Coin collecting is a hobby that spans across generations, but did you know it also spans across centuries?

In this blog, we talk you through the different phases of coin collecting!

The Hobby of Kings

Historically, only very wealthy people or royals could afford to collect coins rather than use them as a daily necessity.

A coin featuring the portrait of Edward III from Medieval England. Credit: Numista.

This high-level collecting peaked in about the 14th century and there is evidence that coins were even collected in ancient times!

Industrialisation

In the late 18th century, at the time of the industrial revolution, factories, mills, and other private enterprises were set up, opening up a new avenue of wealth creation. This meant more people were in possession of a disposable income and many became interested in coins and began collecting them as a hobby.

This demand was noticed by Matthew Boulton and James Watt, who began making specially designed coins in various metal specifications, to sell on.

In 1887, ahead of the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria, The Royal Mint produced commemorative gold and silver florins for the first time, a new Double Florin denomination featuring a Jubilee bust of the Queen.

Double-Florin with portrait of Queen Victoria. Credit: Numista.

This was to start a tradition of producing ‘special’ coins to mark particular historic or royal anniversaries that carried through to the 20th century.

Decimalisation and Coin Collecting

In 1971, the UK switched its currency to a decimal based system from the previously used system dating back to ancient Roman times.

Whilst a few old coins remained legal tender, it saw the phase out of others, including the large penny, which hadn’t changed much since 1860!

1 Penny – George V

This restructure inspired a world-wide interest in coins! Mints all over the world started producing coins and sets to issue to the public in a way that had never been seen before.

With an increasing of exciting numismatic issues, came an influx of coin stories, each one hoping to shed light on a ‘rare’ or ‘error coin’ that could be found in your change.

Fast-forward to 2020 and the hobby of checking your change for that special coin is still alive with plenty of interesting coin stories still surfacing!

Collecting to Sell

As the opportunity for people to both collect and sell coins increased (e.g. with the introduction of secondary market sites, etc.) so did the volume of people collecting.

All too often we are bombarded by press articles citing eBay listings of ‘rare’ or ‘error’ coins and, naturally, interest is piqued when we hear about the coin we’ve just come across in our change ‘selling for thousands’. These stories often encourage people to collect and hoard coins, purely in the hope of making a ‘buck’ when selling them on.

Unfortunately though, these tabloid articles can often sensationalise the actual value of the coin and when taken out of context we can forget that anyone can list anything they like on eBay, for whatever price they choose, regardless of whether or not the item is genuinely worth it. To avoid the pitfalls of buying coins eBay, Change Checker created our top 5 eBay buying tips.

Recent overpriced eBay listing for a Battle of Hastings 50p that never eventually sold.

However, many collectors do continue to check their change in the hope of finding coins to add to their collections just for the pleasure of the hobby, or even to build a meaningful gift or heirloom to a loved one.


As we navigate a climate where less cash is being used and therefore the opportunity of finding those special coins in our change is reduced, could this push us into a fifth phase of coin collecting?


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The ‘heads’, or obverse, side of a coin has depicted the image of a monarch or ruler for thousands of years.

However, the nature of these images have changed over the centuries. From the Ancient Greeks to Queen Elizabeth II, in this blog we guide you through the differing historic heads of uk coinage.

Ancient Greece and Rome

An Ancient Greek coin depicting the portrait of Zeus.

The coins of ancient Greece set the design template for the circulating coins that we use today in the UK!

On one side, their coins show a portrait of the symbol of national sovereignty and on the other side, we see something that resembles the nation.

Coins of ancient Greece and Rome were provided for city states and depict images of iconic leaders and the gods that protected them.

Roman coins depict the faces of the leaders of the empire, including Emperor Honoria.

Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Period

Medieval coin featuring the portrait of Edward III

The AngloSaxon period in Britain spans approximately the six centuries from 410-1066AD.

In the ninth century The Royal Mint struck a silver penny of Alfred the Great at the time of the resettlement of London after its first occupation by the Vikings. 

The coin would have been struck by hand and the design showcases the rigid markings that would have come as a result of hand tools.

The Renaissance and the Tudors

Tudor coin featuring the portrait of King Henry VIII

The Sovereign is undoubtedly one of the most impressive coins struck by The Royal Mint.

In 1489, Henry VII ordered a new coin of gold. The coin surface was large, enabling the engraver to include decorative details. It allowed for more detailed portraits of monarchs.

The portrait on this coin is of the crowned King Henry VIII.

Charles II

Gold coin featuring the reversed portrait of Charles II

When Charles II was restored to the throne, he needed to assert his royal authority and to show a clear break from the rule of Oliver Cromwell.

It’s been suggested that the tradition of monarchs facing in the opposite direction to their predecessor on coins, dates back to Charles II when he wanted coins under his reign to be different from that of Cromwell.

Victoria

Queen Victoria Gothic Florin

Despite reigning for 64 years, there were few coinage portraits of Queen Victoria, with one being favoured for 50 years.

For 50 years the ‘Young Head’ effigy of Queen Victoria featured on UK coinage this classically styled portrait was reinterpreted several times, with each effigy designed to portray the queen as she aged.

Queen Elizabeth II

2020 dated 50p featuring the fifth portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II

Five portraits of Her Majesty The Queen have been used on UK coins since her accession to the throne in 1952.

The Queen’s first portrait, by Mary Gillick, shows her wearing a wreath in the style of many British coins struck between the seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries. This portrait remained on UK coins up until decimalisation, when Arnold Machin’s new portrait of The Queen was used (pictured above).

The effigy selected for use from 1985 was prepared by the sculptor Raphael Maklouf, in which she is depicted wearing a necklace and earrings.

By her fourth portrait, designed by Ian Rank-Broadley, a greater degree of realism was used. It shows The Queen in her sixth decade, her crowned head filling the coin’s surface. 

The fifth and most recent portrait of The Queen is by Royal Mint designer Jody Clark. This is arguably the first UK coin to introduce elements of personality with a hint of a smile. Clark is the first Royal Mint employee in over 100 years to design a UK definitive coin portrait.


So now you know how the portraits on our coins have changed over the years, which portrait is your favourite? Comment below!


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In 2020, perhaps for the first time ever, the ancient tradition of the Royal Maundy ceremony has been cancelled.

Centuries of tradition have been overturned as one of the Church of England’s most archaic ceremonies is unable to take place due to the Queen being in isolation at Windsor Castle.

No-one knows for sure when, or if, Royal Maundy has been cancelled before. Even during wartime, King George VI and the Archbishop of Canterbury were able to uphold the tradition.

However, the unprecedented circumstances the world is facing right now means there is simply no other option than to break tradition…

2019 Royal Maundy ceremony. Credit: Royal.uk

Today’s ceremony was due to take place in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle with a choral accompaniment.

Now, rather than handing out the Maundy money consignments individually, the Queen has written personally to the 188 recipients saying, “The traditional Maundy money, which had been blessed in the Chapel Royal, was enclosed”, and the ceremonial red and white leather purses containing Maundy money have been delivered remotely by Royal Mail, for the first time since the tradition began.

So where does this tradition come from and what is the history behind Maundy money?

The History of Royal Maundy

Maundy Thursday is a key day during the Easter week which commemorates Jesus Christ’s last supper on the day before his crucifixion.

The Royal Maundy Church service takes place each year on this day, and is inspired by the generosity shown by Jesus in washing the feet of his disciples shortly before his death.

Jesus washing the feet of disciples. Credit: Regina magazine

Its origins can be traced back to the Middle Ages, when English monarchs would wash the feet of beggars and offer gifts of food and clothing in imitation of Jesus.

However it was King John who was the first to give to the poor on Maundy Thursday and by the early 14th century, it had become customary for the sovereign to provide a meal, together with gifts of food and clothing.

Sharing the Wealth

For numismatists, the day has added significance in the form of Maundy money which is given out by the reigning monarch each year at the service.

QV 4penny
A Maundy fourpenny given out during the reign of Queen Victoria

The tradition of giving out money began with Charles II, with the first set of Maundy coins consisting of a four penny, three penny, two penny and a penny. The coins have remained in much the same form since then, and are traditionally struck in sterling silver.

At the Royal Maundy ceremony, the reigning monarch hands each recipient two small leather string purses – one white, one red. The red purse contains ordinary coinage as money (in lieu of the food and clothing which was offered years ago) and the white contains silver Maundy coins.

Maundy_pouches
The pouches handed out by the reigning monarch at Royal Maundy service; the red contains normal coinage the white contains Maundy Money.

The Maundy coins total the age of the King or Queen in pence, so this year, as the Queen approaches her 94th birthday, each white purse will contain 94 pence.

Recognition of Service

Nowadays it is not the poor who are the recipients of this gift, but specially chosen members of the public in recognition of the service they have given to the Church and local community.

The number of men and women receiving Maundy Money also equals the age of the sovereign during the year, and since the reign of George I, the recipients have been an equal number of men and women. For example, this year 188 recipients will receive the Maundy coins – 94 men and 94 women.

The tradition and heritage behind Maundy money makes them among the most sought-after coins in British numismatic history. Their owners are part of an exclusive club which dates back centuries, and they still exemplify the generosity and selfless work of the Church during this week – the most important in the Christian calendar.

Sadly, this year, tradition has been broken and the Royal Maundy ceremony will not take place. Whilst the overturning of this ancient ceremony reflects the difficult and truly unprecedented times we are currently facing, it does not detract from the hard work and dedication of the well-deserving receivers of the Maundy money this year.

Her Majesty’s personalised letters to each receipiant demonstrate that even in the toughest of times, its important to honour those who give to our community.


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

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