The Royal Mint has begun the countdown to the 50th anniversary of ‘D-day’. Not the World War II beach landing, that was in 1944, but ‘decimalisation day’.
On 15 February 1971, UK coinage was reorganised into the way we know today, with the old system of 12 pence in a shilling and 20 pence in a pound abolished. Instead, a pound would be worth 100 pence, rather than 240, as it had before.
The UK was slightly behind the curve on this, with Russia introducing a decimalised ruble in 1704 and the US in 1792, while a previous effort to do so in Britain failed in 1824.
The Royal Mint has released a 50p coin to commemorate 50 years since the decimalisation of British coinage in February 1971
The Royal Mint has struck a commemorative 50p to mark the date, although the new style seven-sided coin was actually released two years earlier and celebrated its 50th birthday in 1969.
Brilliant uncirculated, silver and golf proof versions are available from the Mint’s website for £10, £57.50 and £1,100 respectively.
Unlimited numbers of the uncirculated version are available, while the Mint put 6,000 silver and 700 gold versions up for sale.
However, these coins are commemorative and will not enter circulation.
And although the 50p itself is a little older than decimalisation itself, given its introduction as part of the same process, This is Money thought it would take a look at the five scarcest ones in circulation ahead of the anniversary.
1. The 2011 alternative swimming 50p
No, it isn’t the Kew Gardens 50p. Contrary to what is often thought, the 2009 coin frequently touted as the rarest around actually isn’t.
Instead that title belongs to an alternatively designed 50p which was supposed to be released alongside 28 other coins ahead of the 2012 London Olympics – three of which also feature in our top five.
The design actually released, and struck close to 2.18million times, features a swimmer’s head clear of the water. However, before that an unknown number of alternative coins were minted before the design was ditched.
An unknown number of alternatively designed swimming 50p coins, featuring the swimmer’s head underwater (left), exist and do sell for big money
‘These ones were first released through WH Smith and had the swimmer’s head covered in wavy lines representing water’, Philip Mussell, of Coin News magazine, said. ‘When it was released into general circulation those lines had disappeared.
‘There’s no firm mintage figures for that first release version, only the overall mintage figures for both versions of the swimming coin, but were you to try to buy one you’d be charged anywhere from £750 to £900.’
Meanwhile This is Money in August 2019 found one had sold on eBay for £590 after a 10 day auction involving 47 bids.
A note on scarcity
While This is Money has outlined the five rarest 50p coins and ranked them simply according to their mintage figures – how many of them there are – this does not necessarily correspond to value.
As we explain, the wrestling 50p is comparatively less in demand than some other Olympic coins which are actually more common, while collectors looking to complete a set are likelier to pay more than a coin’s worth to obtain it.
The coin website Change Checker releases a ‘scarcity index’ every so often which instead lists coins by how in-demand they are among collectors.
In its latest index, released last November, Kew Gardens topped the list, as it does most of the time, but it was followed by the judo and triathlon 50p coins, which of course are more common than the wrestling and football ones.
2. The 2009 Blue Peter Olympic 50p
In silver medal position is another piece of silver struck ahead of Britain’s home games.
This time released in 2009, it shows someone vaulting the high jump high bar, and was designed by nine-year-old Florence Jackson as the winning entry in a Blue Peter competition.
Just 19,751 were released first time around, before 2.22million more were struck two years later.
A special 50p displaying the high jump was designed by nine-year-old Florence Jackson as part of a Blue Peter competition – just 19,751 versions were struck in 2009
Collectors need to make sure they’re buying the original design if they’re paying over the odds, because Coin News’ ‘Spend It? Save It?’ puts the value of the 2011 version as just £2.
However, the 2009 coin is valued at more than 60 times that at £125, while at one recent eBay auction it went for £230 after 12 bids, more than double the £100 starting price.
3. The 2009 Kew Gardens 50p
The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow when it comes to coin collectors, the 2009 Kew Gardens is the rarest 50p around which was actually minted a substantial number of times, although it was still struck just 210,000 times.
The coin displaying the Kew Gardens Great Pagoda was struck in 2009 to commemorate the gardens’ 250th anniversary
That mintage only became widely known in late 2014, and is the main reason why the value of the coin took off. This is Money charted its price last year and found between 2009 and 2020 its value grew 2,733 per cent.
And the price has grown more since. Philip Mussell put the price at around £85 last year but said it now sold for around £90 – £100.
The Kew Gardens 50p only became very sought after once its rarity became known. The Royal Mint revealed just 210,000 were struck in 2014
But of course you can still find people willing to pay even more, with recent auctions on eBay finding it the subject of bidding wars which have taken the final price to more than £150.
4. The 2011 football 50p
After the three podium places, ‘it gets a bit hazy’, Philip Mussell said. ‘There are no other 50p coins that regularly fetch more than face value simply because they were all produced in their millions.
The 2012 Olympics 50p shows explains the offside rule, and is the rarest of all the 29 Olympic coins
‘There are rarer ones and they do sell on eBay and on dealer’s lists for more than 50p but only because someone is looking for that particular coin, they don’t regularly fetch big money like the others though.’
The best of the rest
Some of the other coins struck fewer than 2million times include:
– The 2011 judo 50p – mintage of 1.16million
– The 2011 triathlon 50p – mintage of 1.16million
– The 2017 Sir Isaac Newton 50p – mintage of 1.81million
– The 2017 Royal Shield 50p – mintage of 1.8million
– The 2018 Beatrix Potter Flopsy Bunny 50p – mintage of 1.4million
But if you were to take a stab at it, the next rarest is the football 50p released in 2011 along with the 28 other London 2012 coins. It displays the offside rule, and was struck 1.125million times.
While not especially rare by anyone’s calculation, the standard 50p a year later had a mintage of 32.3million by comparison.
‘Spend It? Save It?’ gave it an estimated value of around £10, not huge money but 20 times its face value, and some people are of course willing to pay more.
Recent eBay listings have found it selling for £14.50, £14.65, £16.57 and £17.99, which all represent a bit of a premium on that figure.
5. The 2011 wrestling 50p
Rounding out the top five is another London 2012 coin, this time featuring the sport of wrestling.
With a mintage of 1.129million, it is only fractionally more common than the football 50p.
For that reason, ‘Spend It? Save It?’ gives it the same value. However, This is Money has consistently found the coin has been less popular among collectors than its more abundant peers.
Despite being the second rarest coin after the football 50p explaining the offside rule, the wrestling 50p sells for less online than some more common cousins
Recently sales have come in under this valuation, something of an unusual trend among those who buy scarce coins on eBay, with recent sales figures finding it has sold for £8.99, £6.50, £8 and £6.10.
There hasn’t been a shortage of bids, but collectors just aren’t willing to pay that much for it.
Royal Mint finds itself in a war of the words
Another coin the Mint has released this year hasn’t had quite such a positive reception.
The Mint released a 2021 annual set of five coins, including the decimal day 50p, one of which was a commemorative £2 coin commemorating the writer H.G. Wells – best-known for the book The War of The Worlds.
H.G. Wells fans slammed the £2 Royal Mint coin commemorating the science fiction novelist after his tripod war machines were seen with a fourth leg
But if the 1897 book tells the story of Earth invaded by three-legged Martian tripods, the coin’s design features a creature with four legs, sparking a backlash among Wells scholars.
The author’s biographer, Adam Roberts, told The Guardian: ‘It’s nice to see Wells memorialised, but it would have been nicer for them to get things right.’
Critics also took issue with the presentation of another of Wells’s novels on the coin, The Invisible Man. On the coin the hat is a top hat, but Wells said the character in the novel ‘never wore a top hat’.
And lastly a quote inscribed on the coin is also believed to be wrong. The coin is edged with ‘Good books are warehouses of ideas’, but the actual quote, from an obscure piece of work, is ‘Good books are the warehouses of ideals.’
This is Money asked the Royal Mint if it considered pulling the coin from sale as a result of the backlash.
It did not respond by the time of publication but if it did so, it is likely it could see its value soar as collectors sought to get their hands on a rare ‘error’ coin.
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