[The Man Behind the Designs - image kindly provided by Matt Dent]
Matt Dent is one of our most respected modern coin designers. Now thirty-eight years old, he has already made quite an impression on the business of numismatics. His most well-known designs here in the UK are the WWF fifty pence and the Charles Dickens two pound coin. He also happens to be responsible for that ingenious multi-coin Royal Shield of Arms we have spread across six of our coin denominations.
Apart from his UK coin releases, Matt has been jolly busy elsewhere too. His designs can be found on Expo Milan €5, International Year of Light €5, Abraham Lincoln anniversary €10 and the HSBC Rugby Sevens medal. It is also worth mentioning that many of his designs have also been shortlisted as well (including The Tang Prize medals). This is a man with a serious amount of ideas. And the chances are that we will see many, many more Matt Dent coins and medals in the years to come.
Somehow, Matt found enough time in his frenetic schedule to answer my questions about his work.
[Sinology Medal - Shortlisted for Tang Prize]
Where did/do you find inspiration for your designs?
‘The creative process is different every time for me. Sometimes I have an automatic reaction to a brief and it prompts an idea which seems particularly fitting. Other times I need to mull things over for days, sometimes weeks.’
Are you a coin collector yourself?
‘Not really. However I do try and look after some of the more unusual ones that surface in my change. Keeping hold of them is trickier these days as I’ve got two young daughters with an insatiable demand for pocket money.’
[2008 Royal Shield of Arms - reblogged from thelondoncoincompany.com]
How did you come up with the idea of a multi coin layout to create your Royal Shield of Arms?
‘The brief asked for a design for six coins which represented the UK. Since the UK is composed of four countries, it was difficult to find a set of designs that can worked fairly across the six coin set without placing any unfair emphasis on any one country. I felt it was a better solution to have one design which existed across all coins. The Shield of the Royal Arms was a great emblem to represent all countries, and the jigsaw approach helps it feature on all coins.’
I was excited about the application of the design and could imagine the fun that people might have in piecing it together for themselves. On one level it was a puzzle, a game, a bit of fun and on another level there was a deeper meaning; assembling the shield would illustrate how the separate elements of the Royal Arms come together and how the different countries comprise the United Kingdom. The solution appealed to me equally as a powerful message and as something I myself would want to play with.’
[image reblogged from wwf.com]
When commissioned to design the WWF coin, were there any animals (which were originally intended to be a part of the design) that didn’t make it to the final version?
‘I’ve just been looking over the early designs and there were a few - there was a cheetah, a gecko and an eagle in the first iteration. For design reasons, or to tie in better with the aims and objectives of the WWF at the time, these were replaced during the design and consultation process.’
How do you feel about the way our more modern commemorative issues are handled? Should they be released into circulation as a matter of course or is it right for The Royal Mint to hold most back most new coins as ‘purchase only’ items?
‘I feel the balance is about right. I do like to see commemorative circulation coinage for the bigger more popular themes and it makes sense to limit the other themes to purchase only.’
Are there any particular currencies or denominations you would still like to see one of your designs chosen for?
‘I’ve really enjoyed working with foreign mints on design projects. Those types of project are good fun because I try and understand the design aesthetic of what’s come before. Working with overseas mints is often refreshing because you get to work on commemorative briefs for themes, which you would have no idea of otherwise.’
Is coin design an ambition you have always had or did it all just ‘happen’?
‘No, much like the majority of my work it just happened.’
Which British commemorative designs do you especially like and why?
‘I really like the RAF Centenary series by Richard and Neil Talbot. The set is well structured and I particularly like the treatment of the sky in the designs through the halftone screen approach. Very clever. ‘
[Rule of Law Medal - Shortlisted for Tang Prize]
Which of your own coin designs are you happiest with?
‘I was happy with my medal design submission for the Tang Prize – a Taiwanese awards programme recognising international achievement in various fields. I came up with a route that depicted human endeavour in each of the four award categories. Although my design suggestions weren’t ultimately chosen I’m still satisfied with my approach.’
There is a very strong sense of structure and orderliness to your work…. is this a reflection of your own personality?
‘Ha ha! You might not say that to look at the studio at the moment but I suppose that’s what I aim for. In my wider work as a graphic designer I try to create design which is functional, practical and intuitive to use. This often involves stripping out superfluous information and focussing as best I can on the job that one piece of design needs to do.’
Out of the many commemorative coins that we have in the UK, WWF is still one of the most cherished of all. How does this make you feel? Is it still a design you are still proud of?
‘Yes I’m still very proud of it. I feel incredibly lucky to have some of my work on coinage.’
[image reblogged from coin-database.com]
Once you had the idea of constructing Dickens’ profile using his titles, was it easy to do the rest?
‘I’m afraid not. It was trial and error to get the balance right between constructing a recognisable profile and ensuring (largely) legible titles of his work. Smaller type sizes meant for a more accurate profile… but compromised the readability. I began by choosing letterforms which complemented the shapes of the profile, a ‘G’ for the base of the nose for instance and then built the titles up from there on. There were lots of gaps to fill, but by using a variety of typefaces – some condensed and some more extended – I was able to eventually build the silhouette. Working with so many titles was fairly tricky to keep track of, it was only at the eleventh hour that I realised I’d duplicated one of them. Fortunately I caught that mistake in time.’
What is the most challenging coin you have designed so far?
‘I’ve got a design going through the Mint at the moment which has been an incredibly difficult project. I’m afraid I can’t discuss it at the moment but I’d be happy to come back to you with some details once it’s revealed next year.’
Of the twenty-nine artists responsible for the Olympic fifty pences, each received a gold proof of their own design. Have you ever been awarded anything like this for any of your work?
‘That was a nice touch. I was given a silver proof set of the definitive reverses when they were launched which was lovely.’
Which other modern coin designers are your personal favourites?
‘I gravitate towards the simpler ones, designs can quickly become muddled if they try and communicate too much given coinages’ small size. The Shakespeare Histories £2 set by John Bergdahl comes to mind for their power and simplicity. It’s going back a bit but I’m also very fond of Percy Metcalf’s Coins of the Irish Free State. Looking at these I still find it hard to believe they were designed nearly 100 years ago.’
What are your thoughts regarding The Royal Mint’s current obsession with children’s characters?
‘It wouldn’t be a set I’d look to buy, but I’m sure the Mint have done their research and there are plenty out there that would.’
Since the advent of Beatrix Potter fifty pences, coin collecting seems to have become a hundred times more popular. Do you think it has all become too commercial? Or is it a positive thing just because so many more people are now so interested?
‘The number of commemorative themes does seem to have increased considerably in the last five or ten years. I can only imagine that the Mint’s commercial efforts have grown because there is the interest out there in the market. What I’ve learnt since the launch of the new reverses is that the most perceptible collectors are children. I know my girls would be excited if they got a Peter Rabbit or a Gruffalo 50p in their pocket money and if that helps establish the coin collectors of the future it’s a pretty shrewd move by the Mint.’
Is there any advice you would give to anyone who is interested in choosing this line of work themselves?
‘Keep an eye out for any public design competitions. You don’t have to be an established coin designer to submit a design, I wasn’t.’
© Article and images (except where stated) copyright Mik Smith 2019