When did Britannia first appear?

  The general view is that she first appeared on a coin, the sestertius, issued by the Roman Emperor, Antoninus Pius, who succeeded Hadrian.

Britannia was the name of England in Roman times and the country is represented by a female figure carrying a Roman military standard and a sceptre and seated on a pile of stones, (possibly part of Hadrian’s Wall?) the shield with a boss in the centre is late Roman design.

  Modern coins first showed Britannia in 1672, on the copper farthing of King Charles II. His mistress, Frances Teresa Stewart, who became Duchess of Richmond, may have been the model for this figure.

  On the penny, Britannia evolved from the George III ‘cartwheel’ penny of 1797 engraved by Conrad Heinrich Küchler to William Wyon’s 1825 picture and to the 1860 bronze coin redesigned and engraved by his son, Leonard Charles Wyon. Over the years, the Royal Mint decided to give Britannia maritime accoutrements including a trident. The Graeco-Roman style helmet hearks back to Solly’s beautiful banknote portrait of 1818. The last Britannia penny was minted in 1970.

If you detect a slight superiority in the 1895 design (bottom left), it was the work of George William de Saulles, creator of the beautiful 1902 silver florin.

  The last circulating coin with Britannia may be the decimal 50p of 2008 because,following a complete coin design revamp in 2009, a jigsaw of coins was produced with, what had been a useful addition, value numbers being removed.

  A striking modern design by Phillip Nathan depicts Britannia as a standing figure on a gold coin.

When was the Britannia coin issued?

  Gold ‘Britannias’ were first minted in 1987 in 22 carat (.917) gold. There are 1oz, 1/2oz, 1/4oz and 1/10oz coins (nominally £100, £50, £25 and £10). (1 Troy ounce = 31.1035 grams). Only the 1oz. Britannia is usually used for bullion together with the gold sovereign which has 0.2352oz (7.315 g) of actual gold content. Silver Britannias, working down from 1oz (nominally £2) to a tenth of an ounce (20p), were first minted in 1997 but always in sets at a premium price so are not usually used for bullion. The material used for silver britannias is known as ‘britannia silver’ or ‘958 fine silver’. It is 95.84% silver with 4.16% copper compared with 7.5% copper in ‘sterling silver’ (.925 fine) which was approved for use by siversmiths from June 1720. Britannia silver was the mandatory composition for silver coins in England from 1697 to 1720 so there would be less incentive to melt down coins to create other silverware. With gold at £400 an ounce, a 1oz gold britannia is worth around £425.