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The Royal Mint: Edward VIII’s Unreleased Coins

With a history stretching over 1,100 years, The Royal Mint's history is entwined with the monarchs who have ruled England and Britain. Here we discover how The Royal Mint handled the controversy surrounding Edward VIII’s unreleased coins - now the most valuable coins in their collection.

Amy Irvine

20 Jun 2024
Edward VIII's coin set
Image Credit: The Royal Mint

Edward VIII succeeded his father as king in January 1936. Yet 12 months later, on 10 December 1936, he abdicated, in order to marry the twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson. His brother Albert succeeded him as King George VI.

Every monarch in the UK is featured on notes and coins, in a tradition going back many many centuries. But due to the short length of Edward VIII’s reign and lack of formal coronation, no coinage bearing his portrait was ever released into circulation. Here we explore how The Royal Mint, who make and distribute the UK’s coins, handled such a controversy.

Edward VIII’s succession and abdication

Edward VIII was born on 23 June 1894, and was the eldest son of King George V and Queen Mary. In 1910 he was created Prince of Wales, and was later educated at the Royal Naval College and Magdalen College Oxford before undertaking many popular overseas tours. He succeeded his father as king in January 1936.

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Edward VIII, King of the United Kingdom and Emperor of India, was adamant that he wanted to marry Wallis Simpson, an unpopular American two-time divorcee. Yet as monarch of the UK, Edward by extension was the head of the Church of England, and under the rules of the Church of England at this time, his marriage to Simpson was forbidden.

Rather than retain his position and sacrifice his relationship, Edward VIII abdicated on 10 December 1936, executing an Instrument of Abdication which was given legal effect the following day. He announced, live on the radio:

“I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.”

King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson on holiday in Yugoslavia, 1936.

Edward VIII’s abdication forced his younger brother Albert into the role of king, under the title King George VI. The abdication sparked a constitutional crisis in Britain, severely wounding public confidence in the monarchy and leading to widespread outrage.

Edward had wanted his coronation service to be shortened or to not happen at all, yet the Archbishop of Canterbury had insisted it took place. The elaborate coronation preparations took over a year to arrange, and consequently, Edward VIII’s abdication meant he was never crowned. All the arrangements that had been in hand for Edward’s coronation went ahead, and the set date of 12 May 1937 was now kept for George’s coronation. 

Design and depiction

The Royal Mint was about a month away from going into mass production, planned for January 1937. Despite not being released, Edward VIII’s coins had still gone through the entire design process of creating a new monarch’s coinage, from new reverse designs and the selection of his portrait. How Edward VIII wanted to be depicted had caused problems, and he had been a difficult man for The Royal Mint to deal with.

Arrangements for Edward VIII’s coin portrait sitting

Image Credit: The Royal Mint

There had been a tradition dating back to Charles II where each of the eleven monarchs’ portraits after him would alternate by reign, facing the opposite way as their predecessor. Edward VIII was adamant that his portrait be facing to the left, showing off his ‘better’ side, which would have made him the first monarch to have broken those centuries of tradition.

Edward VIII’s coin portrait

Image Credit: The Royal Mint

In the end this decision was irrelevant as the coins bearing his image were never released, so the general public never saw Edward VIII’s portrait on their coins. The Royal Mint sort of pretended that Edward had played ball, allowing the Royal Mint to depict his successor, George VI facing to the left, as if Edward VIII had faced right, seemingly keeping the tradition going. If you were to put the three coins in a row (the previous monarch George V, Edward VIII, George VI), the three monarchs in a row actually faced the same direction.


When Edward VIII abdicated in 1936, it was highly controversial and a huge constitutional crisis, and The Royal Mint didn’t want to seem to be tainted by the controversy.

All of the coins of his that had been minted were placed into little envelopes, and then inside a small box, labelled: ‘Not to be opened except in the presence of two senior officers of The Royal Mint’. There was an accompanying note that logged every time the box would have been accessed. The box was then wrapped up with string, and the string was then sealed off with wax, which could help show if anybody had tried to access it.

Box containing Edward VIII coins that had been in The Royal Mint’s deputy master’s safe for about 30 years.

Image Credit: The Royal Mint

The little box of coins then sat at the back of the deputy master’s safe for about 30 years, before finally being allowed to enter the light of day in the 1970s and come into The Royal Mint Museum’s collection.

The resulting coins of all the trials, tests and the patterns that had gone into developing the new monarch’s coinage but didn’t go into production are very, very rare – so much so that The British Museum even had to borrow some of the pieces from The Royal Mint to display, as they don’t have any of the coins in their own collection. Ironically Edward VIII’s coins are now the most valuable coins in The Royal Mint’s collection.

Amy Irvine