Kew Hysteria

Something remarkable happened to the price of one particular UK coin last month (Feb 2014).

The Kew Gardens commemorative 50 pence coin issued in 2009 was already highly sought after because less than 300,000 of these were minted compared to a normal run of several million for other commemorative coins.

Shortly after it was issued, I came across one in my change (this was before I began to take an active interest in the coinage of the UK). I wondered about this strange coin I had never seen before and quickly made sure I handed it over at the next shop I was in because I was worried that it might not be authentic.

It was two years later before I saw another Kew Gardens coin and by this time I was a part-time barman and again I was suspicious about this unusual coin so I made sure it quickly left the till in change to another customer.

Then the introduction of the range of Olympic 50p coins sparked my interest in the range and value of coins in circulation and I realised that I had twice allowed one of the more valuable coins to get away. At the time, Kew 50ps were consistently selling for £10 to £15 so I immediately noticed last October when a third example crossed my path when I was handed over in payment across the bar. It was a rather tatty example, with a stain across its face, but I was keen to have an example to sell so I made sure it was kept aside so it would be included in my tips that night.

As I have a rule that the coins I acquire will not be collected but will be “stock” to help me maximise the value of my tips, this blemished coin was swiftly listed for sale on eBay but its soiled state meant that it achieved just four pounds – around a third of the prevailing value for an example in reasonable condition. Given the poor state of the coin, I wasn’t too disappointed but the events of last month made me wish that I’d hung onto it for a little longer.

Everything changed when the Royal Mint issued a press release (attached below) to publicise their new range of collector albums. Cleverly, the press office highlighted the rarest coin in general circulation to illustrate the wide range of coins to be found.

Journalists quickly established that the rare Kew coin was selling on eBay for many times its face value and at some stage a price of “more than £100” was reported and then repeated in numerous newspapers and on various television programmes. The publicity quickly ensured that dozens of Kew 50p coins in circulation were quickly posted for sale on eBay and the publicity ensured that prices of more than £100 became a self-fulfilling prophesy.

As my son was born in 2009, he had been given a Royal Mint Baby Coin Set for the year by a family friend and my wife and I discussed taking advantage of what I was confident would be a short-lived price spike to sell the proof Kew Gardens coin the set held. I was confident that a proof example would raise up to £200 and that this price would never be achieved again once the hype had calmed down.


Our thinking was that the £200 raised could then be put into a high-interest tax-free child savings account so that by the time he was ready to go to university, it would have grown to enough to buy whatever the mid-21st century equivalent of a new car or computer will be.

However we were deflected from this course of action when I discovered that the true rarity in the 2009 Baby Coin Set was not the Kew Gardens proof coin. The centrepiece of the set was the six coins which make up Dent’s shield of the Royal Arms. The six coins (1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p and 50p) together make up the full Royal Arms and had first been issued the previous year. However, after 22.7 million of this new style of 50p was issued in 2008, none of this design was released into circulation during 2009 but here was one such example in the Baby Coin Set!


Further research revealed that less than 35,000 of these had been produced for inclusion in proof coin sets, making this coin far less common than the 300,000 Kew Gardens coins. So the eBay sale was pulled to allow us to reconsider the sale but this meant that I was proved right – the £100+ Kew Gardens price did turn out to be a short-lived spike.

A week on, the price has now settled to between £30 and £40 but I think it will remain above the previous £15 mark as the publicity has given the Kew coins iconic status in popular consciousness and helped to remove a significant proportion from circulation so I fear that I won’t come across for another for some time.

Royal Mint Press Release:
Could you have the UK’s rarest coin in your pocket?
20 Feb 2014
The Royal Mint has today revealed that the Kew Gardens 50p coin is the rarest commemorative UK coin design to be released into current circulation– with just over 1 in every 300 people in the UK, or 0.32% of the population, likely to find it in their change.*
Only 210,000 of the coins were ever released into circulation to mark the 250th Anniversary of the Royal Botanic Gardens in 2009, compared to 22.7million of the shield of the Royal Arms 50p design in 2008 and 7.5million of the Girlguiding 50p in 2010.
The coin was released to celebrate the historic anniversary of the London institution, and features a design showing the famous pagoda of the Royal Botanic Gardens encircled by a vine and accompanied by the dates “1759” and “2009”, with the word “KEW” at the base of the pagoda.
Kew Gardens is the rarest commemorative coin design to be introduced into current general circulation.
Shane Bissett, Director of Commemorative Coin at The Royal Mint said: “Whilst we’re urging everyone to check their change to see whether they could have one of these exceptional coins in their pockets, we also want to encourage the nation to look more closely at all of the coins we use every day.
“They really are miniature works of art worth looking out for, admiring and collecting – and keeping hold of them is a great way for us to build our own private art galleries. Now that people know just how rare this particular coin is we expect them to disappear from circulation fast.
“The Royal Mint’s 50p, £1 and £2 Collector Albums are the perfect way for people to start appreciating the beautiful works of art that are in our pockets and enjoying the coins that are in circulation.”
The striking coin was designed by Christopher Le Brun, and the reverse includes the famous pagoda surrounded by a twisting vine plant. Christopher chose the pagoda as an instantly recognisable symbol which is intrinsically linked to London.
Have you found a Kew Gardens 50p coin in your change? If so, let The Royal Mint know by sharing a photo on The Royal Mint Facebook page or posting it on Twitter using the hashtag #strikingstories.

Rarest Coin
* Calculation based on the UK population of 63,700,000 (ONS Statistical Bulletin. Annual mid-year Population Estimates, 8 August 2012). Exact figure is 210,000 of a population of 63,700,000 – or 1 in every 303.
** Calculation based on latest Mintage figures released by The Royal Mint (released 31 March 2013): 28.9 billion coins estimated in circulation.