The British have been minting coins for hundreds of years, but modern British coin history begins in 1971 when the British coin system was decimalised. Before this change, 240 pennies equalled one pound. Eight British coin denominations are in circulation as of 2010. Several commemorative coins are minted for collectors each year in addition to the circulating coins.
As of 1971, one hundred pence (the European plural of penny) equals one pound. The British currently mint one penny coins, two pence coins, five pence coins, 10 pence coins, 20 pence coins and 50 pence coins. The denomination is written on both the obverse and the reverse of each British coin. The one penny and two pence pieces are made out of copper-plated steel and are circular in shape. The five and 10 pence pieces are made out of cupro-nickel (silver in appearance) and are also circular in shape. The 20 and 50 pence pieces are also made out of cupro-nickel, but they are hexagonal in shape.
Only two British pound coins were minted for circulation as of 2010: the one pound piece and the two pound piece. A five pound coin (called a commemorative crown) is often issued for collectors, however. The one pound coin is circular in shape and is composed of nickel-brass (gold in colour). The two pound coin is made of two separate metals. The inner circle is made out of cupro-nickel, and the outer ring is made out of nickel-brass, thus making a coin that has an inner circle with a silver appearance and an outer ring with a gold appearance. The commemorative five pound coin is a large coin (38.61mm in diameter) made out of cupro-nickel. Special editions have been minted using precious metals as well.
The Royal Mint issues a great amount of commemorative coinage each year, from the critically acclaimed gold Sovereign coins to the gold and silver Britannia coins. Presentation sets are also minted, such as those commemorating special events like the 2012 Olympics (held in the UK) and the Florence Nightingale set commemorating the two pence bearing her name. The mint also sells several stamp and coin sets bearing unique coins created as accompanying pieces to specific stamp sets.