This week, the UK’s Royal Mint announced five new commemorative coins honouring figures like the Queen(!) and Sir Walter Scott. It would’ve been a standard beginning of the new year for the mint, but this year’s edition of collectibles has proven to be controversial as the coin honouring H.G. Wells seems to lack a certain familiarity with the influential author’s work.
The detail that first caught the eye of Wells’s fans on social media was the fact that the “monstrous tripod” described in The War of the Worlds is depicted on the coin as having four legs — rendering the iconic fighting machines of invading Martians as a quadruped. On a more subtle level, some fans have taken issue with the coin’s depiction of the Invisible Man’s hat.
Adam Roberts, author of a biography of Wells and vice president of the H.G. Wells Society, told the Guardian that the gesture is nice, in general, but the tripod mistake “is hard to comprehend.” Roberts said the Invisible Man wore a “wide-brimmed hat” that characterised him as “distinctly ungentlemanly.” On the coin, we see the character filling out a suit with a top hat adorning the space where his head would be.
In a statement to the Guardian, the Royal Mint didn’t exactly admit to an error but said, “The coin depicts scenes from famous works such as War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man as imagined by designer Chris Costello.” This is the second coin that the American artist has produced for the mint, and in a note accompanying the coin’s release, Costello said that he drew inspiration from book covers and movie posters. He explained:
Who can forget the spine-chilling jellyfish-like robots conceived in the promotions for The War of the Worlds? That creature was my favourite and I created my own interpretation of it that would take advantage of the circular canvas and appear to climb out of the composition. The canvas also perfectly accommodated the clock face motif for The Time Machine, and having both elements seen behind the space where the head of The Invisible Man should be completed the design nicely.
That all sounds rather reasonable, and the design itself ain’t half bad. But when it comes to commemorating the work of an artist, maybe keep the artistic licence to a minimum.