The circulating British two pound (£2) coin went into production in 1997. It was the first bi-metallic coin to be produced for circulation in Britain since the tin farthing with a copper plug produced in 1692, and is the highest denomination coin in common circulation. The coin consists of an outer gold-coloured nickel-brass ring made from 76% copper, 20% zinc, and 4% nickel, and an inner silver-coloured cupro-nickel disc made from 75% copper, 25% nickel. The coin weighs 12.00 grams and is 28.40 millimetres in diameter. The coin was introduced to test the public's opinion on the use of bi-metallic coins as a precursor to the possible introduction of the euro, as the one and two euro coins were planned to be bi-metallic.
The design itself was first trialled in 1994 when the Royal Mint produced a short run of demonstration pieces to the new bi-metal standard. These pieces were not for circulation and were simply intended to test the manufacturing process. The coin was technically similar to the version which eventually entered circulation with the Maklouf effigy of Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse and the image of a sailing ship similar to that previously used on the reverse of the pre-decimal halfpenny piece. The inscription on the reverse read ROYAL MINT TRIAL 1994 with an edge inscription based on the one pound coin which read DECUS ET TUTAMEN ANNO REGNI XLXVI, meaning "An ornament and a safeguard – in the 46th year of her reign". The 1994 pieces were never legal tender but were eventually released for sale as part of a presentation set in 1998. At the same time in 1994 the Royal Mint produced a mono-metallic trial two-pound coin, with the same ship reverse and inscription, but otherwise similar to the earlier commemorative coins. These were never issued in presentation sets, and so are much scarcer than the bi-metallic version.
Because of technical difficulties, the 1997-dated coins, which bear the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II by Raphael Maklouf, were not released to circulation until June 1998 (the same time as the 1998-dated coins). 1998 and later dated coins bear the effigy of the Queen by Ian Rank-Broadley. The Maklouf-effigy coins bear the inscription ELIZABETH II DEI GRATIA REGINA F D on the obverse; the Rank-Broadley coins bear the inscription ELIZABETH II DEI GRA REG FID DEF.
The reverse of the regular-issue coin, designed by Bruce Rushin, bears a concentric design symbolically representing technological development from the Iron Age, through the Industrial Revolution and the Electronic Age to the Internet, with the inscription TWO POUNDS above the design and the date below. It is worth noting that the design depicts nineteen interlocking cogs; due to this odd number, the mechanism could not actually turn outside a Möbius strip. The coin has the edge inscription STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS taken from a letter by Sir Isaac Newton to Robert Hooke, in which he describes how his work was built on the knowledge of those that had gone before him. "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."
The comparative rarity of the Maklouf-effigy coins ("the ones with the necklace") has led to an urban myth that they are much more valuable than the other coins, but this is not true – there are over 13 million 1997-dated £2 coins in circulation. Another urban myth about the coin is that putting it in the freezer overnight causes the cupro-nickel centre to pop out. (This is the case with the similarly-designed Canadian two dollar coin.)
As of December 2005 there were an estimated 268 million £2 coins in circulation.
This denomination is now commonly used for commemorative purposes. Unlike the earlier commemorative coins described below, these special issues are intended for everyday circulation and are regularly encountered as such. The following varieties have been issued (illustrations show the reverse designs; obverses are the same as the regular coin).
|1999: Rugby World Cup. (The image shown is of a Gold Proof version of the coin.) |
|2001: Transatlantic radio centenary. (The image shown is of a Silver Proof version of the coin.) |
|2002: Commonwealth Games, Manchester (English issue). (The image shown is of a Piedfort Silver Proof version of the coin.) |
|2002: Commonwealth Games, Manchester (Welsh issue). |
|2002: Commonwealth Games, Manchester (Northern Irish issue). |
|2002: Commonwealth Games, Manchester (Scottish issue). |
|2003: 50th anniversary of the discovery of the structure of DNA. (The image shown is of a Gold Proof version of the coin.) |
|2004: Bicentenary of the first railway locomotive. (The image shown is of a Silver Proof version of the coin.) |
|2005: 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot. (The image shown is of a Gold Proof version of the coin.) |
|2005: 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. (The image shown is of a Gold Proof version of the coin.) |
|2006: Bicentenary of the birth of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. (The image shown is of a Gold Proof version of the coin.) |
|2006: Bicentenary of the birth of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. (The image shown is of a Silver Proof version of the coin.) |
|2007: Bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. |
|2007: Tricentenary of the Acts of Union 1707. |
|2008: 100th anniversary of the 1908 London Summer Olympics. More than 400,000 minted.|
|2008: London 2012 Olympiad Handover. |
|2009: 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of publication of The Origin of Species.|
|2009: 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns.|
Between 1986 and 1996 a series of unimetallic £2 coins were struck to commemorate special occasions. These coins were intended as souvenirs and tended not to circulate at the time of their issue, but they do seem to appear in circulation more often now that there is also a regular coin of this denomination.
The coins were minted from the same composition as the £1 coin, i.e. a nickel-brass alloy of approximately 70% copper, 24.5% zinc, and 5.5% nickel. The coins weigh 15.98 grams and have a diameter of 28.40 millimetres. Although they have the same diameter as the later circulating coins, they are somewhat thicker and heavier.
There were seven issues of this coin, with the following reverses and inscriptions:
|1986: 13th Commonwealth Games, held in Scotland. |
|1989: Tercentenary of the English Bill of Rights. |
|1989: Tercentenary of the Scottish Claim of Right. |
|1994: Tercentenary of the Bank of England. |
|1995: 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. |
|1995: 50th anniversary of the United Nations.|
|1996: Euro 96 European Football Championships. |