Coins of the realm

Some people have been asking whether coins and banknotes with the image of Queen Elizabeth will continue to be legal tender. The answer, of course, is yes.

When I was growing up I used to look out for coins from as many different reigns as possible and I kept them safe, so I have just spent a nostalgic hour looking through them again. At the time of the Coronation coins were still in circulation from many years before, and even Victorian pennies would turn up in change from time to time. We looked out for the very rare Edward VIII coins, which I never found.

Not surprisingly I still have plenty of George VI coins, plus ones from the time of George V and Edward VII, and I’m pleased to say, Victoria. They all turned up in my change in the 1950s and 1960s. The oldest one has a portrait of the young Victoria, dated 1891 – you can see it on the right of my photo of pennies and halfpennies.

It seems some Victorian coins are still legal tender, though they are not ones you are likely to have in your purse – gold sovereigns and half sovereigns and silver crowns, originally worth £1, 50p and 25p in today’s money.

Coins are very robust and can survive for 50 years or more. Although new Elizabethan coins, with the pretty portrait of the young Queen, entered circulation they only slowly displaced the ones from earlier reigns. But that was given a jolt with decimalisation in 1971, when coins were minted with the new values of 10p, 5p, 2p, 1p and 1/2p, eventually joined by 50p and £1. Coins with the same values as previous ones (5p = 1 shilling, 10p = 2 shillings) hung around for a while, but the old threepennies, pennies, halfpennies soon disappeared. The pretty little farthing (1/4p) coin, with a picture a wren, the UK’s smallest bird, on the obverse had been withdrawn earlier.

One thing we do know about the new coins which will be minted for Charles III is that he will be facing to the left. Monarchs face alternatively left and right as you can see in the photo, with a gap where Edward VIII should be.

We will be using a mixture of coins from two reigns for many years to come, or at least for as long as coins are in circulation. Most of us are now quite used to presenting credit and debit cards for quite small payments, so there is a question mark about how long we will be seeing them. You might be wise to hang on to a mint collection of Charles III coins when they do appear as they could be quite valuable to collectors in the future.


* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • David Wright 15th Sep '22 - 12:23am

    I still have a small bag of pre-decimal coins somewhere. At the time I thought they’d be worth a lot one day. In fact, because they’re worn, they are almost worthless.
    No doubt the first release of Charles III coins will become collectors’ items – but they’ll only be worth more than their face value if in perfect condition, “uncirculated”. Keep some you get in your change as souvenirs if you like, but don’t expect them to become valuable.
    Unless you get one with the head facing the wrong way 🙂

  • @ Ian Sanderson “Irish Republic coins then matched British in size, except for the sixpence; the Irish currency then circulated throughout the island of Ireland at par with sterling”

    Mmmm….. not impossible this may happen again, Ian, but in Scotland next time, whatever some Lib Dem High Heidyins may say.

    Feel a bit like Methuselah when I remember a little wren on the back of farthings, packets of crisps costing two old pence, and Granny (wife of a Durham miner) thinking it a huge treat to put silver three penny bits in the Christmas pudding.

  • Kevin Hawkins 15th Sep '22 - 10:52am

    Actually, farthings were also issued during the reign of Elizabeth II – they were legal tender until the end of 1960, and continued in use in the Falkland Islands for some years after that. The oldest coins that are still legal tender are Maundy money. Upon decimalisation all Maundy coins were retrospectively converted from old to new pence. So, in theory, you could spend Maundy coins from the late seventeenth century in the shops today, but you would be foolish to try as they are worth far more than their face value. It is not clear how long current banknotes will remain in circulation – there is no precedent here as Bank of England notes did not depict the monarch until 1960.
    Not sure what this has to do with the Liberal Democrats but it’s an interesting subject.

  • Phil Beesley 15th Sep '22 - 11:12am

    Ian Sanderson (RM3): “1928 was a date in the UK for ‘silver’ coinage; prior to that, they did contain silver, so I suspect that some of the older ones were, quite illegally, melted down.”

    Silver prices rose significantly during the 1970s oil crisis. A pre-1928 florin (10p) had a scrap value of about 15p. There was money to be made, but rather like stealing manhole covers for iron scrap, it would be more profitable to get a legal job.

  • Steve Comer 15th Sep '22 - 8:38pm

    As I was 15 when ‘decimalisation’ came in, I can remember many coins in circulation from all monarchs fom Victoria onwards. We just saw it it as normal, and indeed for many years the 5p and 10p coins minted prior to 1971 were still in circuation, in fact I think they remained so until the coins were reduced in size in the1980s.

    While were talking about currency can somebody expain this to me?
    If I tender a £50 note when in the UK it is often viewed with suspicion, and some places even refuse to accept it, whereas if I tender a €50 anywhere in Eurozone nobody bats a eyelid.

  • Phil Beesley 16th Sep '22 - 11:12am

    A huge number of 500 Euro notes have been made but few are in active circulation. They are popular with people who stash bank notes under the mattress. I recall queuing at a Spanish vintners behind a customer paying for a wedding feast with 500 Euro notes. They are also popular with European criminals which may provide a disincentive to forgers…

  • Steve Comer 18th Sep '22 - 9:53pm

    I understand the issue with the €500 note, it’s very high value and I think It is about to be phased out anyway. The €200 and €100 notes are quite rare, and not despatched by cashe machines, but if I use them in Supermnarkets or anywhere where I’m paying a large bill, there is no problem.

    My query is why the €50 is generally acceptable in the Eurozoine, but a £50 note in the UK is regarded with suspicion. A £20 note in 1985 is worth over £57 today, so you would accept a £50 note to be as accepatble now as a £20 note was then – but it isn’t!

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