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General
Armour

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Timeline
Sculptors
Pre-Decimal Coins
Decimal Coins
Commemorative Issues
Constituent Metals
Other

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Coins (and currency)

Except in the two–row table immediately below, and elsewhere if otherwise stated (see Other (historical or non-British) Coins), this page is about British coins.

Correct name for the 'heads' side of a coin Click to show or hide the answer
Correct name for the 'tails' side of a coin Click to show or hide the answer

Legal Tender

Questions of the type "5p coins are legal tender up to what amount?" are perennially popular with setters. But how many of them know what this simple phrase – 'legal tender' – actually means?

According to the website of The Royal Mint: "Legal tender has a very narrow and technical meaning in the settlement of debts. It means that a debtor cannot successfully be sued for non–payment if he pays into court in legal tender."

The Mint goes on to emphasise that the term has no real meaning except in the payment of debts; for any other transaction, both parties must agree that the form of payment is suitable. For example, if you try to pay for something in a shop with coins that have been produced as collectibles, the shopkeeper has every right to refuse the transaction, even though they are legal tender. Equally, you can pay for anything in coins above the value that is designated as legal tender, if the other party is happy to accept them.

You can even settle a debt with coins that are not legal tender, if the court agrees to accept them; but if you do, you run the risk of being sued for non–payment at a later date.

Interestingly, Scottish banknotes are not legal tender (within the strict rule set out above) – even in Scotland! Bank of England notes are legal tender in England and Wales, up to any amount, but no banknotes are legal tender in Scotland. They are, however, "legal currency – i.e. they are approved by the UK Parliament." (This is according to the Committee of Scottish Bankers, which adds: "the Scottish economy seems to manage without that legal protection.") But the same applies as for collectible coins: no one is legally obliged to accept Scottish banknotes as payment for anything – including, in this case, a debt.

UK coins of £1 and above are legal tender up to any amount. This means that there are just six coins to which a legal tender limit applies, and they are:

1p 2p 5p 10p 20p 50p
Click to show or hide the answer Click to show or hide the answer Click to show or hide the answer Click to show or hide the answer Click to show or hide the answer Click to show or hide the answer

British Coins: Timeline

Questions about when various coins were introduced or withdrawn are very popular with setters. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to establish exactly when these events occurred.

Beware questions that ask "In which year was [such–and–such a coin] withdrawn from circulation?"

Coins are often (albeit not always) withdrawn at midnight on New Year's Eve. Which year do you want?

The safest way to phrase the question, in such cases, is "The [such–and–such] coin was withdrawn at midnight on 31 December, in which year?"

Even The Royal Mint's own website doesn't always give exact dates for introductions and withdrawals (or 'demonetisations', as they call it). In such cases I've just given the year, unless I've found the exact date somewhere else.

The farthing was withdrawn from circulation at midnight on Click to show or hide the answer
5p and 10p coins introduced Click to show or hide the answer
The pre–decimal halfpenny was withdrawn, and the 50p coin was introduced, on Click to show or hide the answer
The UK switched to decimal currency Click to show or hide the answer
The pre–decimal 1d and 3d coins were withdrawn from circulation at midnight on Click to show or hide the answer
The pre–decimal 6d coin was withdrawn from circulation at midnight on Click to show or hide the answer
The word 'New' was dropped from British decimal coins in (year) Click to show or hide the answer
20p coin introduced Click to show or hide the answer
£1 coin introduced Click to show or hide the answer
Scottish £1 coin introduced (followed in subsequent years by Wales, NI, England) Click to show or hide the answer
New halfpenny withdrawn from circulation Click to show or hide the answer
Old (larger) 5p and 10p coins were last minted, and the new (smaller) 5p coins were introduced, in (year) Click to show or hide the answer
New (smaller) 10p coins were introduced on Click to show or hide the answer
The new (smaller) 50p was introduced on Click to show or hide the answer
The old (larger) 50p was withdrawn from circulation at midnight on Click to show or hide the answer
£2 coin (standard issue) introduced Click for more information Click to show or hide the answer
Royal Shield reverse designs introduced (on all except the £2 coin) Click to show or hide the answer
New £1 coin introduced (March) and the old one withdrawn (October) Click to show or hide the answer

British Coins: Sculptors

Portrait of the Queen used from 1952–68 was by Click to show or hide the answer
Portrait of the Queen used on Commonwealth coinage 1968–84 was by Click to show or hide the answer
Portrait of the Queen used on Commonwealth coinage 1984–7 was by Click to show or hide the answer
Portrait of the Queen used on UK and some Commonwealth coinage 1998–2015 Click to show or hide the answer
Portrait of the Queen used on UK coins from 2015 Click to show or hide the answer
Sculpted the hands on the 1973 50p piece Click to show or hide the answer

British Pre–Decimal Coins

Pennies in a shilling (prior to 1971) Click to show or hide the answer
Shillings in a pound (prior to 1971) Click to show or hide the answer
Pennies in a pound (prior to 1971) Click to show or hide the answer
Value of "half a crown" (the largest value coin in general UK circulation, pre–1971) Click to show or hide the answer
Value of a guinea Click to show or hide the answer
Introduced in 1849 in an early attempt at decimalisation – worth 2/–, or one tenth of a pound (a proposal to introduce a coin worth £0.01 was not implemented at the time) Click to show or hide the answer
The £ sign represents the Latin word libra, indicating the basic unit of weight in the Roman Empire, which in turn is derived from the Latin word for Click to show or hide the answer
Small silver coin, first minted in 211 BC, that the 'd' in £. s. d. stands for; the name is derived from a phrase meaning "containing ten"; it was 10 asses, an as being a bronze coin) Click to show or hide the answer
Ship on the reverse of the old (pre–decimal) halfpenny Click to show or hide the answer
Bird depicted on the reverse ("tails" side) of a farthing Click to show or hide the answer
Reverse showed sprigs of oak in George V's reign, a thrift plant for Edward VIII, a shield of St. George on a Tudor rose for George VI, and a Tudor portcullis for Elizabeth II Click to show or hide the answer
£2 and £5 coins were first used in Click to show or hide the answer
Sides on a nickel–brass 3d bit Click to show or hide the answer

British Decimal Coins

Introduced in 1971, abolished in 1985 Click to show or hide the answer
Sides on 50p and 20p pieces Click to show or hide the answer
Sides on the £1 coin introduced in 2017 Click to show or hide the answer
British 'silver' coins are at least 70% Click to show or hide the answer

The 1p and 2p coins are made of copper–plated steel. The 5p, 10p and 50p coins are 75% copper and 25% nickel. The 20p coin is 84% copper and 16% nickel. The inner part of a £2 coin is also cupronickel, and that of the new £1 coin is a nickel–plated alloy. The outer rings of the £1 and £2 coins are made from nickel brass, which is 76 or 70% copper, 20 or 24.5% zinc and 4 or 5.5% nickel (the proportions are slightly different in each case; the first figures are for the £1 coin and the second for the £2).

Diameter Reverse (pre–2008)
1p Click to show or hide the answer Click to show or hide the answer
2p Click to show or hide the answer Click to show or hide the answer
5p Click to show or hide the answer Click to show or hide the answer
10p Click to show or hide the answer Click to show or hide the answer
20p Not applicable Click to show or hide the answer
50p Not applicable Click to show or hide the answer
£1 Click to show or hide the answer Click to show or hide the answer

Commemorative Issues

1973 (50p – circle of hands on reverse) Click to show or hide the answer
1986 (£2) Click to show or hide the answer
1989 (£2 – two separate issues) Click to show or hide the answer
1992–3 (50p) Click to show or hide the answer
1994 (50p) Click to show or hide the answer
1994 (£2) Click to show or hide the answer
1995 (£2) Click to show or hide the answer
1995 (£2) Click to show or hide the answer
1996 Click to show or hide the answer
Since 1998 (50p) Click to show or hide the answer

Constituent Metals

Since 1992, UK "copper" coins (1p and 2p) have been copper–plated Click to show or hide the answer

(... and this makes them magnetic!)

Copper (%) Zinc (%) Nickel (%)
5p, 10p and 50p coins, and the centre of the £2 coin Click to show or hide the answer (None) Click to show or hide the answer
20p coins Click to show or hide the answer (None) Click to show or hide the answer
£1 coins Click to show or hide the answer Click to show or hide the answer Click to show or hide the answer
£2 coins (outer ring) Click to show or hide the answer Click to show or hide the answer Click to show or hide the answer

Other (historical or non–British) Coins

US coins – nicknames

Nickel Click to show or hide the answer
Dime Click to show or hide the answer
quarter Click to show or hide the answer

Other

Sporting trophy made from melted–down rupees Click to show or hide the answer
Spanish coin worth two escudos – also minted in Peru and Mexico Click to show or hide the answer
Originally introduced in Sicily in 1140, then in Venice in 1284; used as a standard gold coin throughout Europe from the 16th century until WWI (when it was worth just under ten shillings) Click to show or hide the answer
First minted in Florence in 1252 Click to show or hide the answer
Silver coin, minted originally under Edward I (1272–1307) and only irregularly since 1660 (last in 1888); worth 4d Click to show or hide the answer
The Russian rouble is divided into one hundred Click to show or hide the answer
South African coin, first minted 1967, containing one (Troy) ounce of gold Click to show or hide the answer
Word that has appeared on every US coin since 1792 Click to show or hide the answer
President featured on US 1–cent coins since 1909 Click to show or hide the answer
Canadian coin, first minted 1979, in various denominations containing various amounts – up to one (Troy) ounce – of almost pure gold (actually more pure than the Krugerrand) Click to show or hide the answer
Gold coin introduced in the reign of Edward III, worth 6s 8d (80 pence) Click to show or hide the answer
The biggest coins ever made constituted the copperplate money of Click to show or hide the answer
Unit of currency in Germany, prior to the accession of Kaiser Wilhelm I (1871) Click to show or hide the answer

© Haydn Thompson 2018