The Royal Mint has been a British institution for more than 1,100 years, originating in the modest workshops of Anglo-Saxon London before ultimately evolving into the leading export mint in the world. In our never-ending pursuit of numismatic excellence, through the years we have continued to improve our processes, ensuring the coins we produce are of the highest possible standard.
Similarly, the Britannia coin has paralleled that evolutionary journey, changing with the times and adapting to new technology. However, whilst the Britannia coin has long been established as one of our flagship coins, Britannia’s story actually predates our existence by several hundred years. Originally conceived by the Romans during the Roman Empire’s expansion into the British Isles, Britannia was created as the personification of this newly acquired Roman province.
Britannia made her numismatic debut in c. AD 119 during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. Whilst her image would fall out of favour with the fall of the Roman Empire, the forgotten icon would resurface on the farthing and halfpenny in 1672 under the reign of Charles II, and she has featured on the coins of every British monarch since.
The female warrior has been a constant throughout the ages; however, one thing that hasn’t remained the same is the manner in which Britannia coins are struck. In fact, coin production has changed dramatically, from the primitive days of literally striking handheld dies with a hammer to the cutting-edge technology used today.
Britannia’s reintroduction into coinage in 1672 coincided with a new minting process – a change that saw Britain catch up with the superior quality of French coinage at the time. A step up from hand striking, coins were struck with a simple yet effective screw press – a process that remained in use until The Royal Mint relocated to Tower Hill in 1810. There, Royal Mint coin designs – including those featuring Britannia – reaped the benefit of steam-powered machinery as coin production moved into the industrial age. The turn of the twentieth century saw further innovation as The Royal Mint became more reliant on the reducing machine in the production of master tools. In fact, the classic Janvier Reducing Machines would remain in use all the way into the twenty-first century.
Since the millennium, innovations in digital processes have had a hugely positive effect on the coin-making process. With digital techniques, our team is able to work to a level of minute detail previously impossible, not only in microns but in fractions of microns, which are measurements equivalent to the thickness of less than one hundredth of a human hair.
Such processes have not only had a profound impact on design but also, and perhaps more importantly, they have profoundly affected security as well. With modern laser technology, we can now produce features too small to be seen by the human eye yet can still produce a unique visual effect.
Looking back through the ages, The Royal Mint’s commitment to innovation is clearly evident, always moving with the times and continuously adapting as new technology emerges. Britannia 2021 is no exception and this year’s range has seen a number of modern techniques used in order to achieve a variety of visual effects and, in the case of the bullion range, high-tech security measures.
The precious metal versions of the Britannia 2021 range feature heightened security measures in the form of latent imagery, micro-text and tincture lines. In fact, the Britannia 2021 bullion coin has been labelled ‘the most visually secure coin in the world’ as a result of these security features.
The Britannia 2021 collection is based around the theme of ‘the Spirit of Innovation’ and the design itself fully reflects that. Talented illustrator P. J. Lynch took this concept to heart, using the numismatic canvas to innovate how we see the image of Britannia. The Premium Exclusive version of the Britannia 2021 design provides an innovative interpretation of the classic icon for the modern day.
With The Royal Mint’s dedication to coin-making perfection as strong as it’s ever been, Britannia 2021’s over-arching theme of innovation is extremely fitting, as it is not only evident in the Britannia range but a notable constant in the history of The Royal Mint. With new technology emerging every year, the Spirit of Innovation is sure to remain at the forefront of Royal Mint coin production long into the future, for the Britannia 2022 collection and beyond.