Since the introduction of the 50p coin in 1969 it has become one of the most collected coins, both from circulation (the change in your pocket) and the specially minted commemorative editions.
A world first
The 50p coin replaced the old ten-shilling note prior to decimalisation in 1971, so it changed from being a printed denomination to a minted one! It was the world’s first seven-sided coin, in the shape of an equilateral curve heptagon. Early designs included 10 and 12-sided versions, and even a square one – but with rounded corners. The seven-sided version was found to be the best for working in vending machines and for distinguishing the coin from the rest of the UK coinage.
Have you lost weight?
When the coin was first released into circulation it weighed 13.5 grammes and had a diameter of 30 millimetres. Today’s 50p weighs 8 grammes and has a diameter of 27.5 millimetres.
Roll with it
Because the 50p has to work in vending machines, it has been designed to roll, even though it is not round. The shape is a curve-sided heptagon of constant diameter. This means that, technically, the 50p does not have a diameter measurement. If you measure across any two points of the coin you will always get the same measurement.
The 50p is made from 75% copper and 25% nickel; this mixture is called cupro-nickel. It is struck with a minimum of 100 tonnes of force and a single coin press can make up to 500 per minute, that’s 30,000 per hour or 720,000 per day.
To celebrate the release of the Olympic Sports 50ps into pockets and purses across the land, Royal Mint employees and their friends and families smashed a Guinness World Record for Coin-Tossing in 2010.
Under the watchful eye of an adjudicator from Guinness World Records, in October of that year they threw 1,697 Olympic Sports 50p coins simultaneously into the air at The Royal Mint site.
A design for the 50p showing the Royal Arms on the reverse made it all the way through the production process to trial piece stage before it was decided to adopt a design of the seated figure of Britannia instead.
Portraits of Her Majesty The Queen
Three portraits of The Queen have graced the obverse of the 50p during its lifetime. The one on the coin at its release in 1969 was designed by Arnold Machin RA. From 1985 to 1997 the couped portrait by the sculptor Raphael Maklouf shows The Queen with the royal diadem she wears on her way to and from the State Opening of Parliament. Since 1998 the 50p has borne a less idealised and more strongly realistic design of Her Majesty by Ian Rank-Broadley FRBS.