Britannia Silver Coins

The Silver Britannia is a major silver bullion coin of the modern world, and as such is a good addition to any collection, whether you are interested in the coin’s numismatic traits or simply as an investment in a precious metal certain to retain or increase its value. Silver Britannia coins of the most recent year of mintage can be bought directly on the Royal Mint website, using an electronic checkout system and ordering with your credit card.

The coins of previous years are completely sold out from the Royal Mint site and are therefore no longer listed. You will need to turn to reliable secondary sources, such as APMEX (the American Precious Metals Exchange) to obtain these coins; an extremely simple process in most cases.

Properties of Silver Britannia Bullion Coins

Silver Britannia bullion coins are struck in a special “Britannia metal” and have a lower fineness than most other modern silver coins, which you should be aware of while purchasing them. Indeed, their silver content is as low as some issues of coins from the People’s Republic of China, which is rather surprising from such a solid government as that of the British Isles.

Britannia metal is 95.8% pure silver, with the remainder made up of copper, or in other words, a fineness of .958 compared to the usual fineness of .999 or the Canadian Silver Maples’ fineness of .9999. King William III introduced the metal in the last years of the 17th century, in order to deter people from melting down silver coinage by making the metal less intrinsically valuable.

There seems little reason to continue the practice today, however, other than habit – especially regard to a bullion coin, whose spot value is always equal to the current price of the weight of silver found within it, though its numismatic value may be higher due to the collectible value of the coin.

The Silver Britannia comes in several different sizes, though the 1 troy ounce version is naturally the most popular on the international coinage market. These sizes include the tenth ounce, the quarter ounce, the half ounce, and the ounce, with nominal values of 20 pence, 50 pence, £1, and £2 respectively. The coins are sized between 2/3 of an inch (16.5 mm) and 1 ½ inches (40 mm).

The obverse of a Silver Britannia bullion coin, naturally enough, has the image of Queen Elizabeth II on it. The first year’s issue, which consisted entirely of proofs to the number of 20,000, made use of Maklouf’s “Third Portrait” of the monarch, while the subsequent coins show the Queen older with her “Fourth Portrait”. The edges of the obverse contain the inscription “Elizabeth II D G Reg Fid Def”, which is an abbreviated form of a Latin motto which translates as “Elizabeth II, Queen by the Grace of God, Defender of the Faith”. The words “2 Pounds” appear at the bottom of the coin.

The reverse of the coin shows a number of variations on Britannia, including a version with her standing in a chariot, others with her standing or seated, with a Union Jack imposed over her, and so on. The legend “Britannia [Year] One Ounce Fine Silver” appears around the reverse’s edge.

History of the Silver Britannia Coin

Many coins struck by modern mints show either actual people or animals, either politicians of the minting nation or beasts which are unique to, or at least common in, that country’s fields, woods, or forests. For example, American coins often show a bald eagle, while Australian coins frequently make use of the image of a kangaroo. In the case of England, however, the image shown is that of a pagan goddess who has been patroness of the island since the days of the Roman Emperors.

The design which appears on the Silver Britannia is an ancient one, with a history that stretches back to the days of the Caesars, making it perhaps the most long-lasting numismatic emblem that is still in use by a modern government. Bronze coins of Publius Aelius Trajanus Hadrianus Augustus, more commonly known as the Emperor Hadrian, used a symbol extremely similar to the current image.

Thus, the effigy on Silver Britannia coins has a history that stretches back to the days of the Emperor who made at least some efforts to curb the barbarism of Roman law by forbidding the torture of slaves, yet who stabbed out a slave’s eye with a writing stylus in a fit of wrath, and who built the famous Hadrian’s Wall across the boundary between Roman Britain and the northern land of the Picts (the future Scotland).

The image of Britannia seen on the modern Silver Britannia coins is quite similar to the ancient image, including her loose, flowing garments (though her right breast is now modestly covered, unlike the original), and the centurion’s helm upon her head. She bears a shield and a trident, the latter also representing England’s long reliance on the Royal Navy for its safety and power in the world.

The Silver Britannia was first minted in 1997, following the relaxation of the laws which for a long time made it illegal for private citizens to own gold or silver coinage – a peculiar law for a set of free countries to have on their books, but which was stricken from them some decades ago. Like so many other modern bullion coins, the Silver Britannia was released after the market was tested using gold coins of a similar type – the Gold Britannia coins which are also struck to this day.

The Gold Britannia was offered first in 1987, and was popular enough for the British government to eventually opt to produce a silver version as well for the less affluent who wanted a precious metal reserve as a more certain store of value than paper currency. Production of the Silver Britannia continues to this day, and will likely do so until such time as the British government’s silver stocks run low enough for them to cease production.

Mintages of Silver Britannia coins varied widely in the early years of the program, but today they are struck in runs of 100,000 uncirculated bullion coins and 2,500 proofs annually, as well as 2,500 proof sets.

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