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50 years of rare 50ps: how much are they really worth?

Subscribe to the Which? Money Podcast to find out

In an exclusive audio investigation, experts have warned The Which? Money Podcast that buying special edition commemorative coins is not a sound investment. In fact, many so-called ‘rare’ coins might never grow in value.

Which? research has found ads that misleadingly frame these coins as solid investments when really they are anything but. We’ve even heard from one man who was tricked into spending his life savings on coins that were only worth a fraction of what he paid.

Now, 50 years after the 50p was introduced, The Which? Money Podcast has taken a deep dive into rare coins to shine a light on the risks that come with shelling out for shiny silvers.

Listen to the episode here, or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify for the full story.

How many rare 50ps are there?

According to Change Checker, the Royal Mint has issued 75 commemorative 50p coins since decimalisation in 1971. Some of these will be rarer than others.

The modern collecting craze is widely thought to have started around the time of the 2012 London Olympic games when the Mint produced 29 50p coins, each themed around an Olympic sporting event.

Chris Barker of the Royal Mint Museum told the Which? Money Podcast that the popularity of these 50ps proved there was ‘a real appetite for commemorative coins’ among the public.

This has strongly influenced the Mint’s commercial direction ever since.

In January, the Mint released a limited-edition set reproducing some of the most memorable commemorative 50ps of all time. The set included 2019 versions of:

  • the Girlguiding 50p
  • the Scouting 50p
  • the Kew Gardens 50p
  • the Roger Bannister 50p
  • the original ‘New Pence’ 50p

Though many of these coins were popular, not all of them are considered among the rarest.

Which are the rarest 50p coins?

By far, the rarest and most desirable 50p in circulation is the Kew Gardens coin.

Originally minted in 2009, people didn’t realise how scarce this coin was until circulation figures were revealed years later. Only 210,000 were minted, in contrast to the millions that are minted for most designs.

The coin itself is in high demand from collectors, and it can sell for over £100 online.

The second-rarest by mintage is the fairly innocuous 2017 Royal Shield 50p. Though tens of millions of them have been minted in other years, only 1.8 million were minted two years ago. Despite their rarity, these coins appear to generally sell for just over £1 on eBay.

There are coins that sell for more than this, but there’s a big step down from the Kew Gardens 50p to its nearest rival, the Olympic football 50p which sells for just over £10.

Rarest 50p coins by mintage

There have been a number of additional commemorative 50ps minted since this table was made, but circulation figures are only available up until 2017.

That means, if you have a Paddington Bear 50p or a Sherlock Holmes 50p, there’s no way of accurately knowing how rare it truly is.

Sellers are listing them on eBay, but you can’t be sure you’re getting a fair price.


The risks of investing in coins

Since people who held onto a Kew Gardens 50p will have made such a profit, it’s natural to think buying a potentially ‘rare’ 50p might be a good investment. In most cases, experts tell us, it isn’t.

If you’re just saving a 50p you have found in your change, the stakes are pretty low. But if you’re paying money for one, it could be risky.

On top of this, the Royal Mint, and other coin sellers, sell collectors edition versions of commemorative coins for hundreds of pounds each.

Often, retailers highlight that these coins have gold and silver content. But as a Which? Money investigation revealed, they can be marked up by large amounts.

This means they are unlikely to hold their value as well as actual gold bullion – which is considered a solid investment.

The Which? Money Podcast spoke to members of the London Numismatic Club, a longstanding organisation of coin enthusiasts, and professional treasure evaluator David Guest about whether people should invest in coins.

The answer, across the board, was no.

Listen to a clip below, and hear the entire episode on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify for the full story.

Is it ever safe to invest in coins?

When it comes to commemorative coins, including commemorative 50ps, the advice is to buy them just because you want them, not because you want to make a fortune.

If you are looking for a more solid coin-based investment, you could consider buying bullion coins. These coins have a much higher precious metal content than commemoratives and are sold specifically as investments.

Before you make any investment decisions, make sure you read our expert advice on the subject.

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