The British decimal two pence (2p) coin – often pronounced "two pee" – was issued by the Royal Mint on 15 February 1971, the day the British currency was decimalised. In practice it had been available from banks in bags of £1 for some weeks previously. As of December 2005 there were an estimated 6,421 million 2p coins in circulation.
The coin was initially minted from bronze, but since 1992 it has been minted in copper-plated steel except for a few months in 1998 when bronze was used again. As copper-plated steel is less dense than bronze, post-1992 coins have been slightly thicker. The coin weighs 7.12 grams and has a diameter of 25.9 millimetres.
The original reverse of the coin, designed by Christopher Ironside, is the Badge of the Prince of Wales: a plume of ostrich feathers within a coronet, above the German motto ICH DIEN ("I serve"). The numeral "2" is written below the badge, and either NEW PENCE (1971–1981) or TWO PENCE (from 1982) is written above. However, a small number of 1983 "New Pence" coins exist. These coins are rather rare, and are considered collectors' items.
Three different obverses have been used so far – from 1971 to 1984 the head of Queen Elizabeth II by Arnold Machin, from 1985 to 1997 the head by Raphael Maklouf, and since 1998 the head by Ian Rank-Broadley. In all cases, the inscription is ELIZABETH II D.G.REG.F.D. followed by the date.
Because of soaring metal prices in early 2006, by May of that year the pre-1992 (97% copper) coins contained 3p worth of copper each. As of May 2006, about 2,551 million such coins remained in circulation. However, The Royal Mint warned that tampering with coinage is illegal in the UK.
In August 2005 the Royal Mint launched a competition to find new reverse designs for all circulating coins except the £2 coin. The winner, announced in April 2008, was Matthew Dent, whose designs will appear on the British coinage from summer 2008. The designs for the 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p and 50p coins depict sections of the Royal Shield that form the whole shield when placed together. The shield in its entirety is featured on the £1 coin. The 2p coin depicts the second quarter of the shield, showing the Lion Rampant from the Royal Banner of Scotland, with the words TWO PENCE above.
composition changed to bronze-plated steel