Flippin’ Elk! NIO bucked up their ideas to put an Elk on £1 coin in 1991 #20yearrule

Numismatists may be interested in a thin file labelled CENT/1/15/33A [partial scan] released under the 30/20 Year Rule and available to view at Public Records Office (PRONI) from 9am this morning. It documents discussions around the design of a regional variant of the one pound coin.

Former Secretary of State Jim Prior had been a fan of using the Irish Elk as a symbol for Northern Ireland which “had no recognised badge or arms of its own” and required “considerable pains” to be taken “to choose an emblem or motif which is broadly acceptable to both sides of the community”.

A 1986 design for a new batch of pound coins had been knocked back by the College of Heralds who felt that the Elk design “was unsuitable on heraldic ground”.

“An Elk represented upon a badge or shield purports to have the status of a Royal badge when in fact no Royal Warrant exists for such a design.”

Earlier papers from 1986 note that “the partition of Ireland has never … been recognised in Royal Heraldry and now would seem to be an appropriate time to recognise it by creating a new Royal Badge for Northern Ireland”.

In the end the 1986 redesign did not go ahead. A trawl for alternative suggestions among NI Permanent Secretaries” put forward the Irish wolfhound, but support was not universal, with one memo noting that it may annoy “NI dog-haters of whom there appear sometimes to be many”. Cuchulain – the hound of Ulster – was also considered.

The idea of a map of Northern Ireland was rejected as “not unequivocally non-sectarian and non-political” and the Giants Causeway “could be pictorially over-elaborate”, though a Department of Education official supplied a rough sketch.

That department also added Scrabo Tower, Slemish Mountain and Samson and Goliath to the long list, while the Department of the Environment suggested the potato plant (to replace the flax symbol).

By 1991, a compromise to use the elk but remove the shield (and negate the need for the Queen to grant a “politically contentious” new Royal Badge to Northern Ireland) placated the College of Heralds:

“Garter King at Arms is content with that.”

The NIO no doubt slid their elk-a-seltzer’s back into their desk drawers with the removal of this heraldic headache.

Of course, in the end, despite the agreement, the elk design never appeared on a £1 coin … but that’s a story for another file!

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  • William Kinmont

    ah but which breed of potato plant would they have used. Would it have been British Queens or those Irish Queens you sometimes see for sale?

  • Reader

    “i have googled The Garter King at Arms but cant find if we are actually paying for this role? Surely not with the austerity cuts someone put a line through this one.”
    At a guess he is paid thruppence a fortnight and only took the job because he is granted two pairs of white silk stockings per annum.

  • Brian Walker

    I recall the former John Taylor, who was fond of the term “British Ulster” proudly showing me his Arms upon his ennoblement as Baron Kilclooney. They indeed featured an Irish Elk. “What sort of elk again. John?” I inquired innocently. “An IRISH elk,” he repeated, not cottoning on to the irony…

  • Gavin Crowley

    “As of 1 January 2017 the fees payable upon a personal grant of arms and crest are £5,875, a similar grant to an impersonal but non-profit making body, £12,375, and to a commercial company, £18,350”
    The burden on the taxpayer might not be exceptional.

  • William Kinmont

    fair enough.Wonder how many they sell. Michael D should be looking into reclaiming that income stream for this side of the sea.