Today crown coins are usually issued to mark special occasions of national importance and are intended to be commemoratives rather than ordinary circulation coins. But they have seen some significant changes over the decades...
The British crown first appeared during the reign of Henry VIII and was struck from gold. Issued in 1544, the ‘Double rose’ as it came to be known had a twin rose deign topped with a large crown on the obverse.
Crown coins weren’t struck regularly from silver until 1662 under Charles II – which is when all the previous denominations of gold coins were replaced by milled guineas.
Silver crown coins enter circulation…
The crown issued for circulation that year marked the end of hammered coins as the Royal Mint transferred to mill striking permanently after centuries of working by hand.
At this point the crown started to look more familiar, and it has remained roughly the same size (almost 30mm in diameter) to the present day.
The coins’ generous dimensions leant it an air of importance, and crowns were usually struck in a new monarch’s coronation year. This was true of every monarch since King George IV up until the present monarch in 1953, with the single exception of King George V.
With its large size, many of the later coins were primarily commemoratives. 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.
Traditionally crowns had a face value of five shillings, but after decimalisation on 15th February 1971 the crown became the 25p coin – one of the UK’s most unusual denominations.
The 25p pieces were issued to commemorate significant events, with one of the earliest issues being the Silver Wedding Anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip in 1972.
In 1980 an issue was authorised for the 80th birthday of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother; and, in 1981, the coin was issued to celebrate the marriage of Charles, Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer. All of these issues were struck in large mintages, in plastic cases, and in cupro-nickel. However, in addition to this, limited numbers of collectors’ coins of these modern issues were struck to proof quality separately by the Royal Mint in sterling silver.
Legal tender changes from 25p to £5…
The legal tender value of the crown remained as 25p until 1990 when their face value was increased to £5 in view of its relatively large size compared to other coins.
Since the value increased to £5 in 1990 it quickly became recognised as the nation’s flagship commemorative coin and remained possible to buy these coins through banks and post offices (as well as the Royal Mint, The Westminster Collection and other distributors) in circulating quality right up until 2009.
Farewell to the face value £5 coin…
£5 coins continued to be available for a couple more years at face value in brilliant uncirculated quality. But sadly, today the Royal Mint only releases £5 coins in presentation packs selling for £13.
The British crown has undoubtedly seen many changes throughout the years, from metals, size and denomination – it certainly is a coin with an interesting history.
What’s been the most significant change for you? Leave a comment below.
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The Royal Mint is a government-owned company that produces and distributes all the UK’s coins. Whether you are collecting historic coins or commemorative coins produced for specific anniversaries or events such as London 2012, knowledge of the function and history of The Royal Mint will add to your enjoyment.
By the 7th century Anglo Saxon kings had established mints within their kingdoms. By the time of Aethelred “The Unready” (reigned 978-1016) there were mints in 70 towns and cities. By the end of the 13th century the minting resources of Londonwere housed within the walls of the Tower of London. The coins were struck by holding a metal blank between two engraved dies and striking the top die with a hammer, hence the name “Hammered” coins. In 1660 the restored King Charles II introduced new coin-making technology fromHollandand hammering was replaced by rolling mills and screw presses, which produced better quality coins more quickly – “Milled” coins. In 1696, Sir Isaac Newton became Warden of The Royal Mint and his first task was to address the problems of forgery; he later supervised the great recoinage of 1696. In 1699 he became Master of The Royal Mint.
The move to Tower Hill
In 1797, Matthew Boulton won a contract to produce coins for The Royal Mint. The coins were of outstanding quality, struck using the latest steam presses. The Royal Mint decided to adopt the new technology, but the premises at theTower of London were too small. A new purpose built factory on a 4-acre site of a former Abbey on nearby Tower Hill was commissioned, equipped with the latest steam presses. These two-ton monsters were capable of striking 100 coins a minute of vastly superior quality. They provided The Royal Mint with the capacity to cope with the demands of the great recoinage of 1816.
In the next four years the mint struck 40 million shillings (5 p), 17 million half crowns (12 ½ p) and 1.3 million crowns (25 p). Over the following century the products of The Royal Mint were circulated throughout the British Empire. Branch mints were opened in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Ottawa, Bombay and Pretoria, which together produced almost as many gold sovereigns as the Mint itself.
In 1816, The Royal Mint had produced the world’s first “token” coinage – coins with a face value higher than their intrinsic worth. In 1917, The Royal Mint stopped production of gold sovereigns, replacing them with paper banknotes. In line with post-war shortages, the silver content was removed altogether in 1947, resulting in cupro-nickel “silver” coinage. The Royal Mint however continued its vigorous commercial approach to the minting and marketing of coins, seeking orders from all over the world. By the second half of the 20th century, The Royal Mint had become one of the world’s most successful coin exporters.
After World War II, the next challenge facing The Royal Mint was decimalisation of the UK coinage. Although there had been previous unsuccessful attempts to decimalise our currency and bring us in line with the Continent, during the 1960s the movement gathered momentum. On 1st March 1966, the Government officially announced the changeover to decimal coinage.
In 1968 the Royal Mint introduced 5p and 10p coins and in 1969 came the brand new 50p (or ten shilling) piece, designed to replace the ten-shilling banknote. “D-Day” itself came on 15th December 1971 and went off amazingly smoothly. The old penny and three-penny bit were withdrawn sooner after and the sixpence (2.5 p) followed in 1980. The £1 coin arrived in 1983, while the 5p, 10p and 50p coins were re-sized in the 1990s.
The need to mint hundreds of millions of new coins, and meet the growing demand from overseas customers, meant that the Tower Hill mint was inadequate. In December 1968 the Queen opened the first phase of the new Mint production facility at Llantrisant, South Wales. The last coin, a gold sovereign, was struck at Tower Hill in November 1975.
The Royal Mint today
Today The Royal Mint is one of the world’s foremost producers of coins and medals, renowned for its quality, creativity and integrity. At its state-of-the-art purpose-built plant at Llantrisant, the Mint produces 90 million coins and blanks a week – almost five billion coins a year. It supplies all theUK’s circulating legal tender coins circulating and is the world’s largest exporter of coins. The Royal Mint employs more than 900 people and operates round-the-clock for 52 weeks a year.
The Royal Mint also meets the needs of a growing number of collectors, in Britain and abroad. People have always collected the products of the Mint, of course, but over the past 50 years the Mint has made great efforts to meet the needs of collectors. In 1957 the Royal Mint resumed production of sovereigns and in 1979 struck proof sovereigns, still popular today. The Mint issued a commemorative crown (25p) for the Coronation in 1953 and for Winston Churchill in 1965. Since then Royal Mint commemorative coins, usually crowns, have become eagerly awaited by collectors. London 2012 and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee have given collectors a huge opportunity to own in 2012 and a chance for The Royal Mint to showcase its product range. The Royal Mint has also been honoured with the task of producing the medals to be awarded at London 2012.
Coins are all around us, not just in Britain but all over the world. There are 28 billion circulating in this country alone! Your collecting adventure could take you anywhere – and as far back as 700 BC – and you’ll find yourself picking up a wealth of knowledge about geography, history, economics and even politics. It’s a world of fascination just waiting to be discovered!
The great thing about coin collecting is that you can collect exactly what you want, when you want. Reach into your pocket or purse and take out a handful of coins. There will be different values – perhaps pence, two pence, five pence, 10 pence, 20 pence, 50 pence, one pound, and two pounds. They will have different dates, different portraits and be in different conditions.
You can start right there, collecting circulating UK coins from your loose change. Later you can add coins that are in perfect condition – proof or uncirculated – that you don’t find in your change. You could go deep into history – many Roman coins have been unearthed over the years and are surprisingly affordable. You could save particular sorts of coins such as pre-decimal pennies or sovereigns. One fascinating field is to collect “commemorative” coins, struck to celebrate a particular event or anniversary. The first step, though, is to establish a relationship with a coin dealer you can trust.
The Westminster Collection – a helping hand
A small error in striking or a rare mint mark can hugely increase the value of a coin. This has led to people altering or forging coins and offering them for sale to unsuspecting collectors. Dealing on the internet needs particular care as some offers may not be quite as good as they seem.
There are of course many reputable coin dealers who can guide and assist you every step of the way. The Westminster Collection is one of the largest and most established collector-facing companies in the UK. Founded by Stephen Allen in 1987, The Westminster Collection is an authorised distributor and principal UK agent for several of the world’s leading mints. This means that you will be one of the first to buy before an issue sells out and receive pre-release notifications, often at special collector prices. When you buy from Westminster, you have complete quality assurance, enjoy interest-free credit and the right to return any purchase within 30 days. For the beginner or experienced collector, The Westminster Collection provides a safe and rewarding path on your collecting journey.
Coins – a brief history
Coins last a long time – especially if they are made of gold. Which means that we have still have the first ever coins from Lydia (now in modern Turkey) minted around 650 BC. From there they were spread by the Greeks and Romans around the known world. Coins circulated in Celtic Britain, but the Roman occupation from 43 AD to about 410 AD, brought in a flood of Roman coins and later, coins from local mints. After the Romans left Britons went back to bartering. Not until the 7th century did the dominant Anglo Saxons start minting coins.
At this time all coins were made in roughly the same way: you started with a round blank of gold, silver, copper, bronze or a mixture. You put this on a die (a piece of hardened metal engraved with a reversed-out pattern) and put another die on top. Then you hit the top die with a hammer. Finally you remove your finished coin known as a “hammered” coin.
The milling revolution
Hammering persisted until the sixteenth century, when a new method was tried in France. It was known as “milling”, using a screw press rather hammering, and produced coins of much better quality. For the next century it was tried in Britain but only fully replaced hammering after the 1660 restoration. Coinage had entered the machine age. The next leap forward came in 1796 when Matthew Boulton used his steam engine to power a new coin press – this was just in time for the Royal Mint to meet the massive demands of the great recoinage of 1816.
This brought in “token coinage” – coins with intrinsic value less than their face value. Even so, gold and silver coins still circulated in Britain until 1917 when gold was withdrawn. The last silver coins were replaced with cupro-nickel in 1947. Then in 1971 came the end of centuries of tradition when the pounds, shillings and pence system was replaced by today’s decimal based coinage.
Next time – Part II – What to Collect?