In the United Kingdom, Decimal Day took place in February 1971. At such time, the country transitioned over from a pre-decimal system of 12 pence to one shilling and 20 shillings equalling one pound, to a simpler system of 100 pence to one pound. The process of changing over the currency involved more than three years of an intense public service campaign which was referred to as D-Day. In order to produce the needed coins for the changeover, the Royal Mint also relocated to a new, state-of-the-art facility in Pontyclun, Wales, which was inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II. Several days after D-Day came and went, the transition went so smoothly that newspapers and television broadcasts declared D-Day as the biggest event that never was. Credit for the success of the change-over was accorded to the extensive awareness campaign organised by both the treasury and the Bank of England. Two royal events which were commemorated with several outstanding coins were the silver wedding anniversary of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in 1972 and the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. Not only did the United Kingdom mark the occasion, but, a plethora of other countries and territories released coins in celebration, those who still recognised the Queen as Head of State, and even some in the Commonwealth who no longer did. Britain, along with Denmark and Ireland, officially became members of the European Economic Community in 1973, with Britain marking the event with a lovely commemorative coin. A referendum brought the UK into the EEC in 1973, and one took the UK out in 2016 when the country voted to leave the European Union, successor to the EEC.
1970 Gambia eight shillings: There were so many reasons why this coin was such an exciting addition to any young collector at the time. Aside from the out-of-the-ordinary reverse design, which depicts a hippopotamus in a river and script I had never seen before, it certainly was the first coin I obtained from such an exotic land. My eye caught this coin at one of the first collector coin shows I attended but also because of the slightly larger diameter and the layout of the obverse with no legend around the Queen’s effigy. Instead, the name of the issuing authority, THE GAMBIA, was horizontally placed on either side, slightly above the Queen’s shoulders. These eight shilling large crowns dated 1970 were minted in cupro-nickel and sterling silver and were also the last coins minted and released while The Gambia, as an independent constitutional monarchy, recognised Queen Elizabeth II as their Head of State. The country transitioned into a Republic later in the year and replaced the Queen’s image on national coinage with that of the new president.
1972 Cayman Islands Wedding commemorative: Struck by the Royal Canadian Mint, this large sterling silver coin with a diameter of 45 millimetres was one of the first coins, collector or otherwise, which included an image of Prince Philip, husband to Queen Elizabeth II. The reverse side of these large silver coins featured a conjoined image of the royal couple. The result was an elegant and regal design which made quite an impression when it was first released all those years ago. It certainly made an impression on me when I immediately spotted it in the window of a coin and jewellery shop in a hotel lobby while on a family vacation. This was during the time when silver was at its peak at nearly $50 an ounce, so, the price reflected this and, with a weight of over one and a half ounces, wasn’t cheap. However, I remember keeping my Brilliant Uncirculated version in its original packaging on my desk for months after I bought it. Unintentionally, my new regal coin became a reminder that when buying anything to do with precious metals, what goes up can indeed come down in a big way. I also remember not being so quick to share my new purchase with my parents, expecting a lecture that I was spending too much money on coins. Case in point, three years later, I bought the Proof version — for half what I paid for the Uncirculated strike. Nevertheless, the coin, because it was one of the first pieces added to my fledgling collection, remains a favourite and a great souvenir of my travels.
1973 United Kingdom EEC 50 pence: These coins were the innovative and world-first seven-sided coins designed for a new denomination to add to Britain’s decimal coinage. The exuberance felt by many coin collectors when acquiring one of these coins for the first time was certainly not missed by me; the coin made a lasting impression. I read some years ago a lot of thought, perseverance, and technology went into the coin’s design with regard to practicality in everyday commerce. The slightly curved edges on all seven sides were intentional — essentially, the coin needed to roll down chutes of vending machines and not get stuck in order for the coin to have maximum use. The Royal Mint expected these coins to be used in ticket machines to ride the underground, for instance, so the combination of the coin and mechanism had to work perfectly from the start. When the coins were introduced into circulation in 1969, the year I received my first example, they had an exchange value of about $1.40, which represented a lot of money for a circulation-type coin. Unfortunately, when the coins were first released, they were often confused with half-crowns — still in circulation and worth about 35 cents, so their withdrawal from use couldn’t come too soon for some. For a young coin collector, they just held a lot of fascination. The 1973 commemorative 50 new pence coin was released on the occasion of the United Kingdom officially becoming a member of the European Economic Community, a precursor to the European Union. The reverse design includes a circle of nine hands grasping each other at the wrist, representing the concept of strength. There is a noticeably smaller female hand shown at the right, which was thought to represent Queen Elizabeth II as she was Head of State of the United Kingdom. The polished Proof pieces made a huge impression all those years ago, presented in their red cases. When I purchased this coin 10 years after it had been issued, they were the only commemorative 50-pence coins. The coin has since seen a bit of a resurgence in 2020 when the Royal Mint released their last 50-pence commemorative coin with the theme of the European Union as the United Kingdom officially exited the twenty-eight-member trade bloc.
Variations of the Queen’s effigy, New Zealand one dollar 1979: This particular effigy was used on New Zealand commemorative crowns from 1979 to 1982. I encountered this coin at a large coin show which for me was a double-take moment as I hadn’t seen this portrait before. It was created by the New Zealand artist James Berry, whose designs were adopted for the reverse side of the country’s new decimal series of coinage in 1967. The Queen is shown wearing the Queen Alexandra tiara, given the King Edward VII’s consort on the occasion of their silver wedding anniversary in 1888. Each of the 61 bars includes diamonds which are perfectly matched, gradually decreasing in height for each bar on both sides from the central bar, which is the tallest.
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