Return Britannia!

After several years absence, Britannia has returned to circulating UK coinage.

The redesign of the 1p-£1 coins by Matthew Dent left Britain’s coinage without that staple of UK coinage and symbol of the nation, Britannia. Until 2008, she featured of course on the reverse of the 50p coin and has now been promoted to the £2 coin!

Reverse of the 2017 £2 coin featuring Britannia
Reverse of the new £2 coin

I think she looks more youthful in this depiction by Antony Dufort than in her previous incarnation from Christopher Ironside and features only the top part of her body and her head compared to the whole figure on the old 50p coin. The actual specifications of the coin’s metals, dimensions (28.4mm diameter) and weight (12g) remain unchanged from 2015 despite the change of both obverse and reverse designs.

I think this coin adds to the scope for the amateur collector since £2 and 50p coins are probably the most commonly collected contemporary coins in the UK and the older £2 design written about here has become a bit too commonplace to excite most people.

1p – let’s look

Let’s look at the something we all see everyday but no one cares about!

The 1p coin has been around for 46 years now since we ditched the pound shilling and penny system but has been eroded in value by inflation over the past few decades from a level probably roughly equivalent to a contemporary 10 or 20p coin to the present throwaway token. In fact at the demonetisation of the decimal half-penny in 1984 it was probably worth very roughly twice the current 1p coin  ( I have taken these values from www.measuringworth.com and approximated them). It is also worth bearing in mind that the present penny despite being much smaller and of less intrinsic metallic value is worth 2.4 time more than the old pre-decimal penny in terms of its relationship to the pound.

Indeed since 1992, the intrinsic value of the coin has been reduced by the replacement of the bronze alloy with a copper plated steel disc presumably to reduce costs of production at the mint. There have been several calls over the years to scrap the 1p coin entirely and round up the odd value transactions – for instance this story I covered a few years ago.

The present incarnation of the coin features the reverse design by Matthew Dent featuring a portion of the royal crest (and if you look closely his initials hidden in the dots at the bottom of the picture shown below)

Reverse of the UK 1p coin 2008 onwards
Matthew Dent design of the 1p coin

The coin set released in 2008 in which each coin featured a part of the royal crest and the pound coin displayed the whole shield was criticized at the time for not including the denomination in numeral but only in words as seen above.  It doesn’t bother me – these little changes are part of the interest in studying coins but perhaps there are other interest groups that have more practical objections?

The design is, to my eye, quite appealing and features a segment of the left hand portion of the Royal Shield. The top corner of the Irish Harp and the bottom corner of the English Lions are visible. Another criticism of the set when it was launched was the absence of a Welsh symbol on any of the coins (there is no Welsh icon on the Royal Shield). Given that the designer was welsh and the the coins are minted exclusively in Wales this raised some eyebrows.

What I dislike about the more recent smaller denomination pieces is the composition of steel plated in very thin copper or nickel. It looks nice as it rolls off the production line I’m sure and the Royal Mint indicates that their armour plating technology is likely to last for 25-30 years in circulation. However, my personal experience is that after sometimes just 2 or 3 years, there are areas of wear where the steel is exposed and rust is starting to form which in my opinion detracts significantly from the appeal of the coin. Under high magnification, I have seen them at 1-2 years old and retaining less detail than the older alloy versions.

 

2017 UK Coins

I’ve ordered my set of 2017 coins from the Royal Mint, I will definitely be trying to collect from circulation too as I think that the history behind circulating coins is valuable too. It is to me at least and that really has to be the focus of the amateur numismatist as I see it as an informative and fascinating hobby – most certainly not as an investment.

That said, its nice to have an uncirculated set too as the beauty of some coins can be quickly eroded particularly now that the lower denominations are struck in steel and plated in nickel. This seems to rub off very quickly and leaves a rather unattractive coin in my opinion. If you are buying a set, make sure you order the one you want carefully as there are so many options to choose from each year now! The complete set costs £55 or about a pound a week over 2017 which is worth it to me!

The Isaac Newton 50p coin looks to me as if it will show wear on its delicate design very quickly. My first impression of the King Canute crown-sized £5 coin is that it will be quite striking (excuse the holiday pun) and of course is not going to be found in circulation. It’s the turn of the airforce to be commemorated in the £2 coin this year having had the army and navy in preceding years. Of course, the biggest revolution in our coin design since at least 1998 when the bimetallic £2 coin was released, is the introduction of the new 12 sided £1 coin which has been introduced to outfox the counterfeiters of the current pound coins who have become increasingly sophisticated over the last decade or so. Don’t forget though that the £2 coin itself is changing its standard reverse design too – the familiar design I posted about recently is no more and has been replaced with the new Britannia design which I must say I prefer and I agree it is about time that Britannia was re-installed on our coins after the Matthew Dent design pushed it off the 50p reverse the best part of a decade ago now.

Rare 50p Battle of Hastings Coin

We all know the battle of Hastings took place in 1066 and altered the course of British history forever, however, it might seem a rather odd anniversary to commemorate ie. 950 years but I guess the Royal Mint is taking every opportunity now to issue anything it can market! There were 8 different variants of the 50p coin struck in 2016 alone of which this is only one. I suppose this is both good and bad news for the amateur numismatist as on one hand it provides an obviously large range of relatively cheap coins to collect but for many people, finding all 8 varieties for the year may be quite difficult.

This coin is available in no less than 5 different varieties from the Royal Mint ranging in price from £10 for a Brilliant Uncirculated (BU) grade coin in cardboard packaging through to a gold proof version for £785! They even had the Mayors of Hastings and Battle along to the mint to see the first pieces struck.

Battle of Hastings rare 50p coin reverse
The reverse of the 50p coin marking 950 years since the Battle of Hastings.

The obverse, being a 2016 coin, features the bust of The Queen by Jody Clark alongside the denomination legend. The reverse, pictured above, features a design by the artist John Bergdahl based on the infamous depiction of King Harold in the Bayeux Tapestry. He sports, of course, the obligatory arrow in the eye. The reverse will certainly be obvious straight away to anyone who handles the coin in their daily life as it looks nothing like most of the UK 50 pence coins found in circulation.

I am certainly pleased to have come across this example though I must admit I am slightly annoyed that it is so ‘well travelled’ looking after only being in circulation a very short while – perhaps I will find a better example to keep next year – one of the joys of collecting coins for fun! I have found almost all of the 2016 50p coins now and will be posting about the others shortly (I still haven’t come across the Rio Olympic version – I assume this is quite a rare 50p although we won’t know for sure until the mintage figures are released next year.

As for the  specifications, nothing out of the ordinary at 27.3mm and 8g of cupronickel as per usual. There are rumours however that this is on course to oust the NHS commemorative 50p coin as the 5th rarest 50p coin ever!

The humble £2 coin

I thought we would look today at the regular issue version of the £2 coin which has recently become so famous for its commemorative cousins. This design is being replaced by the newer Britannia reverse coin from 2016 although I have not found any in circulation yet.

The current bimetallic £2 coin was introduced in June 1998  and replaced the generally uncirculated monometallic nickel-brass coins which had been minted intermittently since 1986 until 1996. Following inflation through the 1980s and early 1990s, it was felt that there was a need for a larger denomination coin than the pound coin introduced in 1983. The outcome of consultation with various interested parties such as the RNIB was a bimetallic coin which would be more easily identified by those with visual impairments.

2015 £2 coin
Obverse of the 2015 £2 coin

The outer ring is made from a nickel-brass alloy (76% copper, 4% nickel and 20% zinc) and the inner plate is a cupro-nickel alloy of 75% copper and 25% nickel) and the whole flan measures 28.4mm in diameter.

Although the coins were first released into circulation in June 1998 the Royal Mint started manufacturing them in 1997 but the planned introduction of the coin was delayed to allow vending machine operators to be ready. The release of both 1997 and 1998 versions at once is responsible for the widely held but entirely unwarranted belief that the Rafael Maklouf portrait (1997) of Her Majesty in which she is featured wearing a necklace was in some way a rare coin. The 1998 onwards portrait by Ian Rank-Broadley features no such necklace. However millions of each obverse design entered circulation meaning that the myth of “The Queen wearing a necklace £2 coin” as a rare coin is just that – a myth!

The reverse design of the coin is unchanged from 1997 to 2015 (from 2016 the standard £2 coins will feature Britannia in a design by Antony Dufort). The government held a public competition to design the reverse of the coin with an art teacher from Brudall, Norfolk submitting the winning design which symbolises in a series of concentric rings, the technological progress of man or perhaps the British Isles? The design begins with a device in the outer circle placed on the nickel-brass outer piece which represents the Iron Age and continues centripetally through the Industrial Revolution, the Computer Age and finally the Internet Age at the heart of the design. I think it is quite a pleasing design but I do find it perhaps a little too abstract!

The edge of the coin measures 2.5mm across and is milled with the inscription “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. This quote from Sir Isaac Newton features in a letter the great man wrote in 1676 and demonstrates his humility and appreciation of his contemporary scientists. From 2016 on, the edge inscription will change however to the latin “QUATUOR MARIA VINDICO” reflecting Britain’s seafaring heritage.

It is estimated that there are over 400,000,000 £2 coins in circulation and the large majority are not the commemorative or collectable rare coins most widely reported on but the above ‘plain’ design which is anything but plain and is actually much more intricate than a lot of the rarest £2 coins out there.

Abolition of Slavery £2 coin

In this post, we look at the £2 coin marking 200 years since the abolition of the slave trade in the United Kingdom. I quite like this reverse design by David Gentleman (who also designed the 2004 Entente Cordial coin). The coin was released into circulation by the Royal Mint in  2008 but still crops up in pocket change fairly regularly.

Quite a common commemorative coin to find in change with 8,445,000 minted I have found a few since it was released in 2008. The background to the design is textured (the presentation pack issues were not textured and also features the initials of the designer) and although it is not that obvious in this scan picture, it does add to the look of the coin.

Two pound coin commemorating the abolition of the slave trade

The edge inscription on this issue reads “Am I not a man and a brother” –  a quote from eighteenth century English pottery magnate and abolitionist Josiah Wedgewood (whose grandson Charles Darwin is also remembered on a £2 coin). The obverse features the Ian Rank Broadley portrait of HM Elizabeth II.

Specifications: Bimetallic (Nickel Brass outer ring with Cupro-nickel inner) weighing 12g and measuring 2.5mm by 28.4mm. It may be worth checking these parameters if you are suspicious of a coin’s authenticity as there are known to be forgeries in circulation.

Two Pound Coin Charles Dickens

In this post we look at the two pound coin from 2012 commemorating the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens.

This coin is unusual in that it features a profile portrait of Dickens’ head made up from the names of his books on the reverse. This rather interesting image was designed by Matthew Dent (who also designed the new post 2008 reverses of the 1p – £1 coins and the commemorative WWF 50p coin reverse).

Charles Dickens £2 coin reverse
2012 Charles Dickens £2 Reverse

The obverse features the Ian Rank-Broadley portrait of Her Majesty and the edge inscription reads “Something will turn up” – a quotation from the character Mr Micawber in David Copperfield.

This is not a particularly rare coin (despite what you might read on some eBay listings) with over 8 million being minted and I have come across a few in my change (of which the above is one). For specifications visit the royal mint’s entry HERE. You will appreciate that this coin is very much a circulated example (I posted an article a few years ago about an almost uncirculated example I found) but to me sometimes this is actually more satisfying to have in your collection to a BU example that you dare not take out its packaging and has no history to it. Coins like these still have excellent levels of detail but carry with them an unknown history and are very satisfying to spot in circulation. Of course they are not worth as much to sell but that’s not really the point of collecting is it!

Kew gardens… I know, I know, I know!

I have seen some astronomical figures for the kew gardens 50p coins recently on ebay. As I’m sure you know, this coin has captured the imagination of the public at large and by the prices being asked for (and in some cases received) many other circulating coins of dubious scarcity. I am in two minds about this as I do think it reflects the impression I have gained in day to day life that many hitherto numismatic novices have developed an increased awareness of the hobby but on the other hand I am concerned that some younger enthusiastic newcomers to the hobby will have their fingers figuratively burned by ‘investing’ in some of these supposedly rare and hugely over priced coins. I hope these beginners will perhaps focus on a cheaper and less glamorous collection to start their hobby career such as something simple like a date range of pennies or perhaps even just the dates of cupronickel and plated 5p and 10p coins currently circulating before the royal mint withdraws all the cupronickel 1990s types. My philosophy on coin collecting is that it should be for pleasure, fun, pride and interest. I don’t think it is an investment for most amateurs!

Charles Dickens in B&Q

Yep, the title says it all! I found a Charles Darwin 2012 £2 coin in my change in B&Q yesterday and I must say, its is in spectacular condition – I’m not one for over-grading coins, but it is hard to find a flaw on this one even under magnification. I don’t collect these coins as a primary collection, but can I recommend savouring the beautiful artwork on some of the modern £2 bimetallic coins and slipping them into a little wallet in a drawer.

The pound coin collection has to be the best way to collect an affordable and easily accomplished set of coins. For £30, one can save the whole history (1 per year) and if you want, break it down into very easily spent change! It allows for an addition in the form of collecting the various alternate designs of the latter coins. A very amateur collection for the inquisitive potential coin collector!

Lord Kitchener 2014 coin

Possibly the most striking of the new 2014 collection from the Royal Mint is the £2 coin featuring Field Marshall Lord Kitchener. The design is draws inspiration from the iconic “Lord Kitchener wants You” poster that encouraged huge numbers of Britain’s young men to join the “New Army”.

Lord Kitchener £2 coin reverse

 I, for one, am looking forward to owning one of these dramatic coins!