The reign longer than Queen Elizabeth II?

Queen Elizabeth II is Britain’s longest reigning monarch, and that means that she has adorned the obverse of our coinage since 1953 when the first coins were issued with her portrait. Her reign has seen five different portraits on our coinage and one of the biggest changes to our currency – decimalisation.

And as this month marks the 50th anniversary since the day that Britain officially went decimal, we’ve been taking a look back at British coins and how their stories have changed over time. And there’s one icon that stands out above the rest, one that has featured on coins for far longer than Queen Elizabeth II’s impressive 68 years. I am of course referring to Britannia.

Blog Images 7 - The reign longer than Queen Elizabeth II?
A pre-decimal penny from the 1960s featuring a seated Britannia.

Over 2000 years old!

It’s thought that Britannia first featured on coins in Britain when the Romans arrived under Julius Caesar, but the depiction is wildly different to that which we recognize today. The coins showed a figure, neither male nor female, as a warrior with an inscription along the lines of “DE BRITANNIS”.

It wasn’t until Hadrian arrived in the second century AD that the coins started to feature a female figure with the inscription “BRITANNIA”. These Roman coins are always difficult to find, and many remain buried away even today.

A 1400 year hiatus…

This female figure disappeared from coins, and culture, for over a thousand years, not reappearing until the Tudor period. And even then it wasn’t until Charles II that she finally made her reappearance onto coinage. It’s thought that the rise of Britain as a naval power was the inspiration to include Britannia on coinage again.

George III Cartwheel Coin - The reign longer than Queen Elizabeth II?
A George III penny, nicknamed the “Cartwheel”.

Britain’s largest penny

Under George III a one penny and two penny coin were introduced in an attempt to restore confidence in British currency. The intrinsic value of the metal plus an allowance for the cost of production was made equal to the nominal value of the coin. This made them very heavy and a lot larger than other coins in circulation – giving them the nickname ‘Cartwheels‘.

Importantly though, as Britannia had become more and more associated with the sea, these were the first coins to depict her holding a trident rather than a spear.

1904 Edward VII Florin - The reign longer than Queen Elizabeth II?
A 1904 Edward VII Silver Florin

The Standing Britannia

Throughout history Britannia has been depicted on several denominations of coins, usually pennies or half pennies. Often she was shown seated with the sea in the background, and never before had she been issued on a Florin. After the long Victorian tradition of a crowned cruciform shield for the reverse, a new Britannia design was issued as King Edward VII took to the throne.  A truly beautiful design, it shows Britannia with her trident, shield, and stood powerfully against the sea. Only issued during King Edward VII’s short reign, this coin has become incredibly popular for its iconic design and impressive story.

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The Seated Britannia made a return to the 50p in 2019

Of course the Britannia has featured and continues to feature on Britain’s coinage, with new depictions on annual releases and even special releases such as the 2019 commemorative 50p. It certainly looks like she’ll continue to have a long reign on our coinage.


If you’re interested:

Secure your very own Silver Standing Britannia Florin. At over 100 years old and with a unique design, they’re in high demand with collectors. Click here to order yours now with a deposit of JUST £13!

Blog Images 6 - The reign longer than Queen Elizabeth II?

4 Comments

  1. Peter Lindley on February 2, 2021 at 6:42 pm

    Excellent information.

    • Chris Bowditch on February 3, 2021 at 10:34 am

      Hi Peter, thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoyed reading this!
      Thanks, Chris

  2. B. A. Fuller on February 2, 2021 at 3:35 pm

    It would be nice to know the price of the coin. Not just the deposit.

    • Chris Bowditch on February 3, 2021 at 11:13 am

      Hi B.A. thanks for your comment, the full price of the coin is £65.00 (+ £3.99 p&p). Thanks, Chris

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