What are UK coins made from?

Coins are something that we use almost every day without thinking about it. The coins taking up space in your wallet, coin jar, or the counter all have an interesting history that brought them to you. But what is the history behind each coin, and more importantly what are they made of?

1 Pence and 2 Pence Coins

The 1 penny (1p) and 2 pence (2p) coins came into circulation on February 15th, 1971, the day British currency became decimalised. They are the only two denominations made to the same size specifications from their creation to the present day. The 1 penny is a unit of currency that equals one-hundredth of a pound or sterling. The 2 pence are equivalent to two-hundredths of a pound. The front side, or obverse, of both coins, has featured the iconic image of Queen Elizabeth II since their introduction.

There have been four different portraits used to depict the Queen on the obverse, each commissioned by a different designer, as listed below.

– 1971 – 1984 Arnold Machin

– 1985 – 1997 Raphael Maklouf

– 1998 – 2015 Ian Rank-Broadley FRBS

– 2015 – To Present Jody Clark

Christopher Ironside designed the reverse of the original 1 pence coin. It originally featured a crowned portcullis with chains and the numeral “1” written below. This was an adaptation of the Badge of Henry V11, which is now known as the Badge of the Palace of Westminster. From 1971 until 1981, the words “NEW PENNY” were written above the portcullis. From 1982 until 2008, the words “ONE PENNY” were written above the portcullis. In 2008, the design of the reverse of the 1 pence coin was redone by Matthew Dent. The new design depicts the section of the left part between the first and third quarters of the Royal Shield, representing England and Northern Ireland.

Christopher Ironside also designed the reverse of the original 2 pence coin. It depicted the Badge of the Prince of Wales, which included a plume of ostrich feathers within a coronet above the German motto “ICH DIEN,” which means “I serve.” The numeral “2” is written below the badge. From 1971 until 1981, the words “NEW PENCE” were written above the badge. From 1982 onward, the words “TWO PENCE” were written.

In 2008, the design was changed and redesigned by Matthew Dent. The new design features the second quarter of the Royal Shield, showing the Loin Rampant from the Royal Banner of Scotland with the words “TWO PENCE” above. The 1 penny and 2 pence coins are considered legal tender for amounts up to 20 pence.

In the UK, the term “Legal Tender” has a specific meaning. While a creditor must accept them as repayment of the debt, a shopkeeper has full discretion to accept any specific type of payment, regardless of being labelled legal tender.

When they were initially minted, the 1 penny and 2 pence coins were minted in bronze with a composition of 97% copper, 2.5% zinc, and 0.5% tin. This composition was used from 1971 until September 1992. Increasing metal prices around the world necessitated the coin’s composition to change. Since 1992, the coins have been minted in steel and electroplated in copper, causing them to become magnetic.

5 Pence and 10 Pence coins

The 5 pence (5p) and 10 pence (10p) coins came into circulation on April 23rd, 1968. The 5 pence coin was designed to replace the shilling, and the 10 pence coin was designed to replace the florin, or two shillings, to prepare for decimalisation in 1971. From the time they were created until 1990, the 5 pence coin remained the same size as the shilling. In June 1990, a new version of the coin was introduced, and the original coin was withdrawn from circulation six months later on December 31st, 1990. The new version of the coin was smaller than the original. The 10 pence coin remained the same size as the florin until September 1992 when a smaller version of the coin was introduced. The older coin was withdrawn from circulation on June 30th, 1993.

Like the 1 penny and 2 pence coins, there have been five different obverse designs on the 5 pence and 10 pence coins. Each design featured the portrait of the Queen. The original reverse of the 5 pence coin was designed by Christopher Ironside and featured a crown thistle. The numeral “5” appeared beneath the thistle, and the words “NEW PENCE were written above from 1968 until 1981 and “FIVE PENCE” from the years 1982 until 2008.

Christopher Ironside also designed the original reverse of the 10 pence coin. It depicted a crowned lion, with the numeral “10” below. Above the lion were the words “NEW PENCE” from 1668 until 1981, and the words “TEN PENCE” from 1982 until 2008.

In 2008, the reverse of the coin was changed to a design by Matthew Dent. On the 5 pence, the reverse depicts the centre of the Royal shield, showing the four quarters’ meeting point. On the 10 pence, the reverse depicts the first quarter of the shield, showing two lions passant from the Royal Banner of England. The 5 pence and 10 pence coins are considered legal tender only up to £5. This means it is permissible to have payments refused if you use a sum higher then £5 in 5 pence and 10 pence to pay a debt.

Originally the 5 pence and 10 pence coins were minted from cupro-nickel, comprised of 75% copper and 25% nickel. This changed in 2012 when it started to be minted in nickel-plated steel due to the rising costs of metal. In January 2013, the previous cupro-nickel coins were removed from circulation and replaced with nickel-plated steel versions, resulting in them being magnetic.

20 Pence Coins

The 20 pence coin was introduced on June 9th, 1982. It is equal to twenty hundredths, or one-fifth of a pound or sterling. The 20 pence is shaped in a seven-sided, equilateral curved heptagon. Since it was introduced, the 20 pence coin has featured the same picture as Queen Elizabeth II as the other coins. The original reverse of the 20 pence coin was created by William Gardner and used from 1982 until 2008. The design features a crowned Tudor rose with the numeral “20” beneath the rose and the words “TWENTY PENCE” above the rose.

In 2008 when Matthew Dent redesigned the reverse of the coins, the 20 pence depicted the lions rampant of Scotland and the lions passant of England at the meeting point of the second and fourth quarters of the shield. Since it was introduced, the 20 pence coin has been made from Cupro-Nickel, 75% copper and 25% nickel. The 20 pence coin is considered a legal tender of any amount up to £10. This means it is permissible to have payments refused if you pay a sum greater then this amount to pay a debt.

50 Pence Coins

The 50 pence (50p) coin was brought into circulation in 1969. It is equal to one half of a pound. Like the 20 pence, the 50 pence is shaped in a seven-sided, equilateral curved heptagon. Since it was introduced, the 50 pence coin featured the same picture of Queen Elizabeth II as the rest of the coins in rotation. The original reverse of the 50 pence coin was created by Christopher Ironside and used from 1969 until 2008. The design of the 50 pence depicts a seated Britannia alongside a lion, holding an olive branch in her left hand and a trident in her right hand. This image is accompanied by the words “NEW PENCE” from 1969 until 1981. The words “FIFTY PENCE” appear from the years 1982 until 2008, above the Britannia. It also includes the numeral “50” beneath Britannia.

In 2008 when Matthew Dent redesigned the reverse of the coins, the 50 pence was changed to show the lowest point of the Royal Shield with the words “FIFTY PENCE” below the shield’s point. Like the 20 pence, the 50 pence coin is considered a legal tender of up to £10. Meaning it is permissible, by law, to have payments refused if you pay a sum greater then this amount to pay a debt. The 50 pence coin is also similar to the 20 pence coin in that from the time of introduction; the 50 pence coin has been made from Cupro-Nickel, which is 75% copper and 25% nickel.

There have also been many other 50p designs brought into circulation that are highly collectable; read our full list to uncover all of the different designs.

£1 Coins

The British one-pound coin is a denomination of the pound. The original round £1 coin replaced the Bank of England £1 note when it ceased to be issued at the end of 1984. A new twelve-sided, dodecagonal, bimetallic design of the coin was brought into rotation on March 28th, 2017, with the old design being removed from circulation on October 15th, 2017.

The original circular £1 coin was composed of Nickel-Brass, 70% copper, 5.5% Nickel, and 24.5% Zinc. The new bi-metallic coins feature an outer ring composition of 76% copper, 20% Zinc, and 4% Nickel. The inner ring is made of Nickel-plated alloy. Like the rest of the UK’s coins, the obverse of the £1 has always featured images of Queen Elizabeth II. Unlike the rest of the coins, the reverse of the £1 was changed each year from 1983 until 2008. In turn, an emblem represents the UK, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and England, along with the appropriate edge inscription.

In 2008 when Matthew Dent redesigned the reverse of the UK coins, the reverse of the £1 coin featured the entire image of the Royal Shield. In 2017 when the original design of the £1 was removed from circulation and replaced with the new bi-metallic design, the reverse of the coin was designed by David Pearce and featured the English rose, the leek for Wales, the Scottish thistle, and the shamrock for Northern Ireland, bound with a crown. The current twelve-sided coin is considered legal tender to pay off a debt to any amount.

£2 Coins

The British two-pound, or £2, was introduced on June 15th, 1998, with coins minted in 1997. Like the rest of the UK’s coins, the obverse of the £2 has always featured images of Queen Elizabeth II. The original reverse of the coin was designed by Bruce Rushin and was an abstract design that symbolized the history of technological development. This was accompanied by the words “TWO POUNDS” above the design. In February 2015, a new design by Antony Dufort was placed on the reverse of the £2 coin. This design featured Britannia with the inscription “QUATUOR MARIA VINDICO,” which means “I will claim the four seas.”

The £2 coin was the first bimetallic coin to be minted in Britain in 1692 when the tin farthing with a copper plug was produced. The £2 coin is also the highest denomination of coined currency in circulation. The coin is made up of an outer yellow metal nickel-brass ring comprised of 76% copper, 20% zinc, and 4% nickel, and an inner steel-coloured cupro-nickel disc made from 75% copper, 25% nickel. The £2 coin is considered legal tender to pay off a debt to any amount.

Other Facts About UK Coins

There are many interesting facts about UK coinage that aren’t well known. Some of these facts are listed below.

– When the 1 penny, 2 pence, 5 pence, 10 pence, 20 pence, and 50 pence coins are placed together with the reverse side up, they almost entirely make up an image of the Royal Shield. This only applies to the designs of the coins featuring these components, but is still interesting to know!

– After the 2008 redesign of the reverse of many coins, a dateless version of the 20 pence was circulated in June 2009. This happened due to the creation of a “mule.” A “mule” happens when a version of the coin is created with non-standard combinations of the obverse and reverse face designs. When the 20 pence coin was redesigned in 2008, the date was moved from the reverse to the obverse. When it went to print, a batch was printed with the new reverse and the old obverse, resulting in no date being placed on the coin. The Royal Mint estimates that between 20,000 and 50,000 of these coins went into circulation before the error was noticed.

– In 2010 a sculpture called “Drop” was created by Paul Cocksedge. The sculpture is magnetic and encourages people to pass by and attach their unwanted 1 penny, 2 pence, 5 pence, and 10 pence to its surface to aid charities.

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