In 2008 The Royal Mint launched a public competition. The aim of the competition was to find designs to replace those created for the first decimal coins of 1971. Matthew Dent won the competition.
A different detail from the shield of the Royal Arms is shown on the reverse of the 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p and 50p coins and when placed together the coins reveal the complete shield, which was seen in its entirety on the round pound coin. It is the only time that a single design has been used across a range of United Kingdom coins in such a way.
In October 1969 the 50p joined the 5p (shilling) and 10p (florin) coins in circulation, leaving only the three copper coins to be introduced on 15 February 1971 to complete the new series of decimal coins. The design on the reverse of the 50p coin featured a symbol of Britannia that has appeared on our coinage since 1672. While this design may have been traditional, the shape of the new 50p coin, an equilateral curve heptagon, was revolutionary. This made it easily distinguishable from round coins both by feel and by sight, while its constant breadth allowed it to roll in vending machines.
With the introduction of smaller 5p and 10p coins in 1990 and 1992 respectively, the 50p became the largest coin in circulation. In October 1994 the Government announced a further review of the United Kingdom coinage. The results revealed a requirement for a smaller 50p coin, which was duly introduced on 1 September 1997. Since its issue, the 50p has been used on several occasions to celebrate important events, each being commemorated on a new reverse design.
The 50p is legal tender for amounts up to £10.