Gold Britannia

Britannia gold bullion coin 1987

By Mark Rogers

Britannia £100 gold coin

Britannia is an ancient name for Great Britain from the Latin after the Greek Prettanike or Brettaniai, which was originally the general term for the scattering of islands off the west European coast; over time it gradually settled down as the name of the largest of these islands. This takes part in the tradition of naming a territory after a powerful woman taken to personify the nature of the nation inhabiting that territory.

The Roman Coins

Britannia was first struck on coins by Hadrian in A.D. where a female figure labeled BRITANNIA was depicted as a goddess. Britannia is portrayed as a beautiful young woman, wearing the helmet of a centurion, wrapped in a white garment with her right breast exposed.

Why was this image used on a Roman coin? The Royal Mint speculates: “it was the Romans who, to depict their colonisation of a conquered country, first portrayed Britannia on their coins.” She is in these early manifestations shown as sorrowful captive, a portrayal of the might of the Roman Empire. Later she is shown in battledress, “perhaps symbolising a queen who resisted the invasion of the Roman Empire with indomitable courage whilst at the same time paying tribute to the fighting spirit of the island’s inhabitants.”

There is in fact an even more interesting suggestion: in his book Empires of Trust classical historian Thomas F. Madden, traces the development of the American “empire” through the latter’s explicit emulation of the Romans. The Romans, on his account were largely a peaceable agrarian people, devoted to their household gods and not prone to adventure. The latter however was thrust upon them, and to preserve their territorial and cultural integrity they decided that whenever they were attacked they would without mercy in battle subdue their foes – and then turn them into friends through forming a defence pact, the essence of which was that the former foe would guarantee never again to attack the Romans who in turn would come to the military aid of the now friend if the latter was attacked.

Thus the Roman Empire grew as a form of military alliance based on trust. So trustworthy did the Romans prove, that nations sought out their friendship.

So while the earlier speculations as to the presence and meaning of the various manifestations of Britannia on Hadrian’s coinage are not necessarily at odds with this view, it is likely that the inclusion of Britannia was an emblem of that trust.

The British Coins

Britannia as the name of the island long survived the Roman withdrawal from Britain in the 5th century but the name fell into disuse until the 17th Century when Britannia was given a new lease of life as an emblem of British imperial power and integrity.

Britannia’s first appearance on British coinage was on the farthing in 1672, though earlier pattern versions had appeared in 1665, followed by the halfpenny later the same year; the model used, then and later, was Frances Teresa Stuart, the future Duchess of Richmond and a favourite mistress of Charles II.

In 1987, Britannia finally received the accolade of being promoted to a gold coin for the first time since Roman times and must rank amongst the world’s most beautiful bullion coins.

Britain decided to compete with the successful South African Krugerrand bullion coin which had been minted by the million since introduced in 1967.

The gold Britannia was born and is produced in 22 carat gold, and is currently minted in 1/10 oz, 1/4 oz, 1/2 oz, 1 oz Weights. Various depictions of the goddess Britannia are on the coin, including the sitting Britannia, Britannia in helmet, Britannia with the lion, the Britannia and chariot and the standing Britannia.

The Britannia is classified as investment gold and thus free from VAT; but in addition as legal tender (like the Gold Sovereign) is also free from Capital Gains Tax which is advantageous over other bullion coins and bullion bars as an investment instrument.

The Gold Britannia coin was originally alloyed with Copper, but from 1990 the decision was made to alloy with Silver.  This is why the earlier Gold Britannia’s have the deep Gold colour, as opposed to the lighter yellow gold colour of the Britannia since 1990.

Composition: 1987 – 1989: 22ct        (0.917 gold, alloyed with Copper)

1990 – present: 22ct    (0.917 gold, alloyed with Silver)


Obverse – 3rd Portrait : Raphael David Maklouf, FRSA (1987 – 1997) / 4th Portrait :Ian Rank-Broadley, FRBS (1998 onwards)
Reverse –  Philip Nathan

britannia spec

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One Response to “Gold Britannia”

  1. dental hygienist Says:

    Great site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some friends!

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