were produced and presented to Exhibitors, Jurors and Dignitaries, but Prince Albert’s Medal was awarded specially to Henry Cole as a tribute to their achievements in organising the Exhibition and “a token of remembrance of our long communion in this work.”
William Wyon passed away in 1851, the same year as The Great Exhibition, so it is perhaps fitting that one of his final designs, produced for this very special medal, should leave us with his interpretation of St George & the Dragon, an iconic image that has become so synonymous with Benedetto Pistrucci, his rival from his early career. Wyon’s design is full of dynamic energy as St George, the patron saint of England, slays the mighty dragon beneath his rearing steed, believed to have been modelled upon Prince Albert’s favourite horse, ‘Imaun’, while his cloak billows behind him. The original medal’s obverse featured a new portrait of Prince Albert, who sat for Wyon specially for this medal, while this 2023 Masterpiece coin is blessed by a contemporary portrait of Albert’s great-great-granddaughter, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
‘St George & the Dragon’ is a perfect finale to our series of Masterpieces by the great William Wyon. The original medal was only issued to a very select few and is extremely rare, so we are delighted to now make Wyon’s stunning design available to the modern collector through a combination of the ancient hand craftsmanship and modern minting expertise of The East India Company.
Explore Wyon’s Masterpiece St George & the Dragon range of coins HERE