Coins of the pound sterling
The standard circulating coinage of the United Kingdom is denominated in pounds sterling (symbol "£"), and, since the introduction of the two-pound coin in 1998, ranges in value from one penny to two pounds. Since decimalisation, on 15 February 1971, the pound has been divided into 100 (new) pence. From the 16th century until decimalisation, the pound was divided into 20 shillings, each of 12 (old) pence. British coins are minted by the Royal Mint in Llantrisant, Wales. The Royal Mint also commissions the coins' designs.
As of 30 March 2010, there were an estimated 28 billion coins circulating in the United Kingdom.
The first decimal coins were circulated in 1968. These were the five pence (5p) and ten pence (10p), and had values of one shilling (1/-) and two shillings (2/-), respectively, under the pre-decimal £sd system. The decimal coins are minted in copper-plated steel (previously bronze), nickel-plated steel, cupro-nickel and nickel-brass. The two-pound coin is bimetallic. The coins are discs, except for the twenty pence and fifty-pence pieces, both of which are heptagonal curves of constant width. All the circulating coins have an effigy of Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse, and various national and regional designs, and the denomination, on the reverse. The circulating coins, excepting the two-pound coin, were redesigned in 2008, keeping the sizes and compositions unchanged, but introducing reverse designs that each depict a part of the Royal Shield of Arms and form the whole shield when they are placed together in the appropriate arrangement. The exception, the 2008 one-pound coin, depicts the entire shield of arms on the reverse. All current coins carry a Latin inscription whose full form is ELIZABETH II DEI GRATIA REGINA FIDEI DEFENSOR, meaning "Elizabeth II, by the grace of God, Queen and Defender of the Faith".
In addition to the circulating coinage, the UK also mints commemorative decimal coins (crowns) in the denomination of five pounds (previously 25p). Ceremonial Maundy money and bullion coinage of gold sovereigns, half sovereigns, and gold and silver Britannia coins are also produced. Some territories outside the United Kingdom, that use the pound sterling, produce their own coinage, with the same denominations and specifications as the UK coinage but local designs.
In the years just prior to decimalisation, the circulating British coins were the half crown (2/6), two shillings or florin (2/-), shilling (1/-), sixpence (6d), threepence (3d), penny (1d) and halfpenny (½d). The farthing (¼d) had been withdrawn in 1960. There was also the Crown (5/-), which was (and still is) legal tender but only minted on special occasions and not normally circulated.
All modern coins feature a profile of the current monarch's head. The direction in which they face changes with each successive monarch, a pattern that began with the Stuarts. For the Tudors and pre-Restoration Stuarts, both left and right-facing portrait images were minted within the reign of a single monarch. In the Middle Ages, portrait images tended to be full face.
From a very early date, British coins have been inscribed with the name of the ruler of the kingdom in which they were produced, and a longer or shorter title, always in Latin; among the earliest distinctive English coins are the silver pennies of Offa of Mercia, which were inscribed with the legend OFFA REX, "King Offa". The English silver penny was derived from another silver coin, the sceat, of 20 troy grains weight, which was in general circulation in Europe during the Middle Ages. In the 12th century, Henry II established the sterling silver standard for English coinage, of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper, replacing the earlier use of fine silver in the Middle Ages. The coinage reform of 1816 set up a weight/value ratio and physical sizes for silver coins. Silver was eliminated from coins, except Maundy coins, in 1947.
- 1 History
- 2 Currently circulating coinage
- 2.1 Production and distribution
- 2.2 Coins in circulation
- 2.3 UK decimal coinage history
- 2.4 Summary of denominations
- 2.5 Specifications
- 2.6 UK designs
- 2.7 Non-UK coinage
- 3 Non-circulating coins
- 4 Pre-decimal coinage
- 5 Minting errors reaching circulation
- 6 Titles
- 7 Mottos
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
The history of the Royal Mint stretches back to 886 A.D. For many centuries production took place in London, initially at the Tower of London, and then at premises nearby in Tower Hill. In the 1970s production was transferred to Llantrisant in South Wales. Historically Scotland and England had separate coinage; the last Scottish coins were struck in 1709 shortly after union with England.
Coins were originally hand-hammered — an ancient technique in which two dies are struck together with a blank coin between them. This was the traditional method of manufacturing coins in the Western world from the classical Greek era onwards, in comparison with Asia, where coins were traditionally cast. The first milled (that is, machine-made) coins were produced during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558–1603) and periodically during the subsequent reigns of James I and Charles I, but there was initially opposition to mechanisation from the moneyers who ensured that most coins continued to be produced by hammering. All British coins produced since 1662 have been milled.
Origins of the penny
The English penny first appeared in Anglo-Saxon times, as a silver coin. It was derived from another silver coin, the sceat, of 20 troy grains weight, which was in general circulation in Europe during the Middle Ages. The weight of the English penny was fixed at 22.5 troy grains (about 1.46 grams) by Offa of Mercia, an 8th-century contemporary of Charlemagne. The coin's designated value, however, was that of 24 troy grains of silver (one pennyweight, or 1⁄240 of a troy pound, or about 1.56 grams), with the difference being a premium attached by virtue of the minting into coins. Thus 240 pennyweights made one troy pound of silver in weight, and the monetary value of 240 pennies also became known as a "pound". (240 actual pennies, however, weighed only 5400 troy grains, known as tower pound, a unit used only by mints. The tower pound was abolished in the 16th century.) The silver penny remained the primary unit of coinage for about 500 years.
Over the years, the penny was gradually debased until by the 16th century it contained about a third the silver content of a proper troy 24 grain pennyweight.
By 1915, a penny was worth around 1/6 what it had been worth during the Middle Ages. British government sources suggest that prices have risen over 61-fold since 1914, so a mediaeval sterling silver penny might have had purchasing power equivalent to £4.50 today, and a farthing (a quarter penny) would have the value of slightly more than today's pound (about £1.125).
From the time of Charlemagne until the 12th century, the silver currency of England was made from the highest purity silver available. Unfortunately there were drawbacks to minting currency of fine silver, notably the level of wear it suffered, and the ease with which coins could be "clipped", or trimmed, by those dealing in the currency.
In the 12th century a new standard for English coinage was established by Henry II — the Sterling Silver standard of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. This was a harder-wearing alloy, yet it was still a rather high grade of silver. It went some way towards discouraging the practice of "clipping", though this practice was further discouraged and largely eliminated with the introduction of the milled edge we see on coins today.
During the reign of Henry VIII, the silver content was gradually debased, reaching a low of 1/3 silver. However, in Edward VI's reign, silver purity was increased to sterling again and the first crowns and half crowns were produced dated 1551. From this point onwards till 1920, sterling was the rule.
By 1696, the currency had been seriously weakened by an increase in clipping during the Nine Years' War to the extent that it was decided to recall and replace all hammered silver coinage in circulation. The exercise came close to disaster due to fraud and mismanagement, but was saved by the personal intervention of Isaac Newton after his appointment as Warden of the Mint, a post which was intended to be a sinecure, but which he took seriously. Newton was subsequently given the post of Master of the Mint in 1699. Following the 1707 union between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland, Newton used his previous experience to direct the 1707–1710 Scottish recoinage, resulting in a common currency for the new Kingdom of Great Britain. After 15 September 1709 no further silver coins were ever struck in Scotland.
As a result of a report written by Newton on 21 September 1717 to the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury the bimetallic relationship between gold coins and silver coins was changed by Royal proclamation on 22 December 1717, forbidding the exchange of gold guineas for more than 21 silver shillings. Due to differing valuations in other European countries this inadvertently resulted in a silver shortage as silver coins were used to pay for imports, while exports were paid for in gold, effectively moving Britain from the silver standard to its first gold standard, rather than the bimetallic standard implied by the proclamation.
The coinage reform of 1816 set up a weight/value ratio and physical sizes for silver coins.
In 1920, the silver content of all British coins was reduced from 92.5% to 50%, with a portion of the remainder consisting of manganese, which caused the coins to tarnish to a very dark colour after they had been in circulation for a significant period. Silver was eliminated altogether in 1947, except for Maundy coinage, which returned to the pre-1920 92.5% silver composition.
The 1816 weight/value ratio and size system survived the debasement of silver in 1920, and the adoption of token coins of cupro-nickel in 1947. It even persisted after decimalisation for those coins which had equivalents and continued to be minted with their values in new pence. The UK finally abandoned it in 1992 when smaller, more convenient, "silver" coins were introduced.
All coins since the 17th century have featured a profile of the current monarch's head. The direction in which they face changes with each successive monarch, a pattern that began with the Stuarts, as shown in the table below:
|Facing left||Facing right|
|Cromwell 1653–1658||Charles II 1660–1685|
|James II 1685–1688||William and Mary 1689–1694
William III 1694–1702
|Anne 1702–1714||George I 1714–1727|
|George II 1727–1760||George III 1760–1820|
|George IV 1820–1830||William IV 1830–1837|
|Victoria 1837–1901||Edward VII 1901–1910|
|George V 1910–1936|
|Edward VIII 1936||(uncirculated issues)|
|George VI 1936–1952||Elizabeth II 1952–present|
For the Tudors and pre-Restoration Stuarts, both left- and right-facing portrait images were minted within the reign of a single monarch (left-facing images were more common). In the Middle Ages, portrait images tended to be full face.
There was a small quirk in this alternating pattern when Edward VIII ascended to the throne in January 1936 and was portrayed facing left, the same as his predecessor George V. This was because Edward thought his left to be his best side. However, Edward VIII abdicated in December 1936 and his coins were never put into general circulation. When George VI came to the throne, he had his coins struck with him facing the left, as if Edward VIII's coins had faced right (as they should have done according to tradition). Thus, in a timeline of circulating British coins, George V and VI's coins both feature left-facing portraits, although they follow directly chronologically.
Currently circulating coinage
Production and distribution
All UK coins are produced by the Royal Mint. The same coinage is used across the United Kingdom – Unlike banknotes, local issues of coins are not produced for different parts of the UK. The pound coin until 2008 has been produced in regional designs, but these circulate equally in all parts of the UK (see UK designs, below).
Every year, newly minted coins are checked for size, weight, and composition at a Trial of the Pyx. Essentially the same procedure has been used since the 13th century. Assaying is now done by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths on behalf of HM Treasury.
The 1p and 2p coins from 1971 are the oldest standard-issue coins still in circulation.
Coins from the British dependencies and territories that use the pound as their currency are sometimes found in change in other jurisdictions. Strictly, they are not legal tender in the United Kingdom; however, since they have the same specifications as UK coins, they are sometimes tolerated in commerce, and can readily be used in vending machines.
UK-issued coins are, on the other hand, generally fully accepted and freely mixed in other British dependencies and territories that use the pound.
An extensive coinage redesign was commissioned by the Royal Mint in 2005, and new designs were gradually introduced into the circulating British coinage from summer 2008. The pre-2008 coins will remain legal tender and are expected to stay in circulation for the foreseeable future.
Coins in circulation
Estimated as at March 2013
|Denomination||Number of Pieces (m)||Face Value £m|
UK decimal coinage history
Since decimalisation on 15 February 1971 the pound (symbol "£") has been divided into 100 pence. (Prior to decimalisation the pound was divided into 20 shillings, each of 12 (old) pence; thus there were 240 (old) pence to the pound. The value of the pound itself was unchanged by decimalisation.)
The first decimal coins – the five pence (5p) and ten pence (10p) — were introduced in 1968 in the run-up to decimalisation in order to familiarise the public with the new system. These initially circulated alongside the pre-decimal coinage and had the same size and value as the existing one shilling and two shilling coins respectively. The fifty pence (50p) coin followed in 1969, replacing the old ten shilling note. The remaining decimal coins – at the time, the half penny (½p), penny (1p) and two pence (2p) — were issued in 1971 at decimalisation. A quarter-penny coin, to be struck in aluminium, was proposed at the time decimalisation was being planned, but was never minted.
The new coins were initially marked with the wording NEW PENNY (singular) or NEW PENCE (plural). The word "new" was dropped in 1982. The symbol "p" was adopted to distinguish the new pennies from the old, which used the symbol "d" (from the Latin denarius, a coin used in the Roman Empire).
In the years since decimalisation a number of changes have been made to the coinage. The twenty pence (20p) coin was introduced in 1982 to fill the gap between the 10p and 50p coins. The pound coin (£1) was introduced in 1983 to replace the Bank of England £1 banknote which was discontinued in 1984 (although the Scottish banks continued producing them for some time afterwards; the last of them, the Royal Bank of Scotland £1 note, is still in production as of 2013[ref]). The designs on the one pound coin change annually in a largely five-year cycle.
The decimal half penny coin was demonetised in 1984 as its value was by then too small to be useful. The pre-decimal sixpence, shilling and two shilling coins, which had continued to circulate alongside the decimal coinage with values of 2½p, 5p and 10p respectively, were finally withdrawn in 1980, 1990 and 1993 respectively.
In the 1990s the Royal Mint reduced the sizes of the 5p, 10p and 50p coins. As a consequence, the oldest 5p coins in circulation date from 1990, the oldest 10p coins from 1992 and the oldest 50p coins come from 1997. Since 1997, many special commemorative designs of 50p have been issued. Some of these are found fairly frequently in circulation and some are rare. They are all legal tender.
The specifications and dates of introduction of the 5p, 10p and 50p coins refer to the current versions. These coins were originally issued in larger sizes in 1968 and 1969 respectively.
With their high copper content (97%), the intrinsic value of pre-1992 1p and 2p coins increased with the surge in metal prices of the mid-2000s, until by 2006 the coins would, if melted down, have been worth about 50% more than their face value. (To do this, however, would be illegal, and they would have had to be melted in huge quantities to achieve significant gain.) In later years the price of copper fell considerably. Copper plated steel coins were introduced to replace them.
A circulating bimetallic two pound (£2) coin was introduced in 1998 (first minted in, and dated, 1997). There had previously been unimetallic commemorative £2 coins which did not normally circulate. This tendency to use the two pound coin for commemorative issues has continued since the introduction of the bimetallic coin, and a few of the older unimetallic coins have since entered circulation.
There are also commemorative issues of crowns. Before 1990 these had a face value of twenty-five pence (25p), equivalent to the five shilling crown used in pre-decimal Britain. However, in 1990 crowns were redenominated with a face value of five pounds (£5) as the previous value was considered not sufficient for such a high-status coin. The size and weight of the coin remained exactly the same. Decimal crowns are generally not found in circulation as their market value is likely to be higher than their face value, but they remain legal tender.
In 2008, UK coins underwent an extensive redesign, which changed the reverse designs, and some other details, of all coins except the £2. The original intention was to exclude both the £1 and £2 coins from the redesign because they were "relatively new additions" to the coinage, but it was later decided to include the £1 coin. This was the first wholesale change to British coinage since the first decimal coins were introduced in April 1968. The new coins were initially to be put into circulation in early 2008, although they did not actually start to appear until mid-2008.
The major design feature was the introduction of a reverse design shared across six coins (1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p), that can be pieced together to form an image of the Royal Shield. This was the first time a coin design had been featured across multiple coins in this way. Completing the set, the new £1 reverse features the Shield in its entirety. The effigy of the Queen, by Ian Rank-Broadley, continues to appear on the obverse of all the coins.
On all coins, the beading (ring of small dots) around the edge of the obverses has been removed. The obverse of the 20p coin has also been amended to incorporate the year, which had been on the reverse of the coin since its introduction in 1982 (giving rise to an unusual issue of a mule version without any date at all). The orientation of both sides of the 50p coin has been rotated through 180 degrees, meaning the bottom of the coin is now a corner rather than a flat edge. The numerals showing the decimal value of each coin, previously present on all coins except £2 and £1, have been removed, leaving the values spelled out in words only.
The redesign was the result of a competition launched by the Royal Mint in August 2005, which closed on 14 November 2005. The competition was open to the public and received over 4,000 entries. The winning entry was unveiled on 2 April 2008, designed by Matthew Dent. The Royal Mint stated the new designs were "reflecting a twenty-first century Britain". An advisor to the Royal Mint described the new coins as "post-modern" and said that this was something that could not have been done 50 years previously.
The redesign was criticised by some for having no specifically Welsh symbol (such as the Welsh Dragon), because the Royal Shield does not include a specifically Welsh symbol. Wrexham MP Ian Lucas, who was also campaigning to have the Welsh Dragon included on the Union Flag, called the omission "disappointing", and stated that he would be writing to the Queen to request that the Royal Standard be changed to include Wales. The Royal Mint stated that "the Shield of the Royal Arms is symbolic of the whole of the United Kingdom and as such, represents Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland." Designer Dent stated "I am a Welshman and proud of it, but I never thought about the fact we did not have a dragon or another representation of Wales on the design because as far as I am concerned Wales is represented on the Royal Arms. This was never an issue for me."
The designs were also criticised for not including a portrayal of Britannia, the female personification of Britain whose image has appeared on British coinage continuously since 1672. In response to the concern over the loss of Britannia, the chairman of the Royal Mint Advisory Committee stated "There are 806 million Britannias in circulation at the moment [on the old 50p coin]. They will remain in circulation. They will see all of us out, until they die a natural death. So whatever happens, Britannia stays around".
The Royal Mint's choice of an inexperienced coin designer to produce the new coinage was criticised by Virginia Ironside, daughter of Christopher Ironside who designed the previous UK coins. She stated that the new designs were "totally unworkable as actual coins", due to the loss of a numerical currency identifier, and the smaller typeface used.
Steel 5p and 10p coins
From January 2012, 5p and 10p coins have been made from nickel-plated steel rather than cupro-nickel in order to save on production costs. The new coins are 11% thicker to maintain the same weight.
Summary of denominations
- Half penny (½p; £0.005) 1971–1984, demonetised since then.
- One penny (1p; £0.01), 1971–present
- Two pence (2p; £0.02), 1971–present
- Five pence (5p; £0.05), 1968–1990 (reduced to present size); 1990–present
- Ten pence (10p; £0.10), 1968–1992 (reduced to present size); 1992–present
- Twenty pence (20p; £0.20), 1982–present
- Twenty-five pence or crown (25p; £0.25), 1972–1981 (special issues, not in common circulation)
- Fifty pence (50p; £0.50), 1969–1997 (reduced to present size); 1997–present
- One pound (£1.00), 1983–present
- Two pounds (£2.00), 1986–1997 (special issues); 1997–present (general issue - bimetallic)
- Five pounds or crown (£5.00), 1990–present (special issues, not in common circulation though still legal tender)
|One penny||Queen Elizabeth II||Segment of the Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom||20.32 mm||1.52 mm (bronze)
1.65 mm (copper-plated steel)
|3.5625 g||Bronze (1971 – Sept 1992)
Copper-plated steel (Sept 1992 – present)
|Two pence||Queen Elizabeth II||Segment of the Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom||25.9 mm||1.85 mm (bronze)
2.03 mm (copper-plated steel)
|7.125 g||Bronze (97% copper, 2.5% zinc, 0.5% tin) – until September 1992
Copper-plated steel – since September 1992, except in 1998 when the 2p was made in both alloys
|Five pence*||Queen Elizabeth II||Segment of the Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom||18 mm||1.7 mm (cupro-nickel)
1.89 mm (nickel-plated steel)
|3.25 g||Cupronickel (75:25) (Nickel-plated steel from Jan 2012)||Milled||1990|
|Ten pence*||Queen Elizabeth II||Segment of the Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom||24.5 mm||1.85 mm (cupro-nickel)
2.05 mm (nickel-plated steel)
|6.5 g||Cupronickel (75:25) (Nickel-plated steel from Jan 2012)||Milled||1992|
|Twenty pence||Queen Elizabeth II||Segment of the Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom||21.4 mm||1.7 mm||5 g||Cupronickel (84:16)||Smooth, Reuleaux heptagon||1982|
|Twenty-five pence||Queen Elizabeth II||No standard reverse design||38.61 mm||2.89 mm||28.28 g||Cupronickel||Milled, with variable inscription||1972 (commemorative, not in general circulation)|
|Fifty pence*||Queen Elizabeth II||Segment of the Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom||27.3 mm||1.78 mm||8 g||Cupronickel (75:25)||Smooth, Reuleaux heptagon||1997|
|One pound||Queen Elizabeth II||Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom||22.5 mm||3.15 mm||9.5 g||Nickel-brass||Milled with variable inscription and/or decoration||1983|
|Two pounds†||Queen Elizabeth II||Design by Bruce Rushin||28.4 mm||2.5 mm||12 g||Inner: Cupronickel
|Milled with variable inscription and/or decoration||1997 (issued 1998)|
|Five pounds||Queen Elizabeth II||No standard reverse design||38.61 mm||2.89 mm||28.28 g||Cupronickel||Milled, with variable inscription||1990 (commemorative, not in general circulation)|
* The specifications and dates of introduction of the 5p, 10p and 50p coins refer to the current versions. These coins were originally issued in larger sizes in 1968 and 1969 respectively.
†The specification and date of introduction of the £2 coin refers to the current version. This coin was originally issued in a smaller size in a single metal in 1986 for special issues only.
With their high copper content (97%), the intrinsic value of pre-1992 1p and 2p coins increased with the surge in metal prices of the mid-2000s, until by 2006 the coins, would, if melted down, have been worth about 50% more than their face value. (To do this, however, would be illegal, and they would have had to be melted in huge quantities to achieve significant gain.) In subsequent years the price of copper fell considerably from these peaks.
All modern British coins feature a profile of the current monarch's head on the obverse. There has been only one monarch since decimalisation, Queen Elizabeth II, so her head appears on all decimal coins, facing to the right (see also Monarch's head, above). However, four different effigies have been used, reflecting the Queen's changing appearance as she has aged. These are the effigy by Mary Gillick until 1968, that by Arnold Machin from 1968 to 1984, that by Raphael Maklouf between 1985 and 1997, and that by Ian Rank-Broadley since 1998.
All current coins carry a Latin inscription whose full form is ELIZABETH II DEI GRATIA REGINA FIDEI DEFENSOR, meaning "Elizabeth II, by the grace of God, Queen and Defender of the Faith". The inscription appears on the coins in any of several abbreviated forms, typically ELIZABETH II D G REG F D.
From 2008 the circle of dots between the lettering and the rim was removed from the 1p, 2p, 5, and 10p and £1. (It was never on the 20p and 50p, and is retained on the £2.)
Original reverse designs
The original standard-issue decimal coinage reverse designs are as follows:
- ½p (discontinued 1984) — A crown, symbolising the monarch.
- 1p – A crowned portcullis with chains (the badge of the Houses of Parliament).
- 2p – The Prince of Wales's feathers: a plume of ostrich feathers within a coronet.
- 5p – A crowned thistle, formally "The Badge of Scotland, a thistle royally crowned".
- 10p – A crowned lion, part of the British Coat of Arms (and often is the national animal of the UK)
- 20p – A crowned Tudor Rose, a traditional heraldic emblem of England (NB With incuse design and lettering).
- 50p — Britannia and lion.
- £1 – Numerous different designs (see below).
- £2 – An abstract design of concentric circles, representing technological development from the Iron Age to the modern day electronic age.
Up until the 2008 redesign, the reverse designs of the one pound coin have followed a five-year cycle. This cycle successively represents, by using royal heraldic badges, each of the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom, namely Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England, with the Royal Coat of Arms used in every fifth year:
|Royal designs||Themed designs|
|1983: Royal Coat of Arms||National plants||1984: Thistle||1985: Leek||1986: Flax||1987: Oak|
|1988: Royal Shield & Crown||National plants||1989: Thistle||1990: Leek||1991: Flax||1992: Oak|
|Royal Coat of Arms||National symbols||1994: Lion Rampant||1995: Welsh dragon||1996: Celtic cross||1997: The Three Lions|
|1998: Royal Coat of Arms||National symbols||1999: Lion Rampant||2000: Welsh dragon||2001: Celtic cross||2002: The Three Lions|
|2003: Royal Coat of Arms||Bridges||2004: Forth Bridge||2005: Menai Suspension Bridge||2006: MacNeill's Egyptian Arch||2007: Gateshead Millennium Bridge|
|2008-: Royal Shield||Capitals||2011: Edinburgh||2011: Cardiff||2010: Belfast||2010: London|
|2008-: Royal Shield||National plants||2014: Thistle & bellflower stem||2013: Leek & daffodil plant||2014: Shamrock & flax stem||2013: Rose & oak twig|
Royal Shield reverse
The 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p and 50p coin designs post 2008 each depict a part of the Royal Shield, and form the whole shield when they are placed together in the appropriate arrangement. The Royal Shield is seen in its entirety on the £1 coin.
- The 1p coin depicts the lower part of the first quarter and the upper part of the third quarter of the shield, showing the lions passant of England and the harp of Ireland respectively
- The 2p coin depicts most of the second quarter of the shield, showing the lion rampant of Scotland
- The 5p coin depicts the centre of the shield, showing the meeting and parts of the constituent parts of the shield
- The 10p coin depicts most of the first quarter of the shield, containing the three lions passant of England
- The 20p coin depicts the lower part of the second quarter and upper part of the fourth quarter, showing the lion rampant of Scotland and the lions passant of England respectively
- The 50p coin depicts the point of the shield and the bottom portions of the second and third quarters showing the harp of Ireland and lions passant of England respectively
- The £1 coin depicts the whole of the Royal Shield
- The standard-issue £2 coin design remains unchanged
The 1p, 2p, 20p and 50p coins have smooth edges. The 5p, 10p, £1 and £2 coins have milled edges. The milling, in combination with the non-circular shape of the 20p and 50p, serve as the primary means of identification and differentiation between coinage for blind or visually impaired people. Historically, milling also served to discourage coin clipping.
The £1 coin and £2 coins have, inscribed into the milling, words or a decoration related to their face design. Many issues of the £1 coin carry one of the following edge inscriptions:
- DECUS ET TUTAMEN — Latin for "An ornament and a safeguard", a phrase taken from Virgil's Aeneid, and here referring to the fact that the inscription serves both as a decorative feature and as a safeguard against the clipping of the coin's edges (this is not a modern concern, but harks back to the days when circulating coins were made of precious metals). This appears on coins with English-themed, Northern Irish-themed or general UK-themed designs.
- PLEIDIOL WYF I'M GWLAD — Welsh for "True am I to my country", from the Welsh national anthem. This appears on coins with Welsh-themed designs.
- NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSIT — Latin for "No-one provokes me with impunity", the motto of the Order of the Thistle. This appears on coins with Scottish-themed designs.
The standard-issue £2 coin carries the edge inscription STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS. Other designs of the coin are issued from time to time to commemorate special events or anniversaries. These may have special edge inscriptions relevant to the theme, or the edge inscription may be replaced by a decorative motif.
Three commemorative designs were issued of the large version of the 50p: in 1973 (the EEC), 1992–3 (EC presidency) and 1994 (D-Day anniversary). Commemorative designs of the smaller 50p coin have been issued (alongside the Britannia standard issue) in 1998 (two designs), 2000, and from 2003 to 2007 yearly (two designs in 2006). For a complete list, see Fifty pence (British decimal coin).
Prior to 1997, the two pound coin was minted in commemorative issues only – in 1986, 1989, 1994, 1995 and 1996. Commemorative £2 coins have been regularly issued since 1999, alongside the standard-issue bi-metallic coins which were introduced in 1997. One or two designs have been minted each year, with the exception of none in 2000, and four regional 2002 issues marking the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. As well as a distinct reverse design, these coins have an edge inscription relevant to the subject. The anniversary themes are continued until at least 2009, with two designs announced. For a complete list, see Two pounds (British decimal coin).
Outside the United Kingdom, the British Crown Dependencies of Jersey and Guernsey use the pound sterling as their currencies. However, they produce local issues of coinage in the same denominations and specifications, but with different designs. These circulate freely alongside UK coinage and English, Northern Irish and Scottish banknotes within these territories, but must be converted in order to be used in the UK. The island of Alderney also produces occasional commemorative coins. (See coins of the Jersey pound, coins of the Guernsey pound, and Alderney pound for details.). The Isle of Man is a unique case among the Crown Dependencies, issuing its own currency, the Manx pound. While the Isle of Man recognises the Pound Sterling as a secondary currency, coins of the Manx pound are not legal tender in the UK.
The pound sterling is also the official currency of the British overseas territories of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, British Antarctic Territory and Tristan da Cunha. South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands produces occasional special collectors' sets of coins. In 2008, British Antarctic Territory issued a £2 coin commemorating the centenary of Britain's claim to the region.
The currencies of the British overseas territories of Gibraltar, The Falkland Islands and Saint Helena/Ascension — namely the Gibraltar pound, Falkland Islands pound and Saint Helena pound — are pegged one-to-one to the pound sterling but are technically separate currencies. These territories issue their own coinage, again with the same denominations and specifications as the UK coinage but with local designs, as coins of the Gibraltar pound, coins of the Falkland Islands pound and coins of the Saint Helena pound.
The other British overseas territories do not use the pound as their official currency.
25p, £5 and £20 coins
Although these coins are in practice very rarely found in circulation, they are for convenience described with the circulating coins, above.
Maundy money is a ceremonial coinage traditionally given to the poor, and nowadays awarded annually to deserving senior citizens. There are Maundy coins in denominations of one, two, three and four pence. They bear dates from 1822 to the present and are minted in very small quantities. Though they are legal tender in the UK, they are never encountered in circulation. The pre-decimal Maundy pieces have the same legal tender status and value as post-decimal ones, and effectively increased in face value by 140% upon decimalisation. Their numismatic value is much greater.
Maundy coins still bear the original portrait of the Queen as used in the circulating coins of the first years of her reign.
The traditional bullion coin issued by Britain is the gold sovereign, formerly a circulating coin with a face value of one pound. The Royal Mint continues to produce gold sovereigns and half sovereigns, with 2013 list prices of, respectively, £495 and £250.
Between 1987-2012 a series of bullion coins, the Britannia, was issued, containing 1-troy-ounce (31 g), 1⁄2-troy-ounce (16 g), 1⁄4-troy-ounce (7.8 g), and 1⁄10-troy-ounce (3.1 g) of fine gold at a millesimal fineness of 917 (22 carat) and with face values of £100, £50, £25, and £10.
Between 1997-2012 silver bullion coins have also been produced under the name “Britannias”. The alloy used was Britannia silver (millesimal fineness 958). The silver coins were available in 1-troy-ounce (31 g), 1⁄2-troy-ounce (16 g), 1⁄4-troy-ounce (7.8 g), and 1⁄10-troy-ounce (3.1 g) sizes.
Since 2013 the alloy used is silver at a (millesimal fineness 999). The silver coins are available in 1-troy-ounce (31 g) sizes.
The Royal Mint also issues silver, gold and platinum proof sets of the circulating coins, as well as gift products such as gold coins set into jewellery.
- For further information about the history of pre-decimal coinage, see Pound sterling. See also Decimal Day.
Before decimalisation in 1971, the pound was divided into 240 pence rather than 100, though it was rarely expressed in this way. Rather it was expressed in terms of pounds, shillings and pence, where:
- £1 = 20 shillings (20s).
- 1 shilling = 12 pence (12d).
Thus: £1 = 240 pence. The penny was further subdivided at various times, though these divisions vanished as inflation made them irrelevant:
- 1 penny = 2 halfpennies and (earlier) 4 farthings (half farthing, a third of a farthing, and quarter farthing coins were minted in the late 19th century, and into the early 20th century in the case of the third farthing, but circulated only in certain British colonies and not in the UK).
Using the example of five shillings and sixpence, the standard ways of writing shillings and pence were:
- 5s 6d
- 5/- for 5 shillings only, with the dash to stand for zero pennies.
The sum of 5/6 would be spoken as "five shillings and sixpence" or "five and six".
The abbreviation for the old penny, d, was derived from the Roman denarius, and the abbreviation for the shilling, s, from the Roman solidus. The shilling was also denoted by the slash symbol, also called a solidus for this reason, which was originally an adaptation of the long s. The symbol "£", for the pound, is derived from the first letter of the Latin word for pound, libra.
A similar pre-decimal system operated in France, also based on the Roman currency, consisting of the livre (L), sol or sou (s) and denier (d). Until 1816 another similar system was used in the Netherlands, consisting of the gulden (G), stuiver (s; 1/20 G) and duit, (d; 1/8 s or 1/160 G).
- For an extensive list of historical pre-decimal coin denominations, see List of British banknotes and coins.
In the years just prior to decimalisation, the circulating British coins were:
- Half crown (2/6)
- Florin or two shillings (2/-)
- Shilling (1/-)
- Sixpence (6d)
- Threepence (3d) (usually pronounced "threppence", "thruppence", "threp-unny bit" or similar)
- Penny (1d)
- Halfpenny (½d) (usually pronounced HAY-p'nee)
The crown, half crown, florin, shilling and sixpence were cupro-nickel coins (in historical times silver or silver alloy); the penny, halfpenny and farthing were bronze; and the threepence was a twelve-sided nickel-brass coin (historically it was a small silver coin).
Some of the pre-decimalisation coins with exact decimal equivalent values continued in use after 1971 alongside the new coins, albeit with new names (the shilling became equivalent to the 5p coin, with the florin equating to 10p), and the others were withdrawn almost immediately. The use of florins and shillings as legal tender in this way ended in 1990 and 1992 when the 5p and 10p coins were replaced with smaller versions. Indeed, while pre-decimalisation shillings were used as 5p coins, for a while after decimalisation many people continued to call the new 5p coin a shilling, since it remained 1/20 of a pound, but was now worth 5p instead of 12d. The pre-decimalisation sixpence, also known as a sixpenny bit or sixpenny piece, was rated at 2½p, but was demonetised in 1980.
|Five pounds||Two pounds||Sovereign
|Crown||Half crown||Florin||Shilling||Sixpence||Groat||Threepence||Penny||Halfpenny||Farthing||Half farthing||Quarter farthing|
|Five pounds||1||2 1/2||5||20||40||50||100||200||300||400||1200||2400||4800||9600||19200|
Slang and everyday usage
Some pre-decimalisation coins or denominations became commonly known by colloquial and slang terms, perhaps the most well known being bob for a shilling, and quid for a pound. A farthing was a mag, a silver threepence was a joey and the later nickel-brass threepence was called a threepenny bit (// or // bit, i.e. thrup'ny or threp'ny bit – the apostrophe was pronounced on a scale from full "e" down to complete omission); a sixpence was a tanner, the two-shilling coin or florin was a two-bob bit. Bob is still used in phrases such as "earn/worth a bob or two", and "bob‐a‐job week". The two shillings and sixpence coin or half-crown was a half dollar, also sometimes referred to as two and a kick. A value of two pence was universally pronounced // tuppence, a usage which is still heard today, especially among older people. The unaccented suffix "-pence", pronounced //, was similarly appended to the other numbers up to twelve; thus "fourpence", "sixpence-three-farthings", "twelvepence-ha'penny", but "eighteen pence" would usually be said "one-and-six".
Quid remains as popular slang for one or more pounds to this day in Britain in the form "a quid" and then "two quid", and so on. Similarly, in some parts of the country, bob continued to represent one-twentieth of a pound, that is five new pence, and two bob is 10p.
The introduction of decimal currency caused a new casual usage to emerge, where any value in pence is spoken using the suffix pee: e.g. "twenty-three pee" or, in the early years, "two-and-a-half pee" rather than the previous "tuppence-ha'penny". Amounts over a pound are normally spoken thus: "five pounds forty". A value with less than ten pence over the pound is sometimes spoken like this: "one pound and a penny", "three pounds and fourpence". The slang term "bit" has almost disappeared from use completely, although in Scotland a fifty pence is sometimes referred to as a "ten bob bit". Decimal denomination coins are generally described using the terms piece or coin, for example "a fifty-pee piece", a "ten-pence coin".
Minting errors reaching circulation
Coins with errors in the minting process that reach circulation are often seen as valuable items by coin collectors.
In June 2009 the Royal Mint estimated that between 50,000 and 200,000 dateless 20 pence coins had entered circulation, the first undated British coin to enter circulation in more than 300 years. It resulted from the accidental combination of old and new face tooling in a production batch, creating what is known as a mule, following the 2008 redesign which moved the date from the reverse (tails) to the obverse (heads) side.
From a very early date, British coins have been inscribed with the name of the ruler of the kingdom in which they were produced, and a longer or shorter title, always in Latin; among the earliest distinctive English coins are the silver pennies of Offa of Mercia, which were inscribed with the legend OFFA REX "King Offa". As the legends became longer, words in the inscriptions were often abbreviated so that they could fit on the coin; identical legends have often been abbreviated in different ways depending upon the size and decoration of the coin. Inscriptions which go around the edge of the coin generally have started at the center of the top edge and proceeded in a clockwise direction. A very lengthy legend would be continued on the reverse side of the coin.
More recent legends include the following, in unabbreviated form:
- HENRICUS VII DEI GRATIA REX ANGLIAE & FRANCIAE "Henry VII by the Grace of God, King of England and France". France had been claimed by the English continuously since 1369.
- HENRICUS VIII DEI GRATIA REX ANGLIAE & FRANCIAE "Henry VIII by the Grace of God, King of England and France". The Arabic numeral 8 was also used instead of the Roman VIII.
- HENRICUS VIII DEI GRATIA ANGLIAE FRANCIAE & HIBERNIAE REX "Henry VIII by the Grace of God, Of England, France and Ireland, King". Henry VIII made Ireland a kingdom in 1541. The Arabic numeral 8 was also used instead of the Roman VIII.
- PHILIPPUS ET MARIA DEI GRATIA REX & REGINA "Philip and Mary by the Grace of God, King and Queen". The names of the realms were omitted from the coin for reasons of space.
- ELIZABETH DEI GRATIA ANGLIAE FRANCIAE ET HIBERNIAE REGINA "Elizabeth, by the Grace of God, of England, France, and Ireland, Queen".
- IACOBUS DEI GRATIA MAGNAE BRITANNIAE FRANCIAE ET HIBERNIAE REX "James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King". James, King of Scotland, by succeeding to the English throne united the two kingdoms in his person; he dubbed the combination of the two kingdoms "Great Britain" (the name of the whole island) though they remained legislatively distinct for more than a century afterwards.
- CAROLUS DEI GRATIA MAGNAE BRITANNIAE FRANCIAE ET HIBERNIAE REX "Charles, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King".
- OLIVARIUS DEI GRATIA REIPUBLICAE ANGLIAE SCOTIAE HIBERNIAE & CETERORUM PROTECTOR "Oliver, by the Grace of God, of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, Ireland etc., Protector". Cromwell ruled as a monarch but did not claim the title of king.
- CAROLUS II DEI GRATIA MAGNAE BRITANNIAE FRANCIAE ET HIBERNIAE REX "Charles II, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King".
- IACOBUS II DEI GRATIA MAGNAE BRITANNIAE FRANCIAE ET HIBERNIAE REX "James II, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King".
- GULIELMUS ET MARIA DEI GRATIA MAGNAE BRITANNIAE FRANCIAE ET HIBERNIAE REX ET REGINA "William and Mary by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King and Queen". The spouses William and Mary ruled jointly.
- GULIELMUS III DEI GRATIA MAGNAE BRITANNIAE FRANCIAE ET HIBERNIAE REX "William III by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King". William continued to rule alone after his wife's death.
- ANNA DEI GRATIA MAGNAE BRITANNIAE FRANCIAE ET HIBERNIAE REGINA "Anne by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Queen".
- GEORGIUS DEI GRATIA MAGNAE BRITANNIAE FRANCIAE ET HIBERNIAE REX FIDEI DEFENSOR BRUNSVICENSIS ET LUNEBURGENSIS DUX SACRI ROMANI IMPERII ARCHITHESAURARIUS ET ELECTOR "George by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, of Brunswick and Lüneburg Duke, of the Holy Roman Empire Archtreasurer and Elector." George I added the titles he already possessed as Elector of Hanover. He also added the title "Defender of the Faith", which had been borne by the English kings since Henry VIII, but which had previously only rarely appeared on coins.
- GEORGIUS II DEI GRATIA MAGNAE BRITANNIAE FRANCIAE ET HIBERNIAE REX FIDEI DEFENSOR BRUNSVICENSIS ET LUNEBURGENSIS DUX SACRI ROMANI IMPERII ARCHITHESAURARIUS ET ELECTOR "George II by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, of Brunswick and Lüneburg Duke, of the Holy Roman Empire Archtreasurer and Elector."
- GEORGIUS III DEI GRATIA MAGNAE BRITANNIAE FRANCIAE ET HIBERNIAE REX FIDEI DEFENSOR BRUNSVICENSIS ET LUNEBURGENSIS DUX SACRI ROMANI IMPERII ARCHITHESAURARIUS ET ELECTOR "George III by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, of Brunswick and Lüneburg Duke, of the Holy Roman Empire Archtreasurer and Elector."
- GEORGIUS III DEI GRATIA BRITANNIARUM REX FIDEI DEFENSOR "George III, by the Grace of God, of the Britains King, Defender of the Faith." By the Acts of Union 1800, Ireland was united with Great Britain into a single kingdom, which is represented on the coinage by the genitive of the Latin Britanniarum "Britains" (often abbreviated BRITT), signifying "The United Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland". At the same time the United Kingdom abandoned the traditional claim to the throne of France, which had become a Republic, and the other titles were dropped from the coinage.
- GEORGIUS IIII (IV) DEI GRATIA BRITANNIARUM REX FIDEI DEFENSOR "George IV, by the Grace of God, of the Britains King, Defender of the Faith." The Roman numeral "4" is represented by both IIII and IV in different issues.
- GULIELMUS IIII DEI GRATIA BRITANNIARUM REX FIDEI DEFENSOR "William IV, by the Grace of God, of the Britains King, Defender of the Faith."
- VICTORIA DEI GRATIA BRITANNIARUM REGINA FIDEI DEFENSOR "Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the Britains Queen, Defender of the Faith."
- VICTORIA DEI GRATIA BRITANNIARUM REGINA FIDEI DEFENSOR INDIAE IMPERATRIX "Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the Britains Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India." Queen Victoria was granted the title "Empress of India" in 1876.
- EDWARDUS VII DEI GRATIA BRITANNIARUM OMNIUM REX FIDEI DEFENSOR INDIAE IMPERATOR "Edward VII, by the Grace of God, of all the Britains King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India." Edward VII's coins added OMNIUM "all" after "Britains" to imply a rule over the British overseas colonies as well as the United Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
- GEORGIUS V DEI GRATIA BRITANNIARUM OMNIUM REX FIDEI DEFENSOR INDIAE IMPERATOR "George V, by the Grace of God, of all the Britains King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India."
- GEORGIUS VI DEI GRATIA BRITANNIARUM OMNIUM REX FIDEI DEFENSOR INDIAE IMPERATOR "George VI, by the Grace of God, of all the Britains King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India."
- GEORGIUS VI DEI GRATIA BRITANNIARUM OMNIUM REX FIDEI DEFENSOR "George VI, by the Grace of God, of all the Britains King, Defender of the Faith." The title "Emperor of India" was relinquished in 1948, after the independence of India and Pakistan.
- ELIZABETH II DEI GRATIA BRITANNIARUM OMNIUM REGINA FIDEI DEFENSOR "Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of all the Britains Queen, Defender of the Faith."
- ELIZABETH II DEI GRATIA REGINA FIDEI DEFENSOR "Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, Queen, Defender of the Faith." The "of all the Britains" was dropped from the coinage in 1954, and current coins do not name any realm.
In addition to the title, a Latin or French motto might be included, generally on the reverse side of the coin. These varied between denominations and issues; some were personal to the monarch, others were more general. Some of the mottos were:
- POSUI DEUM ADIUTOREM MEUM "I have made God my helper". Coins of Henry VII, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I. Possibly refers to Psalms 52:7, Ecce homo qui non posuit Deum adjutorem suum "Behold the man who did not make God his helper".
- RUTILANS ROSA SINE SPINA "A dazzling rose without a thorn". Coins of Henry VIII and Edward VI. Initially on the unsuccessful and very rare Crown of the Rose of Henry VIII and continued on subsequent small gold coinage into the reign of Edward VI.
- POSUIMUS DEUM ADIUTOREM NOSTRUM "We have made God our helper". Coins of Philip and Mary. The same as above, but with a plural subject.
- FACIAM EOS IN GENTEM UNAM "I shall make them into one nation". Coins of James I, signifying his desire to unite the English and Scottish nations. Refers to Ezekiel 37:2 in the Vulgate Bible.
- CHRISTO AUSPICE REGNO "I reign with Christ as my protector". Coins of Charles I.
- EXURGAT DEUS DISSIPENTUR INIMICI "May God rise up, may [his] enemies be scattered". Coins of Charles I, during the Civil War. Refers to Psalms 67:1 in the Vulgate Bible.
- PAX QUAERITUR BELLO "Peace is sought by war". Coins of the Protectorate; personal motto of Oliver Cromwell.
- HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE. "Shamed be he who thinks ill of it." Sovereigns of George III. Motto of the Order of the Garter.
- DECUS ET TUTAMEN. "A decoration and protection." Some pound coins of Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and some crown coins including some of Victoria and George V. Refers to the inscribed edge as a protection against the clipping of precious metal, as well as being a complimentary reference to the monarch and the monarchy.
- Banknotes of the pound sterling
- List of British bank notes and coins
- Royal Mint
- Roman currency
- Mark (money)
- Mintage Figures, Royal Mint
- "United Kingdom £5 Coin (Commemorative Crown)". The Royal Mint Limited. 2010-03-03.
- Royal Mint website
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- By The King, A Proclamation Declaring the Rates at which Gold shall be current in Payments reproduced in the numismatic chronicle and journal of the Royal Numismatic Society, Vol V., April 1842 – January 1843
- Coins with Cromwell's image were first minted in 1656 by Pierre Blondeau.
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- Foreign and Commonwealth Office country profiles: British Antarctic Territory
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office country profiles: Tristan da Cunha
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- Coins of England and Great Britain
- British Coin Denominations
- UK Coin Designs and Specifications from the Royal Mint's website
- Coin Designs — Royal Mint competition designs
- British Coins — catalogue