Observant fans of HG Wells have questioned how a new coin from the Royal Mint commemorating The War of the Worlds author could be released with multiple errors, including giving his “monstrous tripod” four legs.
The £2 coin is intended to mark 75 years since the death of Wells, and includes imagery inspired by The War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man.
Unfortunately, it strays from Wells’s vision of his creations. “As someone who particularly likes one of his very famous stories, can I just note that the big walking machine on the coin has four legs? Four legs. The man famous for creating the Martian TRIpod,” wrote artist Holly Humphries. “How many people did this have to go through? Did they know how to count?”
Science fiction novelist and professor of 19th-century literature Adam Roberts, who is author of a biography of Wells and vice president of the HG Wells Society, also criticised the depiction of the Invisible Man, shown in a top hat; in the book he arrives at Iping under a “wide-brimmed hat”.
“It’s nice to see Wells memorialised, but it would have been nicer for them to get things right,” Roberts said. “A tripod with four legs is hard to comprehend (tri: the clue is in the name), and Wells’s (distinctly ungentlemanly) invisible man, Griffin, never wore a top hat ... I’d say Wells would be annoyed by this carelessness: he took immense pains to get things right in his own work – inviting translators of his book to stay with him to help the process and minimise errors and so on.”
Stephen Baxter, vice president of the Wells Society and author of The Massacre of Mankind, an official sequel to The War of the Worlds , said he thought Wells would have been “very flattered by the coin, but infuriated by that non-tripod! It’s not just the extra leg but the stiffness of it. In the book itself, he has a sideswipe at the ‘stiff, stilted tripods’ depicted in an early ‘pamphlet’ on the war - in fact he was talking about clumsy illustrations in the newspaper serialisation of the book, its first publication. ‘They were no more like the Martians I saw than a Dutch doll is like a human being.’ Take that!”
Asked about the errors, a spokesperson for The Royal Mint said, “We have created a new £2 coin to celebrate the life and works of HG Wells. The coin depicts scenes from famous works such as War of the Worlds and the Invisible Man as imagined by designer Chris Costello.” Costello has said he was inspired by “vintage HG Wells book covers and movie posters”.
The Wells slip-up is not the first mistake immortalised in legal tender. In 2013, Ireland’s Central Bank misquoted James Joyce on a commemorative coin intended to honour the author. While Joyce wrote in Ulysses: “Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read …”, the Central Bank included an extra “that” in the final sentence, with its coin reading: “Signatures of all things that I am here to read.” The bank later claimed the coin was intended to be “an artistic representation of the author and text and not intended as a literal representation”.
Later that year, a new £10 note featured Jane Austen with the quote “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” However, the line is spoken by Caroline Bingley, described by academic John Mullan as “a woman who has no interest in books at all”. “You can imagine being the Bank of England employee given the task of finding the telling Austen quotation. Something about reading, perhaps? A quick text search in Pride and Prejudice turns up just the thing,” wrote Mullan at the time.
And a year ago, a new 50p commemorating Brexit was slammed by critics including Philip Pullman for failing to utilise an Oxford comma. The coin reads “Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations”, and Pullman said it should be “boycotted by all literate people” for failing to include a comma after “prosperity”.