40 years young: Happy birthday 20p

They say life begins at 40, but the humble 20-pence piece could be forgiven for having woken up with a birthday hangover.

The coin entered circulation on June 9, 1982, in a bid to ensure that the coins in our pockets were not too heavy1, ten years after decimalisation changed the coins we carry.

In 1982 the coin could have bought you a pint of milk, or a can of cola, while you would have had change when buying a Mars Bar or first-class stamp2. Handing over three of these coins would buy you a pint of London Pride.

Forty years of portraits

Over its 40-year history, the 20p has featured

  • Four different portraits of the Queen, with the latest being dated 2015
  • Two different designs on the other side of the coin – one a Tudor Rose used until 2008 and the other a portion of the royal shield of arms

The magical shrinking 20p

While 20p coins have remained the same size since 1982, the amount you can buy with them has shrunk considerably.

Today, you would need more than 83p3 to equal the 20p piece’s purchasing power – it has lost three-quarters of its value.

This illustrates the importance of investing your money to ensure its value keeps pace with inflation.

If you had put the 20p into the stock market instead, it would now be worth more than ten times its value despite volatility over that time.

In an easy-access savings account, at current top rates of 1.56 per cent4, 20p would be worth just over £37 over 40 years, which does not outstrip inflation5.

Despite the 20p’s shrinking value, when you find one in your change, inspecting it carefully could bring you luck.

Over 200,000 ‘mule’ coins, which are updated because of a minting error6 can fetch far more than their face value at auction. These coins are worth money to collectors7. To check whether you have one, look around the edges of the coin – if you can’t see a year on the coin anywhere, you may have a winner.

Other things to ponder when you inspect your 20ps include:

  • Its unusual shape

Like the 50p, the 20p is an equilateral curve heptagon. This shape, like a circle, has a special property: s the diameter is always the same wherever you measure the coin. This means that the coins are easy to use in a vending machine as you don’t have to put them in a specific way. The sides, as the name suggests, are not straight but curved.

  • Its 20p ancestors

Today’s 20p is not the first twenty pence ever. The ‘thistle crown’ issued in 1604 under James 1, and the gold penny of twenty pence issued under Henry III in 1257 both had a 20p value – though in those days 20p bought far more than a can of coke.

  • The Queen’s headgear

In two of the portraits of the Queen on the coins, the Queen wears the same tiara, ‘the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara’ given to her Great Grandmother, Queen Mary, as a wedding present. It was given to Queen II as a wedding present and is thought to be her favourite8.

In the others, she wears the George IV state diadem9, with emblems representing Ireland, England and Scotland.

  • The Queen’s orientation

Queen Elizabeth II always faces to the right on coins. This is due to a tradition that dictates that each monarch must face the other way to their predecessor on coins. Her successor will face to the left.

1 https://www.royalmint.com/discover/uk-coins/coin-design-and-specifications/twenty-pence-coin/ 
2 https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-1609849/How-prices-have-changed-in-25-years.html 
3 https://www.hl.co.uk/tools/calculators/inflation-calculator 
4 https://moneyfacts.co.uk/savings-accounts/ 
5 https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/saving/article-1633419/Monthly-lump-sum-savings-calculator.html
6 https://www.royalmint.com/discover/uk-coins/undated-20p-coin/ 
7 https://www.mirror.co.uk/money/rare-undated-20p-sells-56-24755473 
8 https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/style/1500355/queen-elizabeth-ii-girls-of-great-britain-ireland-tiara-value-worth-evg 
9 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELENCpMK1ro