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La Trobe University ceremonial mace designed by Stuart Devlin.

He has the Midas touch

Valeriya Lloyd

“I like the fact that millions of people around the world carry my work around in their pockets.”

Everyone uses our nation’s golden and silver coins, but not everyone knows who mastered the designs of the little treasures. Now for the first time, everybody will have the opportunity to unveil the secrets of Australian coin design and to find out some exciting details about its creator, Stuart Devlin AO.

On 15 December last year, the Royal Australian Mint, launched a remarkable exhibition spanning the last fifty years of the work of Stuart Devlin AO.

Stuart Devlin: The Designer with the Midas Touch is an exhibition of the unique design works by Stuart Devlin AO, the designer of Australian circulating coins.

Stuart Devlin is regarded as a preeminent designer of the 20th century and one who had created very collectable pieces that command high prices at auction houses in the US and Europe, yet little is known of the Australian born in Geelong in Victoria.

Stuart boasts countless notable achievements in his life, including the design of medals and coins for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Perhaps his greatest honour is his appointment as Goldsmith and Jeweller for Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth II. As the quote above illustrates, his work reaches further than perhaps any other artist.

“I titled the exhibition Stuart Devlin: The Designer with the Midas Touch because this opinion is widely shared in Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom where Stuart’s work is very well recognised and highly collectable,” explains Frederica Heacock, the Creative Director of the Royal Australian Mint.

“Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s jewellers at Collingwood & Co described Stuart as “the greatest designer in gold and silver since the incomparable Paul de Lamerie in the 18th century” and The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in London christened him the designer with the ‘Midas touch’.”

Kangaroo and joey design now available as a collectible coin

Kangaroo and joey design now available as a collectible coin

It took months for the Royal Australia Mint to design and curate the exhibition including –display of the national and international loans of special pieces from the Devlin’s private collection.

“Australian coins make up only one part of the exhibition that is the celebration of a career of design work by an unsung Australian design hero,” says Frederica. “The initial designs Devlin produced for our decimal coins that were released in 1966 are an important beginning to what was to be a rich and diverse design career.”

The exhibition provides a unique opportunity to explore the masterly work of Stuart Devlin that also includes behind-the-scenes rarities.

“His design work extends beyond coins to include medals, jewellery, decorative table wear, furniture, and even interiors and architecture.”

“We are very fortunate to have collaborated with the University of Melbourne and Latrobe University to display their ceremonial maces, two of Stuart’s early commissions after the design of Australia’s decimal coins. In addition, we have an exquisite formal dining table-setting on loan from Stuart’s personal collection, giving us a rare opportunity to display pieces that have never been exhibited outside of Europe,” explains Frederica.

Those visitors who would like to discover more about Devlin’s works in depth are encouraged to take a private 30-minute curator-led tour between 11 am and 3 pm at a cost of $10 to discover a new dimension to the exhibition.

“The highlights of the specialised tour [are] different for each individual, from the university ceremonial maces, to medals of honour, to the spectacular candelabrum, right down to a very surprising piece of kitchenware, the knife and scabbard, Wiltshire Staysharp MKI, designed by Stuart Devlin for the Wiltshire Cutlery Company, Melbourne in 1969. He invented a special spring-loaded sharpening block inside a sheath or scabbard, which sharpened the knife every time it was taken out or replaced,” adds Frederica.

Eight-light candelabrum and tableware from Devlin's personal collection.

Eight-light candelabrum and tableware from Devlin’s personal collection.

The design of coins is always a very challenging matter, as it requires very delicate work on a small circular space and can take years to master. According to Stuart Devlin, one of the more challenging coins for him to design was an Australia’s $1 dollar coin that he designed in 1984. It featured a mob of five kangaroos that Stuart designed in different positions to add dynamism to the coin design. Stuart preferred the design to correspond with the circular shape of the coin and to fill the whole space on the coin, as opposed to placing something just in the center.

From 3 February 2017, all coin collectors who attend the exhibition will be presented with the unique opportunity to purchase a special limited edition coin designed by Stuart over five decades ago. “It features a kangaroo and joey and is a fitting testament to the strength of great design and a true hallmark of Stuart Devlin’s enduring appeal,” explains Frederica.

Another way to learn more about Stuart Devlin’s work is to purchase the exhibition catalogue which includes a full biography of Devlin’s life work, featuring some of his most important pieces including the spectacular 1999 Millennium Dish, which is currently held in a private collection in the UK.

Original sketches - Devlin's proposed designs for Australia's decimal currency.

Original sketches – Devlin’s proposed designs for Australia’s decimal currency.

“The Dish symbolises the diversity, history and culture of London in the last year of the 20th century. This is an important piece in Stuart’s story as he felt had he not had the experience designing Australia’s circulating coins, he would most certainly not have been able to take on such a mammoth project, which took over a year to produce, working seven days a week, often 12 hours a day,” says Frederica.

Stuart Devlin’s designs are still considered the benchmark for coin designers all over the world. The opportunity to attend the exhibition extends until the end of April.

the essentials

What: Stuart Devlin: The Designer with the Midas Touch
Where: The Royal Australian Mint, Denison Street, Deakin
When: The exhibition is on until the end of April 2-17. The Mint is open for visitors from Monday-Friday from 8.30am-5pm and Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays from 10am-4pm.
Web: http://www.ramint.gov.au/whats-on

To book a private tour click here
To purchase an exclusive coin register here
To purchase a catalogue online

Feature image: La Trobe University ceremonial mace designed by Stuart Devlin. Images: Supplied. 

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Valeriya Lloyd

Val is studying Communications in Media and Public Affairs at University of Canberra and has a great passion for writing (in two languages as she originally came to Canberra from Russia). Val enjoys writing about life generally, and sometimes from a fictional perspective. She often generates new ideas in sudden moments and admits that she has at least two diaries, where she writes her notes and inspiration for future stories. She loves to meet new people and showcase their talents and originality. Val is very social person, who loves the local lifestyle and the inner beauty of Canberra. More about the Author