The wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 was a major event, televised worldwide and watched by millions of people. While we were not to know at the time, we were watching an event that would lead into a troubled time for the Royal Family, ultimately ending in the death of Princess Diana – by then divorced from Charles – in 1997.
As with many important events and occasions, the Royal Mint issued a commemorative coin to mark the wedding, in the form of a crown – the usual denomination. In fact, they also issued a special commemorative two-coin proof set, but let’s deal with the standard issue example first. What is a crown, and why is it used for commemorative coins?
What is a Crown?
A crown is a coin that came into being directly as a result of the Union of England and Scotland in 1707. Prior to this, Scotland’s equivalent was a Dollar, which was replaced by the crown. The crown held a value of five-shillings which, in effect, it still does to this day. As early as the 19th century, the crown became a coin that was minted mainly for commemorative purposes – rather than for general circulation – and while it is legal tender, this does not mean a retailer has to accept it should it be presented as payment.
The crown was – and remains – a heavy silver coin (from 1990 onwards it is notable that commemorative ‘crowns’ carry a face value of £5) and they have been minted for many occasions. In 1902, for example, around 250,000 were issued to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII. The coronation of George VI in 1937 saw more than 400,000 commemorative crowns minted (during the reign of George V there was no coronation crown, but a series of small-run ‘wreath’ crowns were issued each year) but the first million-plus issue was come in 1951.
That year the Festival of Britain took place, a magnificent event celebrating all things British in industry, commerce and more, and almost 2million crowns were minted to commemorate the event. But it was the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 that really cemented the commemorative crown as a souvenir to have, when some 6 million coins were produced to celebrate the event.
The next major issue was that which commemorated the passing of the great politician and Prime Minister Winston Churchill; a staggering total of almost 20million crowns were minted with his image in 1965.
The 1981 Wedding Coin
So, back to the subject of the article, the 1981 Charles and Diana Wedding Coin, which was issued that year as a memento of the wedding of the century. As it happens, 27 million standard copper-nickel crowns were issued, along with a limited run of silver crowns and gold proof examples.
What are they worth? There’s a clue in the figures provided: with 27 million issued, that’s a lot of commemorative coins, and if you go to one of the online shopping sites you can pick up very good examples for less than £5. They are of interest to collectors, but of very limited value. The same is true of most commemorative crowns, unless you happen to have one of the special proof sets that were issued alongside the general sale examples.
Also in 1981, the Royal Mint issued a very limited collectors run of a two-coin proof set. This included a genuine gold proof full sovereign – a coin with a face value of £1 but, being solid gold, clearly worth considerably more – alongside a silver proof example of the Charles and Diana Crown, presented in a special collector’s box. Nowadays, this set is likely to cost you in the region of £400 – £500, depending upon the cost of gold and silver at the time.
For collectors, the latter-day commemorative crowns are not of great interest, but they do serve the purpose of getting newcomers into the world of coin collecting, which is always welcome.