Crown (British coin)
|Kingdom of Great Britain until 1800, thereafter United Kingdom|
|Composition||Sterling silver until 1920; 50% silver until 1947; thereafter cupro-nickel|
|Years of minting||1707–1965|
|Design||Head of George IV (from 1820 to 1830)|
|Design||The reverse of the 1935 "rocking horse" Crown, with an updated depiction of Saint George and the Dragon|
The British crown, the successor to the English Crown and the Scottish Dollar, came into being with the Union of the kingdoms of England and Scotland in 1707. As with the English coin, its value was five shillings.
Always a heavy silver coin weighing about one ounce, during the 19th and 20th centuries the Crown declined from being a real means of exchange to being a coin rarely spent and minted for commemorative purposes only. In that format it has continued to be minted, even following decimalization of the British currency in 1971. However, as the result of inflation the value of the coin was revised upwards to five pounds.
The coin's origins lay in the English silver crown, one of many silver coins that appeared in various countries from the 16th century onwards, the most famous example perhaps being pieces of eight, all of which were of a similar size and weight (approx 38mm diameter and containing approx 25 grams of fine silver) and thus interchangeable in international trade. The kingdom of England also minted gold Crowns in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The British crown was always a large coin, and from the 19th century it did not circulate well. However, crowns were usually struck in a new monarch's coronation year, true of each monarch since George IV up until the present monarch in 1953, with the single exception of George V.
The George V "wreath" crowns struck from 1927 to 1936 (excluding 1935 when the more common "rocking horse" crown was minted to commemorate the King's Silver Jubilee) depict a wreath on the reverse of the coin and were struck in very low numbers. Generally struck late in the year and intended to be purchased as Christmas gifts, they did not circulate well with the rarest of all dates, 1934, (mintage just 932) now fetching several thousand pounds each. The 1927 'wreath' crowns were struck as proofs only (15,030 minted).
With its large size, many of the later coins were primarily commemoratives. The 1951 issue was for the Festival of Britain, and was only struck in proof condition. The 1965 issue carried the image of Winston Churchill on the reverse, the first time a non-monarch or commoner was ever placed on a British coin, and marked his death. According to the Standard Catalog of coins, 9,640,000 of this coin were minted, a very high number at the time, making them of little value today except as a mark of respect for the national war leader.
The last five shilling piece was minted in 1965.
After decimalisation on February 15, 1971 a new coin known as a 25p (25 pence) piece was introduced. Whilst being legal tender  and having the same decimal value as a crown, the 25p pieces were issued to commemorate events, e.g. 1972 was for the 25th wedding anniversary of Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. The 1977 issue was to celebrate Queen Elizabeth's silver Jubilee, the 1980 issue for the 80th birthday of Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and, in 1981, the coin was issued to celebrate the marriage of Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles.
The face or denominational value of the crown remained as five shillings from 1544 to 1965. For most of this period there was no mark of value on the coin. From 1927 to 1939 the word "CROWN" appears, and from 1951 to 1960 this was changed to "FIVE SHILLINGS". After decimalisation in 1971, the face value kept its five shillings equivalent at 25 new pence, later simply 25 pence, although the face value is not shown on any of these issues.
From 1990, the crown was re-tariffed at five pounds (£5), probably in view of its relatively large size compared with its face value, and taking into consideration its production costs, and the Royal Mint's profits on sales of commemorative coins. While this change was understandable, it has brought with it a slight confusion, and the popular misbelief that all crowns have a five pound face value, including the pre-1990 ones.
Although all "normal" issues since 1951 have been composed of cupro-nickel, special proof versions have been produced for sale to collectors, and as gift items, in silver, gold, and occasionally platinum.
The fact that gold £5 crowns are now produced means that there are two different strains of five pound gold coins, namely crowns and what are now termed "quintuple sovereigns" for want of a more concise term.
Numismatically, the term "crown-sized" is used generically to describe large silver or cupro-nickel coins of about 40 mm in diameter. Most Commonwealth countries still issue crown-sized coins for sale to collectors.
New Zealand's original and present fifty-cent pieces, and Australia's previously round but now dodecagonal fifty-cent piece, although valued at five shillings in predecimal accounting, are all smaller than the standard silver crown pieces issued by those countries (and the UK).
For silver crowns, the grade of silver adhered to the long-standing standard (established in the 12th century 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 seen on coins today.
In a debasement process which took effect 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, with the move to a composition of cupro-nickel – except for proof issues, which returned to the pre-1920 92.5% silver composition.
Since standardisation of the UK's silver coinage in 1816 (UK Coinage Reform 1816), a crown has, as a general rule, had a diameter of 38.61 mm, and weighed 28.276g.
|Edward VII||1902||256,020||Coronation||Ster. Silv.|
|George V||1927||15,030 (proof only)||'Wreath' Crown||0.500 silver|
|1928||9,034||'Wreath' Crown||0.500 silver|
|1929||4,994||'Wreath' Crown||0.500 silver|
|1930||4,847||'Wreath' Crown||0.500 silver|
|1931||4,056||'Wreath' Crown||0.500 silver|
|1932||2,395||'Wreath' Crown||0.500 silver|
|1933||7,132||'Wreath' Crown||0.500 silver|
|1934||932||'Wreath' Crown||0.500 silver|
|1935||714,769||George V and Queen Mary Silver Jubilee||0.500 silver|
|1936||2,473||'Wreath' Crown||0.500 silver|
|George VI||1937||418,699||Coronation||0.500 silver|
|1951||1,983,540||Festival of Britain||Cu/Ni|
|1960||1,024,038||British Exhibition in New York||Cu/Ni|
|1965||19,640,000||Death of Sir Winston Churchill||Cu/Ni|
|1972||Queen Elizabeth II 25th Wedding Anniversary 25p||Cu/Ni|
|1977||Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee 25p||Cu/Ni|
|1980||Queen Mother 80th Birthday 25p||Cu/Ni|
|1981||Charles & Diana Wedding 25p||Cu/Ni|
- The specifications for composition refer to the standard circulation versions. Proof versions continue to be minted in Sterling Silver
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