On January 1, the Royal Mint launched a new coin that marks the 300th anniversary of a very important pinnacle in the economic development of the United Kingdom. In 1717, Great Britain adopted and utilized the gold standard following the recommendation of Sir Isaac Newton (1643–1727), the Royal Mint’s mintmaster—a position he held for almost 30 years. Sir Isaac was also instrumental in developing the means to institute weights and measures, which would help the coins of the realm become some of the world’s most reliable and desired forms of payment. His improvements to assaying techniques and refinement of weights and measures resulted in an exacting standard that had never been seen before, and that would be replicated in other parts of the world. The gold standard had, in fact, been given royal assent as early as 1704 by Queen Anne, who had signed a proclamation basing its measurement and standard on the gold Spanish doubloon. The work of Sir Isaac established the ratio between gold and silver—a ratio that eventually led silver coinage to disappear from circulation and be replaced with a comprehensive gold series of coinage.
The gold standard endured as the de facto mode of commerce for more than 100 years with the issue of new gold Guineas of an amended weight worth exactly 21 Shillings, which became the standard. With the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars toward the end of 1815, an acute shortage of both gold and silver ushered in the use of paper banknotes issued by the Bank of England and backed by gold deposits. Standardized silver coins had not been minted or issued by the Treasury for more than 65 years in favor of the circulating gold coins; as a consequence, privately produced tokens made of copper and sometimes silver were beginning to gain acceptance in local trade. Ultimately, the end of the Napoleonic Wars precipitated the start of the Great Recoinage Act of 1816, as the gold standard was deemed no longer economically feasible. This move sought to reintroduce a new, standardized series of silver circulation coins and to introduce a gold Pound coin equal to 20 Shillings. The reintroduction of standardized silver coins in England after such a long absence from common use was a welcome economic change to a public who hadn’t seen a crown or half-crown coin since 1751.
The reverse design of the new 50-pence coin is the work of Aaron West. Sir Isaac was an intellectual giant of the 17th century’s scientific revolution, and, despite his enormous work as mintmaster, he is more widely known for his pioneering work in the fields of physics and astronomy. The reverse design picks up the motif of the earlier 1-Pound note that honors his scientific achievements. The central motif is inspired by his scientific theories relating to planets and bodies in space, detailed in book one of Newton’s Principia Mathematica. The text SIR ISAAC NEWTON is placed just above the principle design, with the coin’s denomination of FIFTY PENCE placed below the design.
The date, 2017, appears on the obverse, which includes the fifth effigy of HM Queen Elizabeth II, designed by Jody Clark and in use since 2015.
|50 Pence||Cupro-nickel||8 g||27.3 mm||BU||Unlimited|
|50 Pence||.925 silver||8 g||27.3 mm||Proof||7,000|
|50 Pence||.925 silver||16 g||27.3 mm||Proof||4,500|
|50 Pence||.9167 gold||15.5 g||27.3 mm||Proof||634|
The Brilliant Uncirculated coin is encased in a colorful presentation blister-pack folder. The silver Proof editions, both the standard and piedfort strikes, are housed in a custom presentation case with certificate of authenticity. The gold Proof is housed in a custom-crafted wood case, also with certificate of authenticity. For more information on these and other coins offered by the Royal Mint, please visit their website. ❑
See also Coin Update’s related stories on the U.K.’s 2017 designs: “Centennial of Royal Dynasty Celebrated on New Crown Coin” and “Jane Austen Remembered on Latest £2 Commemorative Coin.”