Since 1958, the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II has featured on the obverse of British coins.
And now, for the first time in 70 years, a new portrait of King Charles III is entering circulation.
But did you know that there’s another British icon who has featured on coins for far longer?
In fact, she has been on our coinage for an incredible 2,000 years…
It is, of course, Britannia.
A Roman icon
‘Britannia’ originally comes from the Greeks, who called the British Isles, ‘Pretannia’.
The Romans adopted the word and the figurehead, and when Julius Caesar invaded Britain, they put Britannia on their coins.
However, originally the coins showed a warrior, neither male nor female, with an inscription along the lines of “DE BRITANNIS”.
It wasn’t until Hadrian arrived in the second century AD that the coins started to feature a female figure with the inscription “BRITANNIA”.
A 1400-year hiatus…
Despite being used by Elizabeth I, along with many other rulers as an inspiration, Britannia wouldn’t feature again on British coins for over a thousand years.
In fact, it wasn’t until the reign of Charles II that she would make her way back onto our coinage.
It’s thought that the rise of Britain as a naval power was the inspiration to include Britannia on coinage again.
Britain’s largest penny
Under George III a one penny and two penny coin were introduced in an attempt to restore confidence in British currency. The intrinsic value of the metal plus an allowance for the cost of production was made equal to the nominal value of the coin. This made them very heavy and a lot larger than other coins in circulation – giving them the nickname ‘Cartwheels‘.
Importantly though, as Britannia had become more and more associated with the sea, these were the first coins to depict her holding a trident rather than a spear.
The Standing Britannia
Throughout history Britannia has been depicted on several denominations of coins, usually pennies or half pennies. Often she was shown seated with the sea in the background, and never before had she been issued on a Florin. After the long Victorian tradition of a crowned cruciform shield for the reverse, a new Britannia design was issued as King Edward VII took to the throne. A truly beautiful design, it shows Britannia with her trident, shield, and stood powerfully against the sea. Only issued during King Edward VII’s short reign, this coin has become incredibly popular for its iconic design and impressive story.
Of course the Britannia has featured and continues to feature on Britain’s coinage, with new depictions on annual releases and even special releases such as the 2019 commemorative 50p. It certainly looks like she’ll continue to have a long reign on our coinage.
If you’re interested…
Today you can own the first UK bullion coin to feature His Majesty The King’s coinage portrait – the Britannia.
The Britannia is Britain’s flagship bullion coin, a timeless icon representing centuries of British history and tradition.
Expertly struck by The Royal Mint, this official United Kingdom coin has been minted from the very finest 99.9% fine silver.