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Can You Spend Old £2 Coins?

by Simon Barker

can you spend old £2 coins

The original single-colour £2 coin, first issued in 1986, was a commemorative issue only (see below for a list of the subjects) and while it is legal tender, that does not mean retailers or even banks are obliged to take it as payment. You can try, but they will likely refuse, and the coins are far more interesting as part of a collection!

In collector’s circles, the £2 coin is one of the more interesting in circulation in the UK. Indeed, the £2 coin only entered general circulation in June 1998, and there is a story surrounding that launch that we will come to shortly.

When asking if you can spend the ‘old’ £2 coin this is referring to previous single colour coins (the present general circulation £2 coin is a bi-colour issue with gold and silver-coloured sections) that were issued as commemorative coins.

The first, issued in 1986 as a commemoration of the Commonwealth Games in Scotland, was followed by several more such commemorative £2 face value coins. Here’s a list of those.

These coins are just part of a long tradition of the Bank of England issuing commemorative coins, but as the question asks: can you spend them?

The answer is a somewhat confusing one: they have a face value of £2, and they are legal tender but that does not mean a retailer – or even a bank – will take them as payment.

The reason is they are not general circulation coins – unlike the present day £2 which we will talk about shortly – and as such, are not usually taken in payment.

The Legal Tender Conundrum

‘But’ – I hear you say – ‘you just said they were legal tender!’ Indeed we did, and while there is an in-depth explanation of what that means elsewhere on the site, here’s a brief one for now: legal tender is actually a little-used term, mainly used in legal circles, that means ‘anything offered in payment of a debt that extinguishes that debt’.

It is not a term that applies to everyday transactions in, say, a shop. Basically, if you owe someone £20 and you offer them £20 in acceptable amounts of coins – check our detailed article for more than this – they cannot refuse that payment.

How does this differ to you spending in a shop?

Again, we need to turn to the law for a brief explanation: when you pick up an item off the shelf that has a price marked up at £10, and take it to the counter, you are responding to what is known as ‘an invitation to treat’.

That advertised price is not an offer; you are making the offer when you hand over the £10 note or other coins and notes to that denomination. When the shopkeeper accepts that offer, you have a contract.

Bear in mind the retailer can refuse your offer – even if it is the full price – as he or she is not obliged to sell you anything. Therefore it follows that, even though it is legal tender, your £2 coin may be rejected as payment.

What we will say is that while each of the old type of £2 coins is worth more than its face value, only the very special proof editions issued in special sets are worth large amounts – usually between £50 and £100 for the gold editions. If you have a standard edition £2 of the first one from 1986, it’s likely worth around £5. So, what about the newer £2 coins?

The New £2 Coin

Introduced to circulation in 1998 – in some circles it is believed that the previous limited circulation editions as described above were a ‘test’ to see if the public would take to a £2 coin – the current £2 coin with its attractive bi-colour design was in fact intended to be issued the year before, and this is where that story we mentioned earlier gets an airing!

The original £2 coin design featured a portrait of the Queen by the artist Rafael Maklouf, in which Her Majesty is portrayed wearing a necklace.

raphael maklouf £2 coin

However, the planned late-1997 issue of the coin was delayed as there were some concerns from those in the vending industry as to whether or not the new coin would work.

The Royal Mint agreed to further tests, during which the problems were solved.

It had always been planned to issue a second design of the coin, with a royal portrait by Ian Rank-Broadley on the reverse as a second minting. As it happened, when the £2 coin entered circulation on 15th of June 1998, it did so as two different designs, with millions of each issued at the same time.

Soon after a story began to gain credence that the ‘Necklace’ portrait coins were very, very rare and were therefore worth a lot of money (this claim still does the rounds today) but in fact both were minted in similar numbers, so the story is simply not true.

Are there valuable £2 coins around? Throughout its lifetime the £2 coin has been minted in several ‘limited editions’ commemorating occasions such as the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in   2002, the 200th anniversary of the first steam locomotive in 2004, and many other important dates in history, industry, politics and sport.

At the time of writing – February 2020 – no fewer than 49 different ‘special edition’ £2 coins have been minted (in addition to those of the old style that we talked about earlier. Which are the most valuable?

It is interesting that the Royal Mint has concentrated on the £2 coin and the 50p coin for its now-famous special editions, and they are a great starting point for collectors who are new to the game.

The Most Collectible £2 Coins

Of the many special editions that have been issued, there is a set of four that is particularly sought-after, this being the 2002 Commonwealth Games edition of which there were four produced for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

commonwealth games £2 coins home nations

Each was minted in low numbers – low being around half a million – and they can fetch prices between £10 and £30 with collectors. Of the four, the Northern Ireland and Wales examples are the most valuable.

A very collectible edition was that celebrating the role of the Royal Navy in World War One, issued in 2015. 650,000 of these were minted for general circulation, and examples have been sold online for as much as £100, with at least £10 being standard value.

Also worth looking out for is the ‘new’ Britannia design from 2015. Although not a special issue, this new general circulation design was only minted to the tune of 650,000 which puts it among the more valuable and rarest of all £2 coins.

britannia £2 coin

For collectors, the great thing about collecting modern coins such as the £2 coins is that you may find one in your change you are looking for.

After all there are millions out there, and with almost 50 special edition new designs to look for, this could be a great start to a collection.

Check your change and tip those £2 coins out of that jar – you never know what you might find!

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