World Coins

Brexit is finally here, and so is a coin commemorating it

The United Kingdom is finally issuing a Brexit 50-penny coin, due for release Jan. 31, the day the country leaves the European Union.

Coin image courtesy of the Royal Mint.

After months of delay, the United Kingdom on Jan. 31 did what many have anticipated for several years — it issued a Brexit coin.

The UK will officially leave the European Union that day, which of course, in a broader geopolitical sense, is far bigger news. But for numismatists, the day is notable for the 50-penny coin that will debut, with a design that has been updated a few times to reflect the changing date of the dissolution. 

The reverse of the Brexit coin is to carry the legend PEACE, PROSPERITY AND FRIENDSHIP WITH ALL NATIONS, below which is the 31 JANUARY 2020 date of the exit.

The quote harkens back to President Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address in 1801, when he laid out the “essential principles” of his government — including “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”

Two earlier editions carried the dates 29 MARCH 2019 and 31 OCTOBER 2019, reflecting earlier planned exit dates that never materialized as the UK government fought over the best way to handle the departure from the European Union.

Those coins were scrapped and the metal reclaimed. None appears to have entered the marketplace as of press time Jan. 27. 

The obverse of the new coins will carry the Jody Clark effigy of Queen Elizabeth II. 
As Master of the Mint, Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid was given the very first batch of Brexit coins, one of which he was due to present to Prime Minister Boris Johnson before the event.

Special activities

To mark this milestone in UK history, the Royal Mint Experience (the visitor’s center in Llantrisant, Wales) will be open for 24 hours on Jan. 31, from 00:01 to 23:59, by the 24-hour clock. 

For one day only, visitors will be able to attend a unique tour that includes a discussion of how the Royal Mint has changed since the UK first joined the European Economic Community in 1973.

As part of the tour, individuals will have the opportunity to strike their own 2020 “Withdrawal from the EU” — as it is formally called — 50-penny coin. The Withdrawal from the EU coin will remain available as the “strike your own” coin until Feb. 12. 

The coin will be available in Proof gold and silver editions, as well as a Brilliant Uncirculated edition and as part of a two-coin historic set. In addition, a number of gold sovereigns will be struck on the day, and these particular coins will feature a portcullis privy mark.

More than 13,000 people have already registered their interest in a commemorative version of the coin that is available to buy from the Royal Mint, according to the announcement from the UK’s Treasury Department. 

A total of 10 million coins will be released into circulation, “around 3 million” entering circulation from Jan. 31, with the balance entering circulation later in 2020.

Response to design, coin

Within hours of the unveiling of the latest design, UK-based author Philip Pullman came out and criticized the coin, but not for the politics behind leaving the Union.  

As reported first by The Guardian, “The ‘Brexit’ 50p coin is missing an Oxford comma, and should be boycotted by all literate people,” wrote the novelist on Twitter.

Times Literary Supplement editor Stig Abell wrote that, while it was “not perhaps the only objection” to the Brexit-celebrating coin, “the lack of a comma after ‘prosperity’ is killing me.”

The Oxford, or serial, comma is included before the final “and” in lists. It has fierce defenders and equally fierce detractors. Associated Press style contradicts the Oxford comma usage. 

The Mirror newspaper reported multiple responses from those in opposition to Brexit — so-called Remainers — calling for the coins to be pulled from circulation when encountered in commerce, or a refusal to accept the coins altogether, opting for 10- and 20-penny coins instead. 

All 50-penny circulating coins are struck in copper-nickel.

The larger, heavier 50-penny coin entered into circulation to replace the Bank of England 10-shilling note back in 1969. These seven-sided coins weigh 13.5 grams and measure 30 millimeters in diameter (from point to point). 

The smaller 50-penny coin was introduced in 1997, and weighs 8 grams and measures 27.3 millimeters in diameter (from edge to edge). 

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