Do you think you have a good knowledge of UK coinage? Well check out these 20 surprising facts that you might not know about UK coins!

1. The direction of each monarch’s effigy faces in the opposite direction to their immediate predecessor. This has been tradition since the time of Charles II onwards, with the only exception being Edward VIII, as he preferred his left portrait to his right, which was the side proposed for coins of his reign.

Edward VIII Left Portrait. Credit: Numista

2. Two 1p coins weigh the same as one 2p coin, and two 5p coins weigh the same as one 10p coin. A 1p coin weighs 3.56g, so times that by 2 and you’ve got the weight of a 2 pence piece, 7.12g

1p and 2p coins

3. Whilst the high-value banknote in general circulation is the £50 note, there are such things as £1 million notes and £100 million notes. They are locked away deep in the Bank of England’s vaults and are used to back the value of every notes issued by commercial banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

£1 million pound note. Credit: BBC.com

4. The word Farthing derived from a shortening of the word ‘Fourthing’. As far back as 1060, an English coin was shaped like a clover, so that any of the four leaves could be broken off and used as separate pieces of currency.

Farthing

5. The commonly used term ‘quid’ actually originates from the phrase Quid Pro Quo, which translates literally to ‘what for what’. This term first appeared back in 1661!

6. According to the central banks, Brits are the world leaders at counterfeiting. There are an estimated 300 fake notes in every one million sterling notes!

7. When the UK prepared for the decimalization of its coinage, the government embarked on an enormous media campaign including leaflets, TV spots and even songs!

Decimalisation Posters. Credit: Royal Mint Museum.

8. During the Second World War, Nazi Germany produced huge quantities of counterfeit sterling notes to try and devalue British currency. By 1945 a huge 12% of the notes in existence were counterfeit! The problem was solved by removing higher denomination notes from circulation and putting metal threads through new notes, making them harder to forge.

9. Stamps are not legal tender. Whilst you are free to accept stamps as payment for a service or goods, there is no legal obligation for you to accept them when offered. They have however been used as emergency currency in other countries.

1938 Emergency Spanish Currency Stamps. Credit: The Westminster Collection

10. You cannot pay fines in pennies. Have you ever considered paying a parking fine you didn’t think was fair with nothing but pennies? Well, be aware that the council is under no obligation to accept them! While relevant parties can choose to accept any type of payment they wish, in England and Wales restrictions apply on sums below £1.

11. Despite common belief, the polymer notes are not indestructible. Although we don’t recommend destroying them as you won’t be able to spend them!

Polymer £5 and £20 notes.

12. An estimated 28,850,000,000 UK coins are in circulation today! This is equivalent to almost 4 billion pounds worth of coins!

13. The use of gold in UK coinage ended when the First World War began. The gold sovereign, prior to 1914, was worth about £1 in circulation. However, the public were asked to hand any in to help fund the war effort. In its place came the £1 and £10 notes.

1910 Edward VII Circulating Gold Sovereign. Credit: Numista

14. There is a myriad of Cockney rhyming slang to describe money. Apple core means £20, Uncle Ben means 10 and if someone asks to borrow a taxi driver, they actually mean a fiver.

15. The ‘coppers’ in your change, aren’t actually made of copper. Since 1992, 1p and 2p coins have been made of steel, with a copper plating.

2 Pence Piece

16. The UK’s current definitive coinage dated 2008 or younger, make up the design of the Shield of the Royal Arms when they are all placed together. Pretty cool, right?

Shield of the Royal Arms in Definitive Coinage

17. Legend has it, the M11 has an exit but not an entry at Junction 5 to prevent would-be thieves escaping. This is because of its close proximity to the De La Rue Currency factory – where banknotes are printed for the Bank of England. This way, any potential robbers wouldn’t be able to make their escape quickly out of London and onto a motorway.

18. The Queen must officially approve any coin design before it can be made. The design is first put to the Chancellor, who then passes it on to the Queen for her official sign-off.

The Royal Mint Advisory Committee. Credit: The Royal Mint Museum

19. A full judicial trial is held to test newly-minted coins – called the Trial of the Pyx. This ceremony is held to ensure newly-minted coins conform to the required standards. The trials are held once a year and the coin’s diameter, chemical composition and weight is tested. These trials have been held since the 12th century and the process remains largely unchanged since that date!

The Trial of the Pyx. Credit: The Royal Mint Museum.

20. If you find a buried treasure chest of money and don’t report it, you could face a prison sentence! Technically any hidden treasure found in the UK belongs to the Queen! All findings must be reported to the coroner within 14 days and the treasure will be offered to museums. If the museums choose not to bid on it, then the finder/land-owner gets to receive it.

How many of these surprising facts did you already know? Let us know in the comments below!


If you’re interested in coin collecting, our Change Checker web app is completely free to use and allows users to:

– Find and identify the coins in their pocket
– Collect and track the coins they have
– Swap their spare coins with other Change Checkers

Change Checker Web App Banner 2 Amends 1024x233 1 1024x233 - Your January 2019 Scarcity Index update!

Sign up today at: www.changechecker.org/app

30 Comments

  1. Tony on April 17, 2020 at 9:39 am

    HI, I WAS BORN AND GREW UP IN EAST LONDON, THESE ARE SOME OF THE COCKNEY RHYMING SLANG WORDS I REMEMBER.

    LADY GODIVA – FIVER- FIVE POUNDS
    COCK AND HEN – TEN – TEN POUNDS
    SCORE – TWENTY – TWENTY POUNDS
    PONY – TWENTY FIVE POUNDS
    BULLSEYE- FIFTY POUNDS
    TON – ONE HUNDRED POUNDS
    MONKEY – FIVE HUNDRED POUNDS
    GRAND – ONE THOUSAND POUNDS
    RUBY MURRAY – CURRY
    SHERBET DAB – CAB
    PLATES OF MEAT -FEET
    CURRANT BUN – SUN
    BOAT RACE – FACE
    LOAF OF BREAD – HEAD
    HALF- INCH – PINCH
    TROUBLE AND STRIFE – WIFE
    TOMFOOLERY – JEWELLERY
    WHISTLE AND FLUTE- SUIT

    I ALSO KNOW ONES I COULD NOT PUT ON THIS LIST.

    ANYWAY THIS BRINGS BACK MEMORIES, AND JUST TO SAY TO YOU ALL KEEP WELL KEEP SAFE , EVERYTHING ALWAYS CHANGES NOTHING STAYS THE SAME.



    • Rachel Hooper on April 17, 2020 at 12:19 pm

      Hi Tony, that’s fantastic, thanks so much for sharing! I had never heard of ‘Monkey’ for five hundred pounds before. And thanks for keeping it clean haha! Hope you’re keeping well. Thanks, Rachel



  2. EdithDudge on April 12, 2020 at 8:03 am

    Hello to all
    In this difficult span, I love you all
    Rise your family and friends



  3. Martyn on April 4, 2020 at 9:18 am

    The coins that we call ‘coppers’ have NEVER been copper during any of our lifetimes. Copper was discontinued during Queen Victoria’s reign. Our coppers were bronze until replaced by copper plated steel.

    Legally, according to the Bank of England’s web site, there are some restrictions when using small coins as payment. For example, 1p and 2p coins only count as ‘legal tender’ for any amount up to 20p, that said it is still discretionary and the trader may accept higher amounts.

    Technically, Bank of England banknotes are not ‘legal tender’ in Scotland, (but Royal mint coins are!) nor are Scotish banknotes ‘legal tender’ in England but they are all accepted. (although some English traders are reluctant or even refuse to accept Scotish notes) Legal tender has a narrow technical meaning which has no use in everyday life. It means that if you offer to fully pay off a debt to someone in legal tender, they can’t sue you for failing to repay.
    Clear as mud then!



  4. andrew loveland on April 3, 2020 at 8:18 pm

    what about our £100 note up in Scotland, does this not count as general circulation?



    • Rachel Hooper on April 6, 2020 at 3:23 pm

      Hi Andrew, you’re right, there is also a £100 note in Scotland. Have you ever been lucky enough to come across one?



  5. Tim Tostevin on April 3, 2020 at 4:31 pm

    Some very interesting facts – many thanks.



  6. michael hassett on April 3, 2020 at 2:07 pm

    great blog. keeps us interested in something during these lockdown times.
    its amazing how many slang terms come to mind in this country and worldwide, especially in USA,
    As for legal tender, it is up to the person or company receiving the money to state their restrictions. but in general if you were to go by the bags issued by Banks, that is the best guide.



    • Alexandra Siddons on April 3, 2020 at 3:06 pm

      Hi Michael,

      We’re so pleased you liked the blog!

      You’re very right, it’s down to the individual decision of the retailer or dealer!

      Thanks,
      Alex



  7. Irina Pingelova on April 3, 2020 at 12:31 pm

    How can Russian stamps are Emergency Spanish currency stamps?



  8. George Blunt on April 3, 2020 at 10:57 am

    Love the blog very interesting I know 7 not very good, I love the one about the farthing

    Regards George



    • Alexandra Siddons on April 3, 2020 at 3:03 pm

      Hi George, so glad you liked the blog! I love the Farthing fact too!
      Thanks,
      Alex



  9. Jane Deamer on April 2, 2020 at 8:47 pm

    Hello Checkers,
    All 20 facts new to me and shared a smile, or 20, so thank you! More of these types of blogs please! 😁



    • Alexandra Siddons on April 3, 2020 at 9:33 am

      Hi Jane,

      We’re so glad you liked this blog! We love creating them 🙂

      Thanks,
      Alex



  10. J HARDING on April 2, 2020 at 7:43 pm

    HI
    THERE ARE A LOT OF SLANG FOR MONEY FROM MEAT, FISH FRUIT AND VEG MARKETS AAS WELL AS COCKNEY RHYMING SLANG, A LOT SHORTENED SO IF NOT IN THE KNOW YOUR NOT FINDING THE PRICE.. HERES A FEW THAT HAVE COME MY WAY

    ALAN WHICKER NICKER ONE POUND
    COCK AND HEN -COCKLE TEN POUND
    FLIM FIVE POUND
    ACE ,DUECE TREY ROUF NEVES ARE SOME MORE-1 2 3 4 7
    LORD OF THE MANNER- LORDY SIXPENCE
    CHIP SHILLING
    TOSHEROOM- ROOM 2 SHILLINGS
    PONY TWENTY POUNDS
    MONKEY 50 POUNDS
    TON HUNDRED POUNDS
    GRAND THOUSAND POUNDS
    THERE ARE MANY MORE THESE ARE WHAT I CAN REMEMBER FROM YOUTH DAYS CIRCA 1950s

    info needed some times you send trading card with my purchases, what are they for?



    • Alexandra Siddons on April 3, 2020 at 9:39 am

      Hi James,

      Yes there really is a world of slang terms for money isn’t there?!

      The Trading Cards are just a fun added extra for collectors. It can be a nice substitute for those coins that are missing from your collection. Collectors have been loving them and they have even been traded and sold online! 🙂

      Thanks,
      Alex



    • Alan Scriven on April 3, 2020 at 10:59 am

      Just a little correction there; A pony is £25 and a monkey is actually £500. I hope you don’t think I’m being a ‘Cocky’ Cockney (Worcester born and bred actually!)!!



  11. Ian Bartlett on April 2, 2020 at 7:26 pm

    Ten out of twenty.



  12. Martin Gard on April 2, 2020 at 7:13 pm

    Very good information I knew some of them.



    • Alexandra Siddons on April 3, 2020 at 9:40 am

      So glad you liked the blog Martin and it’s great you knew some of the facts!



  13. Steven on April 2, 2020 at 6:41 pm

    Good, interesting article but misnamed. Five of the facts are about notes, one is about stamps, one is about general monetary terms (mostly used for notes), leaving only 13 out of the 20 actually being about coins.
    God, I love being pedantic! 🤣



    • Alexandra Siddons on April 3, 2020 at 9:40 am

      Hahah! Yes you’re technically right Steven! Glad you enjoyed the blog 🙂



  14. RoKi on April 2, 2020 at 6:22 pm

    Very interesting! Thank you.



  15. Dave Chance on April 2, 2020 at 5:20 pm

    I knew all 20 things relating to English coinage.



  16. Michael kelly on April 2, 2020 at 4:41 pm

    Very interesting facts
    Love listening to the history of the coins, also didn’t know about payment with stamps at one point.
    Many Thanks again
    Michael Kelly



    • Alexandra Siddons on April 3, 2020 at 9:44 am

      Glad you liked the blog Michael! It’s very interesting about the emergency stamps!
      Thanks,
      Alex