In 2014 the Royal Mint started striking the new circulating coin for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. But I can still remember back to the summer of 1986…
My father worked for a bank. He came home one evening with half a dozen coins in his hands. “I bet you don’t know what these are…”, he said. “They’re the new £2 coin. They’ve been released to celebrate the Commonwealth Games.”
A new denomination for the UK
This was something genuinely new. The only “commemorative” coin in circulation was that slightly odd “hands” 50 pence that no-one really knew much about and there had only been two commemorative crowns issued in the last 20 years – both for Royal events.
This was a brand new denomination and it commemorated a proper non-royal national event that really engaged the nation. Although the 1986 Commonwealth Game coin was largely kept by collectors and never really entered mass circulation, it marked a significant change in the UK’s commemorative coin issuing strategy.
Six more single-coloured commemorative £2 coins were struck over the next 10 years before the introduction of the fully circulating £2 denomination, which has seen 29 different designs in total.
Of course, amongst those 29 coins are four coins from 2002 – again issued to celebrate the Commonwealth Games – this time held in Manchester. At first glance, you might struggle to spot the difference between them. They all feature the same running athlete trailing a banner behind. But each has a different cameo, representing each of the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom.
Officially the UK’s rarest £2 coin
They are some of the scarcest £2 coins now in circulation, with even the largest mintage (Scotland) set at just 771,750 – just 17% of the first ever commemorative bimetallic £2 coin, which was issued for the Rugby World Cup in 1999.
But the coin you really need to be looking out for is the Northern Ireland £2. Just 485,000 coins were ever struck making it officially the UK’s rarest £2 coin.
75% disappear from circulation
Of course, this year’s Commonwealth Games coin is a 50p, rather than the previous £2 coins. But with the Royal Mint estimating that as many as 75% of all Olympic 50ps being kept by collectors, it’s definitely worth scouring your change for.
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