Silver and gold Britannia coins are no longer “fine” they way they
are, the Royal Mint has decided.
In an effort to compete with other, finer, world bullion coins,
Royal Mint officials recently confirmed plans to launch Britannia .999
fine silver and .9999 fine gold coins later this year.
This signals a departure from the historic “Britannia” silver
standard of .958 fine, as well as the standard .9167 fine gold in use
for British coins for centuries.
The Britannia standard of silver was introduced as part of the
recoinage of William III in 1696, in an attempt to limit the clipping
and melting of sterling silver coins (sterling is .925 fine).
New coins in November
Beginning in November, collectors and investors will be able to
buy 2013 Britannia 1-ounce .999 fine silver bullion coins (which are
denominated £2) and Britannia 1-ounce .9999 fine gold bullion coins
(which are denominated £100). The reverses of the coins will bear the
traditional Philip Nathan design of a standing figure of a graceful
Britannia, wind blowing her robes left while she holds a trident.
Britannia wears a Corinthian helmet and bears also a shield.
Nathan’s reverse design appeared in 1987 with the debut of the
Britannia gold bullion program, and was first featured on a silver
Britannia in 1998, a year after the silver program began to coincide
with the gold program’s 10th anniversary. Since 1998, eight other
different designs have appeared on Britannia coins, with Nathan’s
design returning to the coin five times, including on the 2012 coins
marking the 25th anniversary of the program.
A different reverse design than Nathan’s standard will be used for
Brilliant Uncirculated and Proof versions of the Britannia coins,
which are to be launched in April 2013.
The obverses of the various Britannia bullion and collector coins
have carried two different portraits of Queen Elizabeth II, now
showing one by Ian Rank-Broadley.
Gold Britannia coins are issued in tenth-, quarter-, half- and
1-ounce sizes, bearing face values of £10, £25, £50 and £100, respectively.
The Royal Mint has not decided whether the new bullion coins will
bear an indication of the new higher fineness.
Coins of the new fineness will weigh less than the coins of the
current standards because the gold and silver will not be alloyed with
additional metal. Copper is part of the alloy of the current silver
coin, and silver is part of the alloy used for the current gold coins.
Current Britannia coins weigh more than one ounce but contain only one
ounce of pure precious metal, the additional alloying metal factoring
in to make the historical fineness.
Because the new coins will be made of pure gold and silver rather
than be composed of alloys, they will likely have a different hue than
current Britannia coins; the color change will likely be most evident
in the gold versions.
Die trials have not yet been completed, according to Charlotte
Shaw, the Royal Mint’s public relations and communications manager, so
no images of the new coins are available.
The bullion coins will be minted to order, a contrast to the
program previously, when the silver Britannia has had a mintage limit
(100,000 in recent years).
Shift in approach
While Shaw described the decision to adopt pure gold and silver
compositions as an extension of the Royal Mint brand — “We already
have clients who purchase bullion product from us and we are looking
to grow our presence in that market” — another Royal Mint official
characterized it is a stark departure from how the program has been
handled for the first 25 years, an apparent admission that the .958
fineness for the silver coins did not resonate with collectors who
could choose from .999 fine silver 1-ounce coins from the United
States, Austria, Australia, China and Mexico, among other issuers.
The move to a higher fineness is being driven by increased demand,
according to Nick Bowkett, bullion sales manager at the Royal Mint.
“For centuries, particularly during times of economic uncertainty
or financial insecurity, people have turned to gold — and gold coins
in particular — as a safe haven in terms of investment. The fact that
we are seeing an increasing demand for our bullion Sovereign — and
Britannia coins — suggests that gold’s stability remains as compelling
as ever for today’s investors,” Bowkett said.
When the Royal Mint published noticed of the new Britannia coins
on its blog on April 26, Bowkett categorized the move as “expanding
into the bullion market with our product offering — a hugely
significant move forward for The Royal Mint as it’s a new strategic
direction for us.”
Bowkett was selected to lead the bullion team to “pursue a growth
plan which aims to position The Royal Mint as a world leader in
investment bullion,” according to Shaw.
Other changes, developments
As part of the bullion program overhaul, the Royal Mint is
expanding its network of distributors and changing its packaging,
moving from blisters to more durable tubes for easy storage and convenience.
Longer term developments include a precious metal vaulting
facility for bullion investment customers to store coins purchased
from the Royal Mint. The vault will be a secure facility guarded by
the Ministry of Defence police and not open to the public, according
to the Royal Mint. ■