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Rare British coins

British bullion coins are recognised internationally, and make a popular choice for investors in precious metals both domestically and across the globe. Bullion coins such as the gold and silver Britannia and the Sovereign make excellent, trusted and flexible investments. With thousands of years of numismatic history however, it should come as no surprise that there are a huge number of rare British coins.

From old coins lost to time, low mintage numbers, or errors in production, rare British coins can take a few different forms, so below we go into more detail.

Antique British coins

Antique British coins are one of the most obvious examples of rare British coins. Struck hundreds of years, used by traders around the country or the British Empire, these are inevitable scarce and desirable coins. They are a tangible part of a bygone time, with a story etched into the surface. Unfortunately over the years, these old coins have been recalled to strike new coins, buried, or lost, and are now very rare to find.

In particular, antique British coins from before the Great Recoinage of 1816, are especially rare to find today, and make excellent collectors' items. At BullionByPost we stock a selection of rare antique British coins, listed by the monarch, or coin type depending on the collectors preference.

Modern rare coins

Modern rare British coins tend to be one of two things; rare circulating currency coins, or rare bullion coins made from precious metals.

The Royal Mint often produce commemorative coins for circulating currency. While uncommon, certain releases are rare and can become quite valuable among collectors. Learn more about the rare 50p coins, and rare £2 coins that you may find in your pocket.

The Royal Mint also produces a large number of precious metal coins for investors and collectors. These items, such as Proof coins, are typically struck in limited numbers, and they become rare British coins in their own right.

Proof Sovereigns

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Proof £5 coins

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The most expensive British coin of all time

Certain bullion coins attract interest from both camps and are known as ‘semi-numismatic’ coins. These are appealing investments because they have an intrinsic value rooted in their gold or silver content but can also be sold for much higher fees if they are particularly rare or in excellent condition. The gold Sovereign is an excellent example of a British coin that benefits both from its status as a 22ct gold bullion coin and also as an attractive collector’s item.

Certain Sovereigns tend to sell for much higher amounts amongst collectors of rare British coins. In 2020 a Sovereign became the most expensive British coin of all time when a collector paid more than £1 million for a Proof coin featuring the head of King Edward VIII.

Edward VIII’s famously short reign saw a minuscule production of Proof Sovereigns ahead of his abdication in 1936, even before his official coronation. A Sovereign featuring Edward’s portrait was never produced on a large scale, with only six ever made to show the king, and are therefore sold at astronomical premiums. Edward was not at all shy from controversy in his short reign, and was the first monarch in 300 years to face the same way as their predecessor in their portrait after insisting on facing left like his father. It is not surprising, then, that the record for the most expensive Sovereign ever sold was set by a collector paying £1 million for the privilege of owning one of the rarest British coins ever minted.

In another auction, a Proof Sovereign featuring Queen Rare Victoria Young Head Sovereign Elizabeth II’s ‘Young Head’ portrait from the year of her coronation in 1953 sold for nearly £400,000.

Regular production of Sovereigns after WW2 did not resume until 4 years into the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, but a very limited amount of proof Sovereigns and Half Sovereigns were struck to celebrate the Queen’s coronation in 1953. These coins were never officially issued, making them extremely difficult to come across. Generally speaking, Sovereigns featuring Elizabeth II’s Young Head portrait are not particularly rare as, apart from 1960 and 1961 when none were issued, uncirculated bullion Sovereigns were produced in rather high numbers between 1957 and 1968.

While these are, of course, extreme examples, there are plenty of Sovereign designs that have become more scarce throughout time and are therefore worth more to collectors nowadays. As the oldest coins from the reign of Queen Victoria, Sovereigns featuring the Young Head design on the obverse and the Shield on the reverse side will cost much more than a 2016 Sovereign, for example.

Click here to see our full range of gold Sovereigns.