The first coins were minted in gold, and the first silver crowns were not produced until the reign of King Edward VI. Although many people believe that all crowns were minted in silver, until the time of the Commonwealth of England it was common for crowns to be minted in gold in some quantity. No crowns were minted in the reign of Mary I, but silver as well as gold coins were minted in the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I, and Charles I.
Crowns were minted in all reigns between Elizabeth I of England and Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. The Queen Victoria 'Gothic' crown from 1847 (mintage just 8,000 and produced to celebrate the Gothic revival) can be viewed as an important coin to add to a numismatist's collection. The Royal Mint has stated that the design is one of the most beautiful on any British coin.
The crown was a large coin, and did not circulate well. However, crowns were generally struck in a new monarch's coronation year (true of each monarch since George IV), though in George VI case, the crowns were in proof condition only.
The George V 'wreath' crowns from 1927 to 1936 (excluding 1935 when the more common 'rocking horse' crown was minted to commemorate the King's Silver Jubilee), the 'wreath' crowns depict a wreath on the reverse of the coin) are less common. Generally struck late in the year and intended to be purchased as Christmas gifts, they did not circulate well, and were not struck in large numbers, with the rarest of all dates, 1934, (mintage just 932) fetching several thousand pounds each. The last five shilling piece was minted in 1965.
After decimalisation on February 15, 1971 a new coin known as a 25p (25 pence) piece was introduced. Whilst being legal tender and having the same decimal value as a crown, the 25p pieces were issued to commemorate events, e.g. 1972 was for the 25th wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. The 1977 issue was to celebrate Queen Elizabeth's silver Jubilee, the 1980 issue for the 80th birthday of Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and, in 1981, the coin was issued to celebrate the marriage of Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles.
Further issues continue to be minted to the present day. With its large size, many of the latter coins were primarily commemoratives. The 1965 issue carried the image of Sir Winston Churchill on the reverse, the first time a non-monarch was ever placed on a British coin. 19,640,000 were minted, a very high number at the time, making them of little value today except as a mark of respect for the World War II leader.
The crown was worth 5 shillings (or 60 pre-decimal pence) until decimalisation, and was also the basis of other denominations such as the half crown and double crown. After decimalisation, commemorative coins of the same size continued to be issued, initially with a value of twenty-five pence, and then, from 1990, with a value of five pounds.
From 1990, the crown was re-tariffed at five pounds (£5), probably in view of its relatively large size compared with its face value, and taking into consideration its production costs, and the Royal Mint's profits on sales of commemorative coins. While this change was understandable, it has brought with it a slight confusion, and the popular misbelief that all crowns have a five pound face value, including the pre-1990 ones.
Although all "normal" issues since 1951 have been composed of cupro-nickel, special proof versions have been produced for sale to collectors, and as gift items, in silver, gold, and occasionally platinum.
The fact that gold £5 crowns are now produced means that there are two different strains of five pound gold coins, namely crowns and what are now termed "quintuple sovereigns" for want of a more concise term.
Numismatically, the term "crown-sized" is used generically to describe large silver or cupro-nickel coins of about 40 mm in diameter. Most Commonwealth countries still issue crown-sized coins for sale to collectors.
New Zealand's original and present fifty-cent pieces, and Australia's previously round but now dodecagonal fifty-cent piece, although valued at five shillings in predecimal accounting, are all smaller than the standard silver crown pieces issued by those countries (and the UK).