1996 marked an important anniversary for all Burnsians, as it was the bicentenary of the Bard’s death. It is imaginable that a number of special commemorative events and initiatives took place that year. That Scotland should produce a celebratory re-issue of the £5 bank-note is understandable; what perhaps needs a little more explanation is the appearance of a series of Burns-themed 1 crown coins in the Isle of Man.
Possibly not everybody is aware of the Manx association with Robert Burns. To start with, every year the Manx Caledonian Society hosts one of Britain’s most prestigious Burns Supper. Also, we all know how Burns became soon very influential well outside Scotland, and one of the poets he inspired was the Manx national poet Thomas Browne. Another anecdote which connects the Bard to the Isle is his interception, together with his fellow-officers, of the brig Rosamond, which was caught smuggling brandy from the Isle of Man to the coast of Solway.
So it comes as no surprise that the Isle of Man, which has been issuing its own coins since the seventeenth century, should wish to join in the bicentenary celebrations. The series of four 1 crown coins is held at The University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery. They all depict the well-known Raphael David Maklouf effigy of Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse, while the reverse depict Burns-related images.
The first (GLAHM 35347) represents the poet over a background showing Edinburgh Castle, which reminds us that he lived in Edinburgh where he met some of the people who would determine his fame worldwide, such as James Johnson and George Thomson. Also, he is portrayed wearing a Masonic apron. Burns in fact became a Freemason in July 1781, and on the 27th July 1784, was made Depute Master of Lodge St James, in Kilwinning.
The second coin (GLAHM 35348) is based on a mural by Ted and Elizabeth Odling. It shows Burns reclining in the middle of a grassy spot, with his look fixed to the right. He is ‘caught’ in the act of writing in a book – he is evidently in the middle of composing one of the works which was to charm his readers worldwide. The image strongly brings us back to the idea of the ‘heaven-taught ploughman’. Note the lovely detail of the dragonfly about to rest on his knee!
The third item in this series (GLAHM 35349) is based on a statue by Sir John Flaxman. It shows a smiling Robert Burns holding a flower in one hand and what appears to be a roll of paper in the other. In this delightful scene the background is constituted by tartan-clad men and women holding hands, evidently to the sound of the song ‘Auld Lang Syne’, as is suggested by the inscription just above
The fourth coin (GLAHM 35350) is less obviously Burns-related, but in the light of what I wrote at the beginning of this post it might be now more understandable. The scene in fact depicts the Rosamond brig accident. Burns joined the Excise in 1789, and in 1791 was transferred to the Dumfries Third Division. On the 29th February the following year he led excisemen and troops to board and seize the Rosamond for smuggling brandy – this is the episode portrayed in this coin.
All the coins in this series held at The University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery are made of cupro-nickel, and are therefore struck for wide circulation. Nevertheless, a limited edition in sterling silver and gold was issued by Pobjoy Mint, in Surrey. But those little beauties, of course, are destined for privates and collectors!