Editor's note: this is the third part of a story about collecting
50-cent coins (and equivalents) by Jeff Starck that appeared in the
January 2016 monthly issue of Coin World.
Britannia has a long and storied history on coinage of what is now
the United Kingdom.
Rooted in antiquity, she has become synonymous with Great Britain,
now the United Kingdom of Britain, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
For 40 years, the seven-sided 50-penny coin was home to Britannia,
before a redesign in 2008 sent her to the sidelines.
But the denomination remains home to circulating commemorative
designs as well.
Four years after the 50-penny coin debuted amid decimalization, the
first circulating commemorative 50-penny coin was released in 1973,
marking Britain’s entry in the European Economic Community (the
forerunner to the European Union).
Since then, nearly 50 different designs of 50-penny coins have been
issued with commemorative themes.
Notable designs include the 1994 coin celebrating the 50th
anniversary of D-Day, showing the Allied forces in the sea and sky.
Sporadic at first, issuance of commemorative 50-penny coins has been
nearly annual since 2003, and in 2006 for the first time included two
coins in the same theme, the Victoria Cross’s 150th anniversary.
Other topics include 2007’s Scouting Movement Centennial and the
2009 Kew Gardens anniversary, the latter of which has received much
attention for having the lowest mintage of a 50-penny coin.
Most circulating commemorative 50-penny coins, however, were issued
in the lead-up to the 2012 London Olympic Games. A series of 29
different designs honor the sports and athletes of the Games, and
multiple versions in base metal and precious metal were issued.
The series served to attract many new collectors in the United
Kingdom who spent hours searching their change to build a set. The
50-penny coin that explained soccer’s offsides rule garnered huge
amounts of press for the Royal Mint, and the program was, according to
Royal Mint officials, wildly successful.
Several other issuers have presented seven-sided “imposters” to the
50-penny coins from the United Kingdom. Seven nations, all in the
sphere of influence of the British Empire or close by, issued
seven-sided 50-cent or equivalent coins.
The Falkland Islands’ angular 50-penny coin depicts the extinct
Falkland Islands fox. But the nation’s 1982 50-penny coin marking
liberation of the island from Argentina, early numismatic propaganda
in that ongoing foreign policy fight, is round.
Gibraltar’s 50-penny coin has a range of designs, notably the
general circulation issues with porpoises. A commemorative Christmas
series from Gibraltar most years depicted whimsical scenes of Santa
but on occasion showed a more meaningful design like the Three Wise
Men on 1988’s coin, or two shepherds guarding the flock on the 2002 coin.
The Isle of Man’s standard seven-sided 50-cent coin highlights a
sailing Viking ship, though numerous Christmas and other commemorative
designs can be found on the Isle’s denomination as well.
The 50-penny coin from Jersey depicts the Gothic gate arch at
Grosnez castle on the island, or the island’s coat of arms, while
Ireland’s seven-sided 50-penny coin (issued before adoption of the
euro) shows the woodcock. A special design in 1998 marked the Dublin Millennium.