Why Are Some UK Coins Magnetic?

Every person knows the old trick of hanging a magnet over some spare change to see which coins get picked up, but why are some UK coins magnetic and is there a hidden reason behind it?

Why Are They Magnetic?

Its science!

The only benefit to a coin being magnetic is that maybe vending machines could detect they are not slugs or fake. They also make for some great magic tricks or artwork, like the Drop sculpture created by Paul Cocksedge in 2010 where spectators come and attach their unwanted magnetic coins to its surface to benefit charity and create unique artwork. Some even create a dangling coin effect with the coins since the magnetic force travels through each coin making the magnet even stronger with the more coins they add.

But, the real reason they are magnetic has nothing to do with the practicality of use or artful purposes. It is simply because of their metallic makeup.

The reason the coin is magnetic is not that it was purposely designed that way. It is simply because of the metal it contains. If the metal in the coin is magnetic, the coin will be as well. Magnetic metals include:

  • iron
  • cobalt
  • nickel

Compounds and alloys that contain iron, cobalt, or nickel, including some types of steel, are also magnetic. Steel is made using iron and is the most ferromagnetic element known. So, if a coin contains steel, it would be magnetic.

There are also compounds and alloys that can also be magnetic if they contain any of these three magnetic metals mixed in.

An assortment of spare change

Magnetic UK Coins

The UK magnetic coins are mainly part of the lower value coins in the country with large mintage numbers. There are 4 billion 5p coins and 5 billion 1p, 2p, and 10p coins in circulation. However, these magnetic coins are some of the more fascinating and unique.

Coins used to be struck using precious metals with silver or gold equaling a specific value. In Great Britain, gold prices were first determined in 1257 when an ounce of gold cost 0.89 of a pound. Keep in mind, however, that gold is measured using a Troy Ounce which is equal to about 31.1 grams.

Most coins minted before 1900 are not magnetic. Of course, there are a few exceptions.

Coins that are made of mostly aluminum, brass, bronze, copper, gold, silver, or zinc are not magnetic.

Coins made from two separate metals that have been joined together, or bimetallic coins, could be magnetic depending on the metal content. Some may be slightly magnetic or not magnetic at all.

In 1992, the Royal Mint began producing pennies and twopences that were made out of copper-plated steel instead of the bronze copper that had previously been used since 1860. These newer 1992 coins were minted in both bronze and copper-plated steel making them magnetic. It was done more to reduce production costs than anything else since the cost of copper was on the rise.

Any coin that contains metal components that are magnetic is going to be a magnetic coin, at least to some extent. Some UK coins that are magnetic include:

  • 1p coins after 1991
  • Silver and bronze Twopences 2p coins after 1991
  • 5p coins after 2011
  • 10p coins after 2011

In 1992, the composition of the 1p and 2p coins were changed from bronze to copper-plated steel. The composition of 5p and 10p coins was changed from cupronickel to nickel-plated steel in 2011. In both cases, the coins were changed to contain steel which is magnetic because of its iron content in the core.

In 1998, for a few months, some 2p coins were made from bronze instead of plated steel. The official reason for this was considered to be “operational”, but some think it was because they had some old-style blanks leftover and wanted to put them to good use. If you have an old-style 2p from 1998, you may have a rare coin that is not magnetic.

1p and 2p coins were originally made from a bronze alloy which was made of copper, zinc, and tin. Although, the coin size did not change, what it was made of did.

The 5p and 10p used to be considered silver coins, but are now made from plated steel which makes them magnetic as well. Even though these coins were changed many years later than the 1 and 2p coins, there are actually more magnetic 5p and 10p coins in circulation.

The reason for this is that the Royal Mint recovered old 5p and 10p coins from circulation and in turn minted more than 330 million magnetic versions since then. However, despite the recovery efforts, as many as a third of all 10p coins are still in circulation dated before 2011.

The non-magnetic and magnetic coins may look the same since the newer magnetic ones retained the same weight, diameter, and design. On the 1p and 2p coins, for instance, the steel core is electroplated in copper, so it has the same look and the same color as the ones minted before 1992.

For the 5p and 10p coins, they are electroplated with nickel to give them the same silver color as the ones minted before 2012. However, the 5p and 10p coins also became 11% thicker when the new metal composition was changed.

How To Know If A Coin Is Magnetic

Simply grab a magnet, and test the coin. If the coin sticks to it, it is magnetic. If it does not stick to the magnet, it is most likely made out of silver, bronze, cupronickel, aluminium, or some other alloy, but not magnetic steel or other magnetic metal.

Of course, you might think it’s easy to decipher between silver and bronze because of the colour, but some notice that their pennies look silver. These silver pennies are usually copper-plated steel with the plating worn down. As with any coating, the plating does wear off over time, which turns the shiny copper coins a bit grey or dull.

Collectable And Rare 1p, 2p, 5p, and 10p Coins

Some of the rarest magnetic coins include:

Rarest Magnetic 1p Coins

Magnetic or not, there are two 1p coins that are very collectable. One was issued in 1971 with the words New Penny on the back and the Machin portrait of the queen on the Obverse side. Even though there were more than 1.5 billion issued they are now very rare selling for as much as £50 online on eBay.

Check all 1992 1p with a magnet since this is the year they switched the composition. Before the changeover, 78,000 bronze 1p coins were issued which makes it one of the rarest of all the general issued UK coins.

Rare Magnetic 2p Coins

Starting in 1982, the words NEW PENCE that were previously on the back of the 2p coins were replaced with the words TWO PENCE.

A small amount of 2p coins, however, were accidentally struck in 1983 with the NEW PENCE old wording. Most of them are found in collector sets, but some did make it into circulation. It is unknown just how many could be out there and available for collection.

Rarest Magnetic 5p Coins

Some of the most collectable 5p coins were minted in 1993 since less was minted during that year than any other year. They may sell for a decent amount, some at £10 on eBay, but are mostly collectable because of their rarity.

In 2008, the Royal Mint issued some 5p coins that had the reverse side upside down when it is compared to the front side. Some of these have sold for as much as £50 on sites like eBay.

Rarest Magnetic 10p Coins

Collectors tend to be interested in the 10p coins to add to their collection, especially the Alphabet series that was issued in 2018. This series included 26 separate designs with each one featuring a letter of the alphabet along with a “Best of British” illustration. Among these are some error coins that are minted incorrectly.

  • Alphabet Y 10p should include a clear image of a Yeoman of the Guard. A minting error, however, caused some to be issued with a very faint image. Some have sold for as much as £17 online.
  • Alphabet B 10p is considered to be collectable because of its James Bond illustration. Some have sold for about £6 to collectors.
  • Alphabet M 10p celebrates the Mackintosh coat and is considered one of the rarest of the Alphabet series. Some have sold for as much as £5 online.
  • Alphabet K 10p featured King Arthur, of Knights of the Round Table legend and is considered to be the second rarest of all 10p coins. Some have sold for as much as £4 to interested collectors.

Always check your change to see if you already have a rare magnetic coin to add to your collection or to simply enjoy as an interesting coin.