By Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….
Stuart Devlin (AO, CMG), innovative metalworker and designer of coins for several countries around the world, died on April 2 at the age of 86. Best known in the numismatic field for Australia’s first decimal coinage in 1966, Devlin is just as well-known if not more so for his role in the rebirth of gold and silversmithing as a vibrant art and trade in the late 20th century.
Devlin was born on October 9, 1931 in the port city of Geelong in the Australian state of Victoria on the country’s southeastern coast. He studied art–specializing in silversmithing and goldsmithing–at the local Gordon Institute of Technology, graduating at the age of 17. Devlin then spent time teaching art in his home state, and in 1957 he joined the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, where he studied for a Diploma of Art in gold and silver smithing. In 1958, Devlin won a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art in London.
He also won a Harkness Fellowship (something of an American Rhodes Scholarship) in 1958, which enabled him to attend Columbia University in New York for two years.
Upon his return to Melbourne in 1962, Devlin taught art again, becoming an inspector of art schools in the area. It was soon after this that he learned about the contest to design Australia’s new dollar-based decimal coinage.
Originally, Devlin didn’t think that he was suited to be the designer of the new coins, calling it a “two-dimensional job” more appropriate for a graphic designer than a silversmith. Eventually, however, a member of the Advisory Panel on Coin Design–not to mention the prize money of 300 guineas (about $9,000 AUD in today’s money) and the “quality of the competition”–managed to persuade him to enter the contest. This vaunted competition included Gordon Andrews, a graphic designer who would go on to design Australia’s dollar banknotes; Richard Beck, creator of the official poster of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games; and Andor Mészáros, a medallist and Hungarian immigrant to Australia who had won several international competitions.
So in 1962, Devlin entered the fray and began work on his designs in 1963. His initial art, which focused on Australia’s industry, was rejected. But continuing from the idea that Australia’s coins should feature something that unambiguously represents the country to the rest of the world, and with a certain sense of whimsy encouraged by the Art Board to whom the competitors had to submit their designs, Devlin decided to use the unique animals that are native Australia as the theme for his coinage.
Which was not far off from the thinking of his peers; Mészáros employed both Australian animals and plants, while Andrews focused on flowers. Devlin himself felt that flowers, represented without color as they are on a coin, look like any other nation’s flowers. He also did not like how many coin designs around the world seemed always to place a motif right square in the center of a coin; Devlin, therefore, sought to have his animals fill the side of the coin upon which they might be placed.
Stuart Devlin’s kangaroo (50 cent), platypus (20 cent), lyrebird (10 cent), echidna (five cent), frilled lizard (two cent) and feathetail glider (one cent) won the competition in 1964. The first year of issue for the new decimal coinage came in 1966 and served Australia well until 1991, when the country stopped production of the one- and two-cent coins. Recent years has also seen talk of an end to five-cent coin manufacture.
Beyond the Coins
But before the coins were released to the general public, Devlin had moved back to London in 1965, where he opened up a workshop. It is here that Devlin began to innovate and change the world of gold and silver smithing forever. He brought new ideas to the design of everyday objects, and also created silver and gold collectibles in limited editions. He operated out of his own showroom from 1979 through 1985, where the various items he designed (sculpture, furniture, jewelry, trophies, clocks, etc.) could be displayed and purchased.
Of course, Devlin continued to work in the numismatic field, ultimately producing designs for upwards of 30 countries, as well as commemorative coins for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He also created medals for the Australian Honours System, which was introduced in 1975 to “replace” the British Honours System of orders and knighthoods. This included the Order of Australia (AO), established in February of ’75 and which Devlin himself won in that year.
In 1982, Devlin was awarded a royal warrant of appointment as goldsmith and jeweler to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Besides being the personal smith and jeweler to the Queen, the warrant allowed him to advertise this fact to attract even more clientele. Devlin served as the Prime Warden of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, the fifth of the 12 great livery companies of the City of London, from 1996 to 1997
In a recently published book that features his personal archives (Stuart Devlin: Designer Goldsmith Silversmith), by Carole Devlin and Victoria Kate Simkin (his wife and sister-in-law, respectively), Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and Queen Elizabeth’s husband of almost 71 years, writes:
“Stuart Devlin was probably the most original and creative goldsmith and silversmith of his time, and one of the greats of all time. His originality of design marked him out as a master craftsman and his prolific output was a tribute to the width of his imagination. I consider myself fortunate to own a number of his works.”
Stuart Devlin closed his shop in London in 1985 and moved to Littlehampton, West Sussex. In 2012, he finally opened the Goldsmith’s center in Clerkenwell that he had been developing since 2005 as a way to better teach and train apprentice goldsmiths.
He suffered a major stroke in 2011, which spurred the creation of the book mentioned above. Another stroke in 2014 caused Devlin to stop drawing.
A major show of his work was exhibited at the Royal Australian Mint in 2017. The following is a statement from the Mint upon Devlin’s passing:
“It is with sadness that the Royal Australian Mint acknowledges the peaceful passing of Stuart Devlin AO on 12 April at his home in Chichester, United Kingdom aged 86. Devlin is the designer of Australia’s circulating coins and regarded as one of the most creative and influential goldsmith and silversmiths of his time.
We are proud to have showcased Stuart Devlin’s work in the 2017 exhibition Stuart Devlin – The Designer with the Midas Touch, and to have collaborated with Stuart and his family on the production of a substantial biography released to coincide with the exhibition. The Mint is also honoured to hold plasters and original sketches of Devlin’s work in the National Coin Collection.
All Australians will continue to carry a lasting reminder of Stuart Devlin in their pockets for years to come, which is a touching tribute to his masterful designs and extraordinary career.”
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