Two years ago, when I realised I could use some of the unusual coins offered across the bar where I work at weekends to help boost my income, I realised I’d have to learn more about which could be sold for more than their face value.
I decided the most reliable way was to watch eBay, which I was already using regularly to buy and sell vintage books and postcards, to see what was selling well.
And there, among all the suffragettes, scouts, guides and Brunel £2 coins was someone selling seemingly “boring” ordinary Britannia 50p coins.
Yes, we all know about the classic figure of Britannia seated beside a lion, designed by Christopher Ironside, which graced the reverse side of our fifty pence coins from their introduction in 1969 until the replacement of Britain’s standard coinage by the new Royal Arms suite of coins in 2008.
Britannia has appeared on British coins since 1672 and held onto her place on our 50p coins even when their size was reduced in September 1997. However, around this time she began to be regularly dislodged on a temporary basis when the reverse side hosted designs to mark significant events, anniversaries or individuals.
Collecting these smaller runs of commemorative coins quickly became a mainstream hobby as members of the public were attracted by the variation in their pockets and purses.
Soon the five million coins issued to celebrate the NHS or EU began to acquire a higher value to some than the 300 million of the new smaller standard Britannia design issued at the same time.
Since the size of our 50 pences was reduced to 27.3mm in September 1997, more than 800 million of these have been issued so why is it worth spending so much time checking any that pass through my hands?
Yes, of course I keep an eye out for a clean example of any of the commemorative issues but so does everyone else and these are regularly plucked from circulation and offered for sale on the collectors’ market.
But how many, even among the collectors themselves, even bother to look out for an example of Britannia’s final appearance on our 50p coins.
Only three and a half million of these were quietly released in 2008, compared to a normal annual release of up to 70 million, as later that year the Mint was ready to begin the rollout of Matthew Dent’s new Royal Arms suite of coins.
Luckily I spotted this in time to gather any 2008 Britannia 50ps I could get my hands on. This means that over the past two years these have made a significant contribution to my goal of raising double the face value of my tips.
Over the past two years, in total I have sold 37 of these 2008 Britannia coins with a combined face value of £18.50. Together these sold for £69.53 – an average of £1.88 each, representing an increase of 3.75 times their face value.
I listed many for bids starting at £1.20 so many sold with a single bid for this amount but others went for £1.80, £2.50 or £3.50 and once, to a man in Somerset, for £4.21.
The success of the 2008 Britannia 50p coins also prompted me to look at other standard coins issued in smaller numbers this year pending the arrival of the new Royal Arms suite on September 1st. I’ll add details of these in a later post.