Britannia, the female personification of the British Isles, takes her name from an ancient term for Great Britain and has been a popular figure since the 1st century, when she was first depicted on Roman coinage under the rule of Emperor Hadrian. Illustrated as a goddess, Britannia resembles the Roman figure Boudica. Britannia first appeared on British coins in 1672, when she graced the farthing. She was a firm fixture on coins from this point onwards, appearing on pennies issued under every monarch from 1797 until decimalization, when she was chosen to appear on the 50 pence coin until 2008.
Over the years, the image of Britannia has altered slightly, with her maritime links being emphasized by switching her spear to a trident. Britannia is seen as a symbol of British unity, liberty and strength, meaning she resurfaces during particularly challenging times. Like Columbia in the U.S. and Marianne in France, Britannia becomes more prominent in times of war or when national pride is booming.
In 1987, Britannia’s image graced the new Gold bullion coin minted by the Royal Mint known as the Gold Britannia. These Gold coins have since grown in popularity as an investment and a collector’s piece. Gold Britannias are available in sizes as small as 1/20 oz and as large as 5 oz Gold coins. In 1997, the Royal Mint expanded this design to a Silver bullion coin known as the Silver Britannia. Over time, both the Gold Britannia and Silver Britannia have experienced changes in design and an increase in metal purity, making them major players in the modern coin market.