Gold Britannia Coins Review

Britannia rules the oceans, but does she rule bullion gold coins as well? The official gold bullion coin of Great Britain is the Britannia Series. The Royal Mint followed in the footsteps of the Krugerrand and the American Gold Eagle by issuing Gold Britannia Coins with a purity of 91.7% gold (22-K gold) in 1987. In the first 2 years, the gold coin was alloyed with copper. Thereafter silver was added as a component resulting in the 22-K bullion Gold Britannia coins until 2012. 

From 2013 the gold purity of the Britannia bullion coin was increased to 99.99% pure or 24 karats in an attempt to step up to rivals from the US and Canadian Mints. The Royal Mint expected a global increase in demand for its 24k coin. Especially from the ever-increasing growth in the Far East Gold Markets that prefer 24 karat gold above the 22 karats. The Far East continued increasing their investment in physical gold. A definite shift in gold holding took place from the West to the East. 

Who is Britannia? 

Britannia is the female personification of Britain. Britannia has been personified as a goddess in ancient times. She is a beautiful young woman, wearing the helmet of a centurion, wrapped in a white garment. The Greek’s were the first to refer to the British Isles as “Pretannia” and its inhabitants as “Britanni” or “Britons”. The Romans followed the Greeks and continued with naming the land “Britannicus” after Claudius who claimed himself the conqueror of Britain.  

Gold Britannia Coin Review - 5 Ancient Greek helmets displayed in musem

The Britannia figure is actually based on the Greek goddess Athena holding the trident of her uncle Poseiden wearing a Corinthian-style war helmet. The Romans brought Greece’s connection of the female heroine to Britain. Rome identified their furthest region with The Roman Goddess Minerva. Minerva is the goddess of warfare and water. Under the Romans, Minerva soon became Britannia. It was during the reign of Rome in the year A.D. 122 that the female image of Britannia was depicted on coins already. 

England being led by Queen Elizabeth became a naval force by defeating the Spanish in the 16th and 17th centuries. The symbol of unity between Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales was the female figure of Britannia. 

Under Queen Victoria’s reign, Britain became a world naval power and an empire. British history is packed with triumphant female rulers. A symbolic female Britannia culminates onto British coinage as she is eternalized as a symbol of arts, trade, strategy and wisdom.   

 As early as 1672 under Charles II Britannia was featured on the coin holding a shield bearing the Union flag.

Britannia with the union shield was introduced by the Royal Mint in 1987. Their first gold bullion coin of modern times featured Lady Britannia on the reverse. Thereafter the design of the Britannia coin remained relatively unchanged except for the occasional unique releases. 

Features of the Gold Britannia bullion coins – Reverse design from 1987 to present

The Classic Standing Britannia

Gold Britannia Coins - 2020 1 oz gold standing Britannia with union jack flag
The classic standing gold Britannia coin

The standing Britannia was issued in the years: 

  • 1987-1996;
  • 1998-2000;
  • 2002;
  • 2004;
  • 2006;
  • 2012-2020 

For the most part of Britannia’s history, she appeared seated on coins with the exception of 1901 to 1935 on the British Trade Dollars and the florins of Edward VII. When Britannia was introduced to dethrone her old foe Paul Kruger and the Krugerrand in 1987 she started her campaign to rule the coin world in standing position. 

The figure of Lady Britannia was designed by sculptor Philip Nathan. This is a striking design and it made the most appearances on the bullion gold coin. 

On the coin design, she is featured standing along Britain’s southern coast. Her feet are firmly on bedrock.  She is facing left towards the English channel, maybe looking at her counterpart from the U.S. with the wind blowing her hair in stark resemblance to the standing Liberty Gold Eagle. 

In her right hand, she is armed with a trident, symbolic of the British naval power for centuries. The trident three-pronged spear resembles the weapon of Poseidon or Neptune the God of the Sea in classical mythology

In her left hand, she is holding an olive branch together with the shield bearing the Union Flag to guard the nation. She appears standing as a defender as well as a welcoming figure. 

It is interesting to note that Britannia’s deep connection to ancient Greece remains with her wearing the Corinthian war helmet. Historians believe that the helmet originates from one of the largest and most important cities in ancient Greece, Corinth.  

The Charioteer of 1997 & 2009

Gold Britannia Coins - The Charioteer Britannia 1 oz gold coin
The Charioteer Gold Britannia coin of 1997 & 2009

Also designed by Philip Nathan, Britannia left her standing position riding a two-horse chariot in 1997 and in 2009. 

Britannia with the Lion of 2001

Gold Britannia Coins - Britannia with the lion 1 oz gold coin 2001
Britannia with the lion gold coin of 2001

Britannia is standing beside the British Lion. Both are facing to the left moving purposefully forward with a sense of unity. Her dress and helmet are more North European styled. This was the third design by Philip Nathan. 

Britannia wearing a helmet of 2003

Gold Britannia Coins - Britannia wearing a helmet 1 oz gold coin 2003
Britannia wearing a helmet gold coin of 2003

The fourth design by Philip Nathan reveals Britannia in portrait sculpture. She is facing left and her helmet is pushed back to delineate her beautiful facial features. The portrait is overlaid with a mighty rolling wave within the toothed edged border.

The Seated Britannia of 2005 

Gold Britannia Coins - Seated Britannia 1 oz gold coin 2005
The seated gold Britannia coin of 2005

The fifth design of Philip Nathan presents the seated figure of Britannia facing left. The seated personification of Britannia is reminiscent of the coins of the Roman Emperor Claudius and the British halfpennies and farthings of 1672.

In her left hand, she holds the trident and the union shield resting at her right side. She is described by the Royal Mint as “ever watchful, she sits at the seashore, her helmet and robes harking back to her Roman roots and her trident and shield recalling her great maritime history.” 

 The Wreath Britannia of 2007

Gold Britannia Coins - Wreath Britannia 1 oz gold coin 2007
The wreath Britannia gold coin of 2007

The new designer of the Britannia coin Christopher Le Brun continued the seated figure of Britannia. Le Brun offers a new approach to Britannia however still based upon the tradition of the seated Lady. Similar British symbols are beautifully depicted. However, in his design, she does not wear the traditional helmet with her long hair hanging loose. 

 

The trident is visible in her right hand and resting partly on her right shoulder. In her left hand, she holds an olive branch. She is leaning against a large tree trunk and her union shield is fully visible beside her. The national animal of England, the Lion is resting at her feet. 

 

In the background, the seas, sailing boat, cliffs and probably most prominent a large curving olive branch along the top left curve of the coin. The olive branch is like a wreath resulting in the nickname the Wreath Britannia

The Lighthouse Britannia of 2008

Gold Britannia Coins - Lighthouse Britannia 1 oz gold coin 2008
The lighthouse gold Britannia coin of 2008

The 2008 design by John Bergdahl is a fresh return to a minimalist design. Britannia is standing steadfast amidst crashing waves forming along the left curve of the coin. The trident is clasped in her right hand and a full facing union shield in her left. A small lighthouse is visible behind her left shoulder hence the nickname The Lighthouse Britannia.  

The Profile Britannia of 2010

Gold Britannia Coins - The profile Britannia 1 oz gold coin 2010
The gold Profile Britannia coin of 2010

This is another head portrait design similar to the 2003 coin. The artist Suzie Zamit designed the 2010 reverse of the Britannia coin. She is widely recognized as an exceptional portrait sculptor, which naturally led to the profile head seizing the majority of the reverse feature.  Britannia is facing to the right. She is wearing a Corinthian helmet pushed back to reveal her face. The helmet is decorated with a lion head motif following the top curve of the coin. She is wearing a tunic that is fastened by a ring brooch on her right shoulder. 

The Union Flag Britannia of 2011

Gold Britannia Coins - The Union Flag Britannia 1 oz gold coin 2011
The gold Union Flag Britannia coin of 2011

Another seated Britannia on the design by David Mach. The most prominent feature of the design is the wind rippled Union Jack flag that is overlaying the seated Britannia. The intention of the design is that the flag and Britannia appear to move when the coin is turned to reflect different aspects of light. 

In this fully seated picture of Britannia, she is holding the trident in her left hand. She is wearing the Corinthian helmet as protection. In her right hand, she is supporting the shield decorated with the Union Jack cross. 

The Obverse design 

Gold Britannia Coins 1 oz obverse designs

In contrast with the reverse design, the obverse side of the Gold Britannia coins has fewer versions. There are a total of three different designs of the Queen Elizabeth II effigy that are depicted on the coins.
 

  1. 1987-1997 Coins
    The third-generation portrait by Raphael Maklouf features Queen Elizabeth II with the royal diadem on her head.
  2. 1998-2015 Coins
    The most popular fourth-generation portrait by Ian Rank-Broadley features Queen Elizabeth II. This design has been used throughout the commonwealth countries on their coinage.
  3. 2016 – present
    The latest fifth-generation design by Jody Clerk who became the youngest engraver at 33-years to design the Queen’s portrait.  The obverse presents the Queen at 89 years old. 

Gold Britannia denominations

  • 1 oz Gold with a face value of £100;
  • ½ oz Gold with a face value of £50;
  • ¼ oz Gold with a face value of £25;
  • 1/10 oz Gold with a face value of £10;
    Since 2013 additions
  • 5 oz Gold with a face value of £500
  • 1/20 oz Gold with a face value of £5

The biggest factor determining the mintage production each year is the market demand and the ability of the Royal Mint to source gold to meet its demand. Other than that, the Britannia Gold Bullion coin is produced in unlimited mintage each year. 

Specifications of the 1 oz Gold Britannia Coin

Specifications 1987 – 2012 (22-karat)

  1. Gold content – 1 oz (Troy ounce) / 31.1035 gram gold.
  2. Gold purity – 91.67% gold, Copper alloyed 8.33% until 1989. From 1990 copper was replaced by silver.
  3. Weight – 34.05 grams ( 1.095 troy ounces).
  4. Diameter – 32.69 millimeters.
  5. Thickness – 2.78 millimeters.
  6. Face value – £100.
  7. Mint – Royal Mint

Specifications 2013 – flat thin coin (24-karat)

  1. Gold content – 1 oz (Troy ounce) / 31.104 gram gold.
  2. Gold purity – 99.99% fine gold.
  3. Total weight – 31.21 grams ( 1.003 troy ounces).
  4. Diameter – 38.61 millimeters.
  5. Thickness – 1.58-1.65 millimeters.
  6. Face value – £100.
  7. Mint – Royal Mint

Specifications 2013 to present (24-karat)

  1. Gold content – 1 oz (Troy ounce) / 31.104 gram gold.
  2. Gold purity – 99.99% fine gold.
  3. Total weight – 31.21 grams ( 1.003 troy ounces).
  4. Diameter – 32.69 millimeters.
  5. Thickness – 2.78 millimeters.
  6. Face value – £100.
  7. Mint – Royal Mint

Security features

Four new security features were introduced in 2020 by the Royal Mint which elevated Britannia coins among the most visually secure coins. The idea behind the security features is to visibly elevate the coin so that it can be authenticated as a genuine Royal Mint product by merely moving it and using the natural reflection of the metal together with advanced technology. 

These features are: 

  1. A latent image which acts like a hologram changing image when the coin is turned in different directions.
  2. By using picosecond laser technology creating complex designs using indents that are 200 times narrower than the width of human hair. These indents create a special effect and the illusion of rolling waves that come to life behind Britannia as the coins are rotated.
  3. Micro-text inscription by using specialist lasers the words “DECUS ET TUTAMEN” surrounding Britannia only visible with a magnifying glass.
  4. The reintroduction of tincture lines an art form that emphasizes the colors and patterns on the metal. 

Pros of Gold Britannia Coins

  1. Legal tender status

    All the Gold Britannia coins have a legal tender status with a face value based on the Pound sterling currency. Due to its legal tender status, it is exempt from Capital Gains Tax for UK citizens. This is a huge benefit for saving gold as a long term asset class.

  2. VAT exempt

    Gold Britannias comply with the European definition of investment gold which is exempt from VAT:
    –  as it has a fineness of .900 or higher,
    –  it has been minted after 1800,
    –  and it is legal tender in the UK (country of origin).

  3. Authenticity and high standard of the Royal Mint

    The Royal Mint is one of the highest regarded Mints in the world although founded in 1279, it can trace its history back over 1000 years. – Goldcore. The specifications of the Britannia coins are laid down in the Coinage Act. The Royal Mint is the only Mint authorized by law to manufacture Gold Britannia coins. The Royal Mint is subject to an annual independent examination of every legal tender coin produced. This inspection is known as the Trial of the Pyx. Tests are performed for metal composition, weight and diameter. There can be no questions raised when buying a Britannia coin that it is manufactured according to the highest standards. This increases your ability to resell a gold Britannia coin.

  4. Gold purity

    Britannia contains gold purity of .9999 fine gold since 2013, which makes it one of the purest gold coins on the market. There is a high demand for 24-karat pure gold from the Far East markets.

  5. Protective packaging

    Each coin is individually packed in a single coin capsule which provides the necessary protection.

  6. Artistry and exceptional design

    Had coin design being a beauty pageant the Britannia would have been a finalist along with Lady Liberty of the Gold American Eagle Coin. Britannia is an easily identifiable coin with exceptional design artistry in the gold as well as the silver Britannia coins.

    There are intricate details on the various coin designs, packed with symbolism that leaves you awestruck because of its beauty when looking at the coin from various angles.

  7. Portability and storage

    The coin can easily be transported and stored safely due to its compact size.

  8. Valuation

    Gold Britannia coins being issued at exactly 1 troy ounce gold makes the valuation and comparability to the gold spot price a simple mathematical calculation for investors.

  9. Gold ownership

    Britannia coins provide an easy way of diversifying an investment portfolio to the ownership of physical gold. This has protected many individuals and families over the years.

  10. Security features

    In terms of visible security features, the gold Britannia coin is one of the most secure recognizable coins on the planet. The added four layers of security elevate this coin to a class of its own. Counterfeiting this coin will be extremely costly and a difficult sell to a knowledgeable buyer.  

Cons of Gold Britannia Coins

    1. Slow initial take-up

      The UK charged VAT on the bullion gold coin up until the year 2000. This set a striking blow to the initial take-up of the gold Britannia coin.

    2. Competition

      The gold bullion coin competitors were already in full swing when the gold Britannia was issued in 1987. The Krugerrand was the first bullion coin issued already in 1967. Followed by the Canadian Gold Maple in 1979, the Chinese Panda in 1982, and the American Eagle in 1986. Success was already achieved in the individual gold ownership market by the Krugerrand and Gold Maple Leaf when Britannia was introduced. The Gold Britannia is up against well-established bullion coins and there is very little to choose from among these coins.

    3. Changing designs

      My next critique might stir unpleasant emotions and understandably so because the regular changing designs are beautiful and remain British at its core. But I don’t think the regular changes help to solidify the coin’s image among investors. Changes might appear good but change for the sake of changing doesn’t add value for bullion investors.

      The changes in reverse design might be appealing to numismatics that would like to buy the coin for its collectors’ value rather than its gold content. Unfortunately, the numismatic market is a relatively small market and arguably just an expensive, sometimes profitable hobby.

      And then there was the change to 24-karat gold purity in 2013 from the 22-karat that was in existence since 1987.

Final thoughts 

Gold Britannia coins exemplify superior minting. There is no doubt that Britannia coins, gold or silver are among the most beautiful reverse design coins on the planet. These coins are extremely well manufactured and in doing so certainly reminds us of the best of Britain. 

The Britannia coin’s design is packed with symbolism that is dear to Brittain. I am a scholar of history and loves ancient history and can appreciate the symbolism with each reverse design change.

When buying a gold Britannia coin I think some research is required about the particular year to ensure that the premium you pay is not based on numismatic principles as opposed to a bullion coin investment. If you are a collector of gold coins and enjoy collecting sets of different years this may be the coin for you. 

I will always consider a Gold Britannia coin before I make a purchase decision. My biggest question is which year and at what price? 

With the new security features, the Royal Mint established this coin as one of the most difficult to counterfeit. Security features become more and more important as thugs are also entering the growing gold bullion market. 

Gold Britannia Coins are undoubtedly a definite consideration for UK citizens because of its capital gains tax exemption.

 

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4 thoughts on “Gold Britannia Coins Review”

  1. Hi there , I’m really glad I came across this amazing article, to be honest  I had no idea what gold Britannia coin is all about , but I love the way this article is structured, it’s in full details for good understanding, I really gained quite of knowledge and new ideas from this article and I really enjoyed reading this review, I do find it helpful also. And I’ll definitely recommend it to people that I know will be interested to read also.

    Reply
  2. This is the first time I am learning about this coun and this could be because I don’t stay in the United Kingdom and I don’t really know so much about history and finance but looking at the Britannia coin, it looks really nice and must cost a lot. I want to know if this is actually spent as actual currency or people don’t spend this.

    Reply
    • Hi Jackie thank you for your interest in the Gold Britannia coins. Coins are traded worldwide and a global phenomena especially if you live in a country that doesn’t mine and produces any gold. For example, most of the Krugerrands mined and produced in South Africa are found in the United States. The Royal Mint does have a long history but I would be careful to attach too much value based on the visual elements of the coin on top of the gold spot price as a premium. Certainly, for me, looks also play a role when buying a gold coin especially the American Gold Eagle, I have to remind myself many times to put my emotion aside when buying a gold coin. You would be surprised that the premiums above the gold spot price of gold bullion coins are sometimes not that high.

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