We've recently enjoyed a brilliant four-day Bank Holiday in the UK, in celebration of the Platinum Jubilee. We're looking back on that weekend fondly while also casting our mind back even further, to the start of Her Majesty the Queen's long reign. Her first coinage was very different to that issued in 2022 to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of her accession to the throne. These issues - specifically those offered in 1953 specimen proof sets - represent a snapshot of numismatic history, as well as a window to the early years of a remarkable reign.
Accession And Coronation Of Elizabeth II
On the death of a British monarch the Accession Council assembles to make a formal proclamation, naming the successor to the throne.
This announcement was a matter of procedure after George VI passed away in the early hours of 6 February 1952. The Council confirmed the late King's eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth, as the new monarch later that same day. She had been the heir presumptive since her father acceded to the throne, following the abdication of his brother in 1936.
Though she had been proclaimed Queen, the 25 year old Elizabeth would not be formally invested until her coronation which was to be held on 2 June 1953 at Westminster Abbey.
Traditionally, no money is issued in the name of a new monarch until after their coronation. This gave The Royal Mint - then located opposite the Tower of London - nearly 18 months to prepare a new coinage, bearing the image of the young Queen. Like the coronation itself the process involved carefully navigating centuries of tradition.
The newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace after her coronation. Library and Archives Canada, K-0000046.
Mary Gillick's 1953 Royal Portrait
The new royal portrait would replace the image of George VI by Humphrey Paget, used on all circulating UK coinage since 1937.
17 sculptors entered the portrait competition, organised by The Royal Mint. They worked from photographs taken by Dorothy Wilding showing Elizabeth II in profile, facing right. Her Majesty would face the opposite way to her father, a practice stretching back centuries.
The design chosen by the Royal Mint Advisory Committee was the work of veteran English sculptor Mary Gillick. Gillick's effigy takes inspiration from the past. She shows her subject crowned with a laurel wreath like many seventeenth century monarchs. It's also an 'uncouped' portrait, meaning that it shows the head and shoulders of the new Queen, rather than cropping the bust at the neck.
Uncouped profiles on historic coins often extend to the bottom edge of the coin, the legend forming a sort of halo around the figure. Gillick's is different in that it was designed so the legend could entirely encircle the portrait.
The new design was translated to dies by the medallist Cecil Thomas and was unveiled to the public in the autumn of 1952.
Mary Gillick's portrait of ELizabeth II on the obverse of a 1953 Halfcrown
Gillick's portrait would be used on British money until 1968 when it was replaced with a new definitive effigy by Arnold Machin. To date five different busts of the Queen have appeared on circulating UK coinage, the latest crafted by Jody Clark. You can still see the Gillick bust on the obverse of silver Maundy money, issued annually.
History: British Proof Coin Sets
Proof sets are groups of proof coins - often examples of all denominations in circulation at the time of issue - offered either by national mints or assembled later by coin dealers.
What are proof coins? Proof coins are made with specially prepared blanks and polished dies which are struck multiple times, the time consuming process resulting in a coin rich in sharp detail with mirrored fields and frosted devices. Their fine finish makes them distinct from regular circulation coins though they will usually bear the same designs. Proof coins are often only available to VIPs or collectors and may be struck in precious metals.
The first official, mint-issued set of this kind in Britain comes from the reign of George II though the format became more popular in the nineteenth century. Boxed sets began to be struck by The Royal Mint when significant changes to the coinage were made, such as when a new portrait was introduced or to coincide with a coronation.
Today, proof sets and individual proof coins are a key component of the annual offer from mints across the world. The Royal Mint has issued new proof sets in a range of metals each year since 1970 in limited but significant numbers. In the past this was not the case, a single format would be offered and the total issue might number just a few hundred.
Getting hold of a set would have been more about who you knew than about braving the queuing system.
Different Types Of 1953 Coin Sets
The Royal Mint sold made several official coin sets in 1953 to mark the Queen's coronation:
- 1953 10 Coin Specimen Sets
- 1953 10 Coin VIP Sets
- 1953 9 Coin Circulation Sets
- 1953 Gold Proof Institutional Sets
'Specimen set' is the term the Mint used for 'proof set' in this period. Specimen Sets issued in 1953 contained ten UK coins in a maroon leatherette case lined with red flocked fabric and silk with a Royal Mint logo to the inside of the lid. Examples of these sets may show foxing (brown spots) to the silk. The coins are not sealed in capsules as with modern proof sets and their condition will depend on the degree of handling and how the box has been stored over the intervening decades. These original boxed Royal Mint sets are the most desirable, especially when the coins are in uniform high grade. They represent the only format in which proof coins (except the 1953 Crown) were offered in 1953 though individual coins from split sets can be purchased.
Interior of a Royal Mint ten coin 1953 Coronation Specimen Set.
The other sort of 1953 proof set you may encounter on the market are those described as 'VIP' Sets. This term is used to describe Royal Mint sets that were made as gifts for dignitaries, employees and other important people. Like the other official Royal Mint sets there are no definitive numbers on how many were issued but these sets are definitely the scarcest (and as such demand high prices). They are said to have a frosted effect to both sides which would allow you to visually distinguish them from a regular Specimen Set.
How many 1953 proof sets were issued? Maurice Bull’s English Silver Coinage Since 1649 reports that some 40,000 base metal proof sets were issued by The Royal Mint in 1953. This may include VIP sets too. A much large number of base metal Circulation Sets were also made though the issue number is unclear.
Nine coin Circulation Sets were also offered by The Royal Mint in 1953. These sets contained a standard group of circulation coins, produced using the same techniques as the coins in your change. They were presented in a plastic sleeve which sometimes still survives though is often split, discolored or absent entirely. These are not proof coins but they can often be found in near mint condition making them attractive to collectors.
Nine coin 1953 Elizabeth II Circulation Set in plastic sleeve.
You might find the coins from proof boxed Specimen Sets, Circulation Sets and general issue coins from 1953 in different, unofficial packaging. Coin dealers through Her Majesty's long reign have capitalised on interest in the first issue of her reign by assembling sets. You'll most commonly find 1953 proof and circulated sets in a card folder though they can be bought loose, arranged in a double-sided hard plastic sleeves or encased in aftermarket boxes.
A very small number of Gold Proof Sets were made by The Royal Mint to mark the coronation. These were not commercially available and were provided only to major institutional collections for completeness, as previous coronations had been marked with similar gold proof sets. These supremely rare sets contained a 1953 gold Sovereign though these coins had not been minted for circulation since 1932. Production would not resume until 1957 with coins like Double Sovereigns and Half Sovereigns reintroduced later.
What Coins Are In 1953 Sets?
As discussed, 1953 Specimen coronation proof sets should contain ten UK coins, including:
|1953 Crown*||Ledward portrait||Four shields|
|1953 Halfcrown||Gillick portrait||Crowned shield|
|1953 Florin||Gillick portrait||National flowers|
|1953 English Shilling||Gillick portrait||Three lions|
|1953 Scottish Shilling||Gillick portrait||Single lion|
|1953 Sixpence||Gillick portrait||National flowers|
|1953 Threepence||Gillick portrait||Portcullis|
|1953 Penny||Gillick portrait||Britannia|
|1953 Halfpenny||Gillick portrait||Golden Hind|
|1953 Farthing||Gillick portrait||Wren|
* 1953 Coronation Crowns appear in proof Specimen Sets and plenty of aftermarket assembled sets but not in plastic sleeve Circulation Sets.
The coinage of 1953, including proof coins, is made from base metal alloys: cupronickel, nickel-brass and bronze. Silver had been removed from circulating coinage in 1947.
Except the Crown, each features Mary Gillick's new portrait of Elizabeth II to the obverse, scaled for the denomination. The reverses were a mix of older designs by the likes of Humphrey Paget and Harold Wilson Parker as well as new ones. Cecil Thomas had entered the portrait competition won by Gillick but his work can still be seen in 1953 coinage in the national flower design for the Florin, completed with Edgar Fuller. The portcullis reverse of the Threepence was also introduced in this year.
In the following decades several of the coins found in 1953 sets would be phased out with others retarriffed as Britain's coinage was decimalised.
The Crown had already fallen out of general circulation. The distinctive 1953 Crown features an equestrian portrait of Her Majesty by Gilbert Ledward to the obverse, paired with a cruciform shields design to the reverse. It's a commemorative issue: legal tender but not really meant to be spent, an early foray by The Royal Mint into mass produced collectibles. These coronation Crowns appear in proof Specimen Sets but not official Circulation Sets. They may be included in aftermarket assembled sets and were available individually in both a proof and circulated finish.
Obverse and reverse of a 1953 Elizabeth II coronation Crown.
The coronation Crown is a unique issue, but other coins found in 1953 proof sets have a variation that appears only on coins minted in this year.
The obverse legend of 1953 coins is longer than that used in subsequent years and includes the words 'BRITT: OMN' which identifies Elizabeth II as Queen of the Britons. Later issues remove this wording, expecting you to know who she's Queen of.
Find Out More About British Proof Sets
We offer both 1953 'Specimen' proof sets as well as high grade Circulation Sets from the same year. If you're interested in proof sets and 'old money' these are the perfect introduction, not to mention a great present for the royal fan in your life.
We've previously shared content on a range of proof sets including the glorious gold set issued to mark the coronation of our current Queen's father, George VI, in 1937.
Modern proof sets are part of our core product range. We're adding base metal, silver and gold Royal Mint annual sets to the website all the time, including new releases like 2022 proof sets, issued with special commemorative designs for the Platinum Jubilee. Looking for one we've not got? We can often source proof sets and we're very happy to buy one from you. Contact us for more information.
How To Sell A 1953 Coronation Proof Set
We are keen to buy 1953 coronation Specimen sets, particularly those in good condition, as well as many other historic and modern coins. Visit our Sell Your Coins page for more information.
Frequently Asked Questions
The value of a 1953 coronation commemorative Crown depends on the strike and its condition. Errors may also add value. A proof finish Crown in an original case will demand a higher price. Visit our Sell Your Coins page to get a quote for your 1953 coins and other UK collectible coinage.
No silver Crowns were issued in 1953. All silver was removed from circulating British currency from 1947. 1953 coronation Crowns are made of a base metal, cupronickel alloy but that does not mean they lack value. Proof 1953 Crowns and those in specimen sets are of interest to collectors and dealers.
The first proof sets issued during the reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II were struck by The Royal Mint to coincide with her coronation on 2 June 1953. She had acceded to the throne the year before, following the death of her father, George VI.
Some 40,000 proof sets were offered by The Royal Mint to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Additional non-proof sets were also issued by the Mint with a very small number of VIP proof and vanishingly rare gold sets also produced.
There was no proof set issued by The Royal Mint in 1952. Though Queen Elizabeth II acceded to the throne on the death of her father that year, her first coins would not be struck until after her coronation in 1953, including her first proof sets.
Tradition dictates that Elizabeth II’s first proof sets were only issued in her coronation year: 1953. She was crowned more than a year after she acceded to the throne following the death of her father, George VI in 1952.
A very small number of gold proof sets were made by The Royal Mint for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. These rare sets were only issued to institutional collections and were not available for sale. A full set has never come to the market.
The only gold proof sets made for Elizabeth II’s 1953 coronation were given to national museum collections. They are not available for sale. If one comes to the market you will likely read about it in the newspapers and prices would be record breaking.
1953 proof sets contain either nine or ten coins. All sets should include a Halfcrown, Florin, English Shilling, Scottish Shilling, Sixpence, Threepence, Penny, Halfpenny and Farthing. Some sets might also include a 1953 coronation Crown coin too.
The Britannia Coin Company offers a range of 1953 coin sets including in proof and circulated finishes as well as 1953 coronation Crowns on their own. We also offer other proof sets including rare gold coronation sets and modern UK annual sets.
1953 proof sets can be hard to find in high grade, often their boxes are damaged or missing. About 40,000 of these sets were issued by The Royal Mint in 1953 and they remain sought after by collectors today as the first issue of Elizabeth II’s long reign.
A smaller number of rare 1953 VIP sets were issued with a frosted finish to the obverse and reverse. These may have been given to dignitaries and Royal Mint staff. It is unclear how many of these were made but they are highly sought after.