British Coin Denominations: A Guide
The UK has a rich history of denominations and from ancient times to the present day, British money has evolved. From the iconic pound sterling to the historical farthing, British denominations reflect the nation’s heritage and economic significance.
In this guide, we explore the denominations of British currency to help you navigate the coins and banknotes used in the United Kingdom. If you’re looking to own your own piece of British history, you can shop our collection of Old British coins that are issued as far back as the 1930s.
How many coins are there in Britain?
The pound sterling, commonly referred to as the pound and recognised by the symbol ‘£’, is the official currency of the United Kingdom. It is the oldest currency still in use today, with a history dating back over a thousand years.
There are currently 8 denomination coins in circulation within the UK:
- One penny – this is the smallest denomination in circulation and is legal tender for amounts up to 20p.
- Two pence – The 2p coin features the image of a segment of the Royal Shield of Arms, displaying the lion with the words, ‘TWO PENCE’ above.
- Five pence – in 1971 the pre-decimal one shilling coin we re-denominated as a 5p coin.
- Ten pence – this coin depicts a segment of the Royal Shield of Arms, similar to the 2p coin but with a larger design.
- Twenty pence – the 20p coin features a crowned Tudor rose, a symbol of England, and to help avoid confusion with similar sized coins, the 20p has seven sides and an equilateral curve heptagon.
- Fifty pence – The 50p coin has various designs, including the iconic Britannia, representations of famous literary characters, and commemorations of significant events or anniversaries like the Pride 50p coin which was issued to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Pride.
- £1 (One Pound) – in 2017 the round £1 coin was replaced with a 12-sided £1 coin after more than 30 years in circulation.
- £2 (Two Pound) – The £2 coin showcases various designs, including famous historical figures, landmarks, and commemorations.
Many coins in the UK are created to mark significant events or celebrate special occasions in history. These are known as commemorative coins (commonly struck in 50p or £2 denominations) and only a specific number are ever created. You can find out more about these interesting and unique coins with our guide to commemorative coins and discover what makes them coveted and collected by so many.
Alongside British coin currency, the United Kingdom has a series of banknotes issued by the Bank of England which are currently in circulation. These notes include:
- £5 (Five Pounds): The £5 note previously featured the portrait of Sir Winston Churchill, a former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Today, the £5 note features a portrait of the late Queen Elizabeth II.
- £10 (Ten Pounds): In 2013, Jane Austen was announced as the face of the £10 note, one of the most celebrated British authors. In 2017, the design changed and Jane Austen was replaced by a portrait of the late Queen Elizabeth II.
- £20 (Twenty Pounds): Historical £20 notes featured the portrait of J.M.W. Turner, a renowned British landscape painter, however from 2017 (along with £5, £10 and £50 notes) the £20 was also redesigned to depict the late Queen.
- £50 (Fifty Pounds): In 2019 the £50 note featured the image of Alan Turing, a pioneering mathematician and computer scientist, before being updated in 2021 in line with the £5, £10 and £20 denominations.
British coin currency slang: what is a quid and a bob?
As with all languages, English uses slang for a variety of topics, including money. Here, we explore some of the most common British slang terms for currency:
- Quid: One of the most popular and well-known British slang terms for money is “quid.” Used to refer to the pound sterling, “quid” is the singular form of the term, while “quids” is the plural. For instance, if someone says, “That will cost you twenty quid,” they mean it will cost you twenty pounds. Whilst not certain, it’s believed that the term ‘quid’ comes from the Latin phrase, “quid pro quo,” which means, “something for something.”
- Fiver/Tenner: “Fiver” and “tenner” are colloquial terms used to describe a five-pound note and a ten-pound note. These terms derive from the number written on the notes themselves. So, if a friend asks to borrow a fiver, they want a five-pound note.
- Bob: A “bob” is a popular slang term for shilling, which was used as a unit of currency in Britain until 1971. Though no longer in official circulation, “bob” has remained as a nostalgic term for money in British slang. For example, you might hear someone say, “I’ll lend you a couple of bob,” meaning they’ll lend you some money.
- A Grand: Commonly used when talking about a thousand pounds, the term “grand” is a US phrase adopted in the UK.
Old and rare British currencies
Throughout history, currency in the UK has changed significantly with different metals and designs used. From coins in circulation and keepsake coins, to commemorative and rare coins, the variety of different designs, shapes and sizes are unparalleled. Our guide to the rarest coins in the world offers insight into some of the most unique coins to have ever existed. Don’t forget, our beginners guide to coin collecting provides tips and advice on how to start your journey into the world of numismatics if you’re hoping to curate your own collection of unique and wonderful coins.
Whether you’re handling everyday transactions or learning about the world of numismatics, having an understanding of British denominations is helpful for residents and visitors alike. If you’re intrigued about the world of currency, why not take a look at the symbolism of coins and learn more about the exciting history of coinage, dating back over thousands of years all over the world.