Silver coins have been a benchmark in British currency since Celtic times, and continue their long life to this day in the form of commemorative silver coins from The Royal Mint.
The mint itself was established in the 9th Century and quickly developed into the central authority for all British coins, and remains so even today. From stamping King Alfred the Great’s face on a hoard of coins in 866, to redesigning our pound coins and notes in 2017, the Royal Mint remains a vital part of the country’s national heritage.
The history of silver at The Royal Mint
Historically, silver coins were the most ubiquitous type of currency, and remained so until Great Britain adopted the Gold Standard in 1717. In Anglo-Saxon times, these silver coins, which later came to be referred to as ‘sterlings’, weighed roughly a drachm each, 240 of which came together to weigh about a pound. Thus, ‘1 pound’ became equivalent to 240 sterlings or pennies – the imperial money system that continued until the late 1960s.
These original silver coins were of the highest available purity, but as the penny’s value declined, so too did the purity of the silver. In the 12th Century, the purity became fixed at 92.5 per cent, which became shorthanded to ‘sterling silver.’ As time went on, of course, inflation caused the penny to be worth less and less and the metal ceased to be used for currency altogether.
Commemorative British silver coins
Though silver is no longer used in common currency, The Royal Mint continues to design and release commemorative silver coins in a variety of styles each year.
The most important series of silver coins in the mint’s collection is the Britannia series, which has been produced since 1997. Featuring the ever-mighty ‘Britannia woman’, the series celebrates its 20th anniversary in silver this year, and its 30th in gold.