In Depth

What are the most valuable rare coins?

Ultra-rare £1 coin featuring King Edward VIII sells for £1m

A rare £1 coin featuring King Edward VIII, the controversial monarch who abdicated the British throne in 1936, has sold for a record £1m to a private collector.

The coin, one of only six produced, commemorates the ascension to the throne of the controversial king, who later abdicated to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

Experts say the coin was not circulated to the public after the royal’s abdication, and its existence was hidden from the public for decades afterwards.

“The Edward VIII sovereign is part of numismatic legend – belonging to a series of coins that were never meant to exist,” said Royal Mint Collector Services’ Matt Curtis. “This sovereign is significant not only because of its rarity, but because it sits at the heart of an international story and has been treasured by collectors in both the UK and US.”

Here is The Week’s guide to the rarest coins of each denomination.

Rarest 1p

With 1.5 billion pennies struck by the Royal Mint in the first year alone of decimalisation, back in 1971, finding any value in your coppers might seem unlikely.

However, in 1992, “with metal prices rising on world markets, the composition of 1p coins was changed from bronze to copper-plated steel”, says the Royal Mint Museum website. Prior to the switch, 78,421 were made of bronze.

“That’s the fewest number of any penny type ever struck - and far lower than the highly sought-after Kew Gardens 50p,” reports the Daily Mirror.

The bronze 1p pieces are also keenly collected but look very similar to the copper-plated steel ones. There is one key difference though.

“As a result of their steel core, copper-plated steel 1p coins are magnetic,” says the Royal Mint Museum site. So “if you find a 1992 1p, and can’t pick it up with a magnet, you’re on to a winner”, adds the Mirror.

Rarest 2p

In 1983, a very small number of 2p coins were printed with the words “NEW PENCE” rather than just “PENCE”, in an error by the Royal Mint, which had dropped the former format two years earlier.

Because the 2p design “has largely remained unchanged, the misprinted coins are still in circulation and could be worth more than £25 to keen collectors”, says the Liverpool Echo.

There are also a handful of silver 2p pieces in circulation that could fetch up to 67,500 times their face value. These coins’ existence is down to a printing error, “when a nickel-plated blank (usually reserved for 10ps) was stuck in the 2p dies”, according to the newspaper.

In 2016, the BBC reported that a silver 2p found in a Poppy Appeal collection tin had sold for £1,350. 

Rarest 5p

The current incarnation of the humble 5p was introduced in 1990 and was much smaller than the previous version. Since then, well over a billion coins have been minted, but according to the Daily Mirror, 5p coins from 1993 are the ones to keep.  

That is “the only year tens of millions weren’t produced, with none released for general circulation and fewer than 60,000 made for annual sets”, the paper says.

“Sadly, you won't be retiring on the money you make from finding one - with recent examples sold on eBay going for no more than £13.50 - but that's still an awful lot more than 5p,” the Mirror adds.

Rarest 10p

The rarest 10ps are all from the A-Z of Great Britain collection, says the Change Checker blog, information and swapping site.

When the collection was launched in March 2018, only 2.6 million coins were released into circulation, making them extremely hard to find.

However, “another 2.6 million coins were released in October, with the hope that more people would be encouraged to start collecting them”, Which? adds.

The rarest of the lot is the 10p featuring an image of Stonehenge on the reverse, which gets the highest score possible on Change Checker’s Scarcity Index.

Rarest 20p

Unlike 50p and 10p coins, the 20p design “has remained almost the same since it was first minted back in 1982, making only a handful of them actually valuable to a collector”, reports The Sun.

“The 20p coins that are worth the most are ‘mule’ ones which have been minted with inaccuracies on them by mistake,” the paper adds.

Top of the list is the bronze 20p that entered circulation after being struck onto a 1p blank that had slipped into the wrong batch. Coin enthusiast Colin Bellamy, who runs Coin Hunter, has valued these coins at £750 each.

Rarest 50p

The rarest 50p coin currently in circulation is a Kew Gardens piece that was created to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the Royal Botanic Gardens in 2009.

The coin, depicting the gardens’ famous pagoda, was minted in a relatively small batch of only 210,000, “meaning you can now expect around £80 for one”, says the i news site.

“It’s an attractive design, but it wasn’t intended to make it the most valuable, it just turned out that way,” Kevin Clancy, director of the Royal Mint Museum, told The Daily Telegraph. “I think the market finds its own way.”

Rarest £1

Although the round pounds are no longer accepted as legal tender, some of the rarest old £1 coins could still be worth keeping.

Keep an eye out in particular for the Edinburgh City design, which came into circulation in 2011 and gets the highest score possible on the Change Checker Scarcity Index. According to The Independent, the coin is selling for between £10 and £15 on eBay and could soon fetch up to £50.

A number of mistake renditions of the new 12-sided coin have also been spotted and sold since it entered circulation in 2016.

One example features the new coin design stamped on an old £1 blank. According to the Daily Mail, just three of these extremely rare coins have been found, one of which sold for £1,900 at auction in London last year.

Rarest £2

A total of 37 different £2 coin designs are currently in circulation, and some of the rarest are worth up to 20 times their face value, says Change Checker.

The most sought-after designs include a £2 coin minted to commemorate the Northern Ireland 2002 Commonwealth Games. Fewer than 500,000 were minted and they typically sell online for between £15 and £40.

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