Nine Things You Might Not Know About the Great British Pound

By Spencer Hart on at

Ladies and Gentlemen, please stand and prepare for God Save the Queen… It was 30 years ago this week that Chancellor Nigel Lawson announced that the pound note was a goner, to be replaced by the already-in-circulation pound coin to change pockets, purses and vending machines forever.

To celebrate this momentous, and fairly weighty, historical change in UK currency and the way we carry it, we've collected nine facts you might not know about our beloved pound, from note to 12-sided future coin…


1.) Margaret Thatcher didn't think the pound coin would catch on

The £1 coin was first issued on the 9th of February 1983 and was used alongside the pound note. By the year's end, Mrs Thatcher had told MPs that it was "not very popular" and that she believed the note would be retained.

Yet printing of the pound note was stopped on the 12th of November 1984, with it taking another four years till it was not accepted in shops at all. The main cause behind the full conversion was that a wimpy note lasted for just nine months, while a coin could survive for over 40 years. [Image Credit: AdCastle]


2.) The first one pound note was issued on the 2nd of March 1797

While the pound coin isn't that old, the pound note is downright ancient. It was issued according to the orders of William Pitt the Younger, in fact, reacting to the need for smaller denomination notes to replace gold during the French Revolutionary wars. [Image Credit: Wikipedia]


3.) The coin has only featured three different portraits of the Queen

Three different faces of the Queen have graced our humble quid. The first portrait, by Arnold Machin, saw the Queen wearing the 'Girls of Great Britain and Ireland' tiara; after 1985 the portrait was by Raphael Maklouf, and since 1998 it's featured a portrait by Ian Rank-Broadley.

The Royal Mint actually plans to update the Queen's portrait next year – which will make 2015 a bit of a vintage for coins – and a closed competition is currently being held to select the winning design. [Image Credit: Royal Mint]


4.) 1,528 million pound coins are in circulation…

As of March 2013 an estimated 1,528 million pound coins were out in the world, although the Royal Mint estimates 3.04 per cent of these are counterfeit. It may be more of a problem than the Mint lets on, too, as coin-testing companies have estimated the actual figure to be around double this number. Did the Royal Mint underplay the figures so as not to undermine confidence in the currency? [Image Credit: Shutterstock]


5.) ...But don't go looking for counterfeit coins in your purse

Once you know a coin is counterfeit, it's actually illegal to pass it on. The coin should be officially handed in to the police, who will "retain it" and "investigate". Hmm.

Bonus Fact: The biggest counterfeiting bust occurred in 2012, when police seized 4.1 million coins in a single raid on a 40ft freight container in Essex. [Image Credit: Shutterstock]


6.) In 2017 the UK will adopt a 12-sided futuristic coin replacement

Thatcher would have liked this one. Earlier in the year, the Royal Mint unveiled a new look for the one pound coin that resembles an old threepenny bit with 12 sides and is made from two metals, like the current £2 coin. The new design is intended to reduce counterfeiting with its new 'iSIS' security system (which we assume they'll change the name of now). [Image Credit: Twitter]


7.) The 'ELIZABETH II D.G.REG.F.D' on the obverse of the coin is an acronym for 'Elizabeth II Dei Gratia Regina Fidei Defensor'

And just in case you haven't been swatting up on your Latin of late, that means, "Elizabeth II, by the grace of God, Queen and Defender of the Faith." [Image Credit: Wikipedia]


8.) The small cross on the edge of coins represents Llantrisant in South Wales

Known as the mint mark, the £1 coin features a small cross on the milled edge. This represents Llantrisant in South Wales, where the Royal Mint has been based since 1968. [Image Credit: Google Maps]


9.) But where does the word 'Quid' come from?

The etymology of the slang word "quid" is uncertain, but the widely agreed theory is that it derives from the Latin term quid pro quo, literally "what for what".

The first recorded use of "quid" as a unit of money, though, is in Strange Newes from Bartholomew-Fair by P. Aretine, 1661: "The fool lost his purse, but how he knew not; for the reckoning being suddainly brought in, his Quids were vanisht." We've all been there, right? [Image Credit: It Can't Just Be Me]


If you're crazy about coins and a nut for numismatics, you can read up some more facts in our Factmodo on the 18 Things You Didn't Know About UK Coins.

[Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock]