By James Church on January 26, 2022Reading Time: 4 minutes
This article provides a beginner’s guide to collecting valuable British pocket change in circulation. Perhaps some collectible coins will be in your wallet or recently passed through your hands without your knowledge. This article seeks to assist you in realising a profit from any chance windfalls! Read on to discover why it is worthwhile to check your change…
Find out how you can identify collectible coins in your wallet
Learn how to assess a coins' rarity
Gain an understanding of ways to profit from collectible coins
All British coins are issued by the Royal Mint and coinage has been tightly controlled in the United Kingdom for centuries. However, the coins used today are unlike those used sixty years ago. The pound (£ or GBP) is divided into one hundred pence (p). All coins are based upon this system and the denominations in circulation are: 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2. Not all coins issued by the Royal Mint have regular designs. The £2 coin was first issued in 1997.
It is not age that determines value for British coins in circulation but collectability. The mintage (number of coins produced) is a significant factor in value. If fewer coins were produced, it is likely that fewer are available. A second major category are error coins.
Since 1946, there has been no precious metal content in coins in circulation in the United Kingdom. However, the historic denominations used for centuries continued to be used until 1971. The pound (£ or l) was divided into twenty shillings (s), each containing twelve pennies (d), with these abbreviations derived from Ancient Roman coinage.
Other coins, such as a farthing (a quarter of 1 penny), florin (2 shillings) or a crown (5 shillings), provided further multiples or divisions. Are you feeling confused yet? The decimal system introduced on 15th February 1971 simplified matters. One pound (£) contained 100 ‘new’ pence (p) as opposed to 240 ‘old’ pennies. You are unlikely to find a coin from before 1971 in your wallet, unlike in the United States…
Check records from internet auction sites, collectible auctioneers and specialist dealers to learn about current values. Change Checker is a website used by enthusiasts for British coins in circulation. It maintains a Scarcity Index as a useful tool. The index also records information from website members to provide an indication of current collector demand.
Firstly, is it a genuine? The Royal Mint produces a reference guide to its coins in circulation. Another option is to consult a reputable auctioneer or dealer with expertise in contemporary coins. For some error coins, it may be prudent to consult the Royal Mint directly for an opinion.
Then it is time to consider how to sell your coins. Internet auction sites, specialist auctioneers or a coin dealer who handles modern coins are all options. However, you might just decide to become a collector yourself!
The most popular series for collectors is the fifty pence (50p) series. In 2011, a series of coins were issued representing sports for the forthcoming 2012 Olympics. They featured the animal characters of Beatrix Potter in 2016. Both proved popular with the public and increased the popularity of collecting contemporary coins.
The Royal Mint capitalised on this trend by issuing collector’s proof sets at a substantial premium. However, opportunities abound amongst those coins found in general circulation with the Jemima Puddle-Duck 50p coin being the scarcest.
Collectors describe the unintended variants caused by mistakes in the minting process as error coins. Three of the most valuable error coins are:
In 2008, the Royal Mint issued a coin which bears no date of issue for the first time in three centuries. This popular error coin is categorised by collectors as a ‘mule’ because an incorrect die was used and can fetch over £40.
Some coins were made with the incorrect edge lettering, ‘FOR KING AND COUNTRY.’ The intended lettering is, ‘WHAT A PIECE OF WORK IS A MAN.’
This coin accidently used a silver-coloured planchet (blank) for a 10p coin rather than the ordinary copper–coated planchet. One coin sold at auction in 2015 for an incredible £800!
The number of coins minted in each design or during each year varies. Those produced in low numbers can command a hefty premium. The most famous is the 2009 “Kew Gardens” 50p coin which depicts the famous pagoda in Kew Gardens. It was designed by William Chambers and constructed 1761-2.
Only 210,000 of these coins are known to be minted. This is compared to over 1,000,000 for the other designs, making it a rare design. Example of this coin sell for £80 and over £300 for uncirculated examples!
In recent years, the collecting market for contemporary British coins focuses upon popular designs and unexpected errors. Serious collectors often focus upon coins of earlier eras. Contemporary coins provide an accessible entry to the hobby for beginners. Plus, there is the chance of a bit of a windfall! Why not give it a go? After all, you could have some valuable British pocket change in your wallet!