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Pistrucci’s jasper cameos

In preparing portraits for the last coinage of George III the Italian artist Benedetto Pistrucci cut original models in jasper which, as a gem engraver, was his natural medium. Three of these exquisitely prepared cameo portraits of George III survive in the Royal Mint Museum and the one pictured here looks to have been the basis for the bull-head effigy used on the half-crown.

Trouble surrounded this portrait from an early stage, with Pistrucci claiming that Royal Mint engravers had spoiled his work in producing the coinage tools. Once the coins had been issued the effigy was widely criticised and before long a new half-crown was released with a revised portrait. The cameo, however, remains as a vivid testimony to the skill of a gifted but difficult artist who breathed new life into the British coinage during the early 19th century.