Modern UK coins, regardless of whether they are circulating legal tender or commemorative issues, are produced in exactly the same way using today’s most sophisticated minting techniques. Firstly, an engraver or sculptor is commissioned to create the design. Once the design is approved, the blanks are then made; a blanking press can produce up to 10,000 blanks every minute. A plaster is then scanned which transmits the design onto a digital file to be stored on a computer. The design is then cut into a piece of steel at the coin’s correct size using an engraving machine. This piece of steel, the ‘reduction punch’ is used to make the dies for striking. Lastly the blanks are then inserted into the press and the two dies strike the actual coins.
The large proportion of commemoratives are struck to the highest standard possible - the sought-after proof finish. Achieving a proof finish on British coins takes a lot longer to produce, a small number each hour, compared to circulating coins like the ones you find in the change which can be produced at a rate of 750 pieces per minute. They take so long to produce because the special dies used are specially prepared prior to striking, are cleaned after every strike and need replacing at regular intervals. Proof coins are also struck twice further adding to production time but it is this second strike that brings out the full intricacy and clarity of the design. Gold and silver coins are usually struck to a high proof finish.
For the most important UK anniversaries, such as a Diamond Jubilee, a number of different specifications will be struck ranging from the smallest gold coins to large kilo pieces. In order to produce as great a range as possible at different price points for collectors, Diamond Jubilee issues were struck in a mixture of base and precious metal often to a high proof finish. Higher priced premium pieces were also available including the Piedfort, always a sought-after issue with its double thickness, 5oz golds and silvers, and photographic issues whereby a full colour image of the Queen is reproduced onto the coin’s reverse. The addition of diamonds on commemorative pieces also increased uniqueness and collectability and proved hugely popular with collectors the world over.