What is Britannia Silver?

Britannia Silver

Britannia Silver is a type of silver alloy that contains 95.84 percent Silver that is mixed with copper. It is commonly found in numerous silver items throughout the world and is also used in the manufacture of Great Britan's Silver Bullion coin of the same name, the Silver Britannia.

Britannia Silver is a standard of silver that superceeded sterling silver by an Act of Parliament in Great Britain that was introduced in 1697 by King William III. It was the obligatory standard that was put into place to replace that of "wrought plate". The hallmark that was used on britannia silver depicted the iconic seated Britannia with an oval shield. This replaced the recognised hallmark of the lion passant guardant denoting the sterling standard. In addition to the Britannia hallmark, the leopard's head stamp of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths – the main company that produced sterling silver pieces at the time – was replaced with a stamp of a ‘lion's head erased'.

This new standard of Britannia Silver was introduced by the government in 1696, a year before it was turned into the obligatory standard. It was part of William III's recoinage scheme, an effort by the british government to keep silver coins from being clipped and then melted down to be used for other silver items. The government felt that if they maintained a higher standard of producing coins people would have less opportunity to melt down the newly minted coins.

Even though sterling silver was approved for use again by the government in 1720, Britannia Silver remained an optional measure of silver assay by the government of the United Kingdom as well as Ireland. However, in 1999, Britannia Silver was denoted by a millesimal fineness mark of 958, due to the hallmarking changes introduced by the government. 958 and the Britannia stamp can be added optionally by the producer of the silver item.

Silver bullion coins that are issued by the Royal Mint from 1998 onward are known as Silver Britannia's reflecting their silver content. They contain the reverse image of the iconic Britannia on the reverse of the coin and they are minted in the Britannia Silver alloy. Silver Britannia coin proof sets are very popular among collectors, and only 5,000 of them were released by the Royal Mint. These coins were available in £2, £1, 50 pence and 20 pence face values. They all have crenulated borders and vertical lettering, and the opposite side of the coin features the standard portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.