Still coin­ing it at 50

All change! MAR­ION McMULLEN looks at the many faces of the 50p as we mark the coin’s 50th an­niver­sary

Bangor Mail - - Past Times -

BRITISH shop­pers said hello to the world’s first seven-sided coin 50 years ago. The new-look fifty pence piece re­placed the old ten bob note and be­gan ap­pear­ing on Oc­to­ber 14, 1969, but it was ini­tially given a luke­warm re­cep­tion in some quar­ters.

Two hun­dred mil­lion of the 10 shilling notes were in cir­cu­la­tion at the time and the hep­tag­o­nal­shaped coin was the third new­comer to be in­tro­duced ahead of the planned coun­try­wide D-Day – dec­i­mal day – in 1971.

Some peo­ple com­plained it was too easy to con­fuse the fifty pence with the new 10p coin, which had come into cir­cu­la­tion a year ear­lier, and re­tired Army Colonel Es­sex Moor­coft even formed the An­tiHep­tag­o­nists group, declar­ing the new coin “an in­sult to our sov­er­eign whose im­age it bears.”

It was Sir Hugh Con­way, of Bris­tol Sid­de­ley En­gines, who rec­om­mended a non-cir­cu­lar shaped coin to the Dec­i­mal Cur­rency Board and a square de­sign was even con­sid­ered at one point.

He and Lord Fiske later un­veiled the rev­o­lu­tion­ary fifty pence piece at a press con­fer­ence with Lord Fiske later point­ing out that the new coin would last far longer than the pa­per note which only had an av­er­age life­span of five months.

He said: “Al­though a 50p coin will cost more to pro­duce ini­tially, it should have a life of at least 50 years and the metal will sub­se­quently be re­cov­er­able.”

The orig­i­nal coins stayed in cir­cu­la­tion un­til 1998 when they were re­placed with a re-sized smaller ver­sion and the lat­est de­sign by Royal Mint en­graver Jody Clark came into cir­cu­la­tion in 2015.

The orig­i­nal fifty pence fea­tured a por­trait of Queen El­iz­a­beth II with a fig­ure of Bri­tan­nia on the re­verse with a shield, olive branch and tri­dent sit­ting along­side a lion.

How­ever, there have been sev­eral com­mem­o­ra­tive de­signs over the last five decades with the rare lim­ited edi­tions chang­ing hands for hun­dreds of pounds.

One of the ear­li­est was to mark the UK join­ing the EU in 1973 and showed nine clasped hands in a cir­cle rep­re­sent­ing the nine mem­bers of the Eu­ro­pean Com­mu­nity. It was given a makeover though af­ter the Duke of Ed­in­burgh said he did not like “that lit­tle p” de­not­ing pence on the coin. The 50th an­niver­sary of the D-Day Land­ings were re­mem­bered in 1994, and in 1998 a pair of hands against a pat­tern of ra­di­at­ing lines marked the 50th an­niver­sary of the Na­tional Health Ser­vice.

The 50th an­niver­sary of the first four-minute mile by Roger Ban­nis­ter fea­tured on the coin in 2004 while the 250th an­niver­sary of Samuel John­son’s Dic­tio­nary of the English Lan­guage was marked in 2005. For­mer Prime Min­is­ter Baroness Thatcher vis­ited the Pob­joy Mint in King­wood in Sur­rey in 2007 to see a coin com­mem­o­rat­ing the 25th an­niver­sary of the Falk­lands Con­flict and the same year saw the cen­te­nary of the Scout­ing Move­ment hon­oured – the cen­te­nary of the Girl Guides was sim­i­larly cel­e­brated in 2010.

Other coins have cel­e­brated com­poser Ben­jamin Brit­ten, the Bat­tle Of Bri­tain, Charles Dar­win, the Com­mon­wealth Games in Glas­gow, Sir Isaac New­ton and The Snow­man.

A to­tal of 29 de­signs were brought out for the Lon­don Olympics with one of­fer­ing an ex­pla­na­tion of the foot­ball off­side rule and Beatrix Pot­ter’s Peter Rab­bit be­came the first chil­dren’s lit­er­ary char­ac­ter to ap­pear on a coin in 2016 and marked the 150th an­niver­sary of the au­thor’s birth. De­signer Emma No­ble said: “I wanted to put her il­lus­tra­tions to the fore­front of my de­sign as they are lovely im­ages and the char­ac­ters are very well known.”

The 50th an­niver­sary of the 50 pence piece has also been marked this year with sev­eral spe­cial coins cel­e­brat­ing British cul­ture be­ing reis­sued.

The set in­cludes a 50p mark­ing Kew Gar­den’s 250th an­niver­sary. The gar­dens coin was is­sued 10 years ago and is a col­lec­tor’s item be­cause only 210,000 were made – mak­ing it the rarest 50p de­sign in cir­cu­la­tion. It fea­tures the Great Pagoda from the fa­mous gar­dens in Lon­don and the orig­i­nals can sell on­line for £400.

Coins de­pict­ing mar­malade sand­wich-lov­ing Padding­ton Bear vis­it­ing the Tower of Lon­don and St Paul’s Cathe­dral also be­gan ap­pear­ing in peo­ple’s change this year and there was also a gold ver­sion avail­able on­line for £850.

Ni­cola How­ell, of the Royal Mint, said: “Padding­ton Bear is a mas­sive part of British pop­u­lar cul­ture and a favourite among fans of all ages.”

A coin mark­ing the achieve­ments of Pro­fes­sor Stephen Hawk­ing was also re­leased ear­lier this year with the de­sign in­spired by his work on black holes.

De­signer Ed­wina El­lis said: “Stephen Hawk­ing made dif­fi­cult sub­jects ac­ces­si­ble, en­gag­ing and re­lat­able and this is what I wanted to por­tray. I wanted to fit a big black hole on the tiny coin and wish he was still here chortling at the thought.”

Chair­man of the Board at the Royal Mint, Lord Fiske and Mr James, deputy mas­ter at the Mint, watch­ing the pro­duc­tion of the new 50p piece

Sir Hugh Con­way check­ing the new fifty pence piece af­ter it was un­veiled

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