American and British English · reading comprehension · vocabulary

The Fascinating World of US and UK Coins – Reading Comprehension & Quiz

Check out this infographic and article, then answer the questions in the Reading Comprehension Quiz!

From Marco Polo to Dagobert Duck who swam in his pool full of gold coins, to Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, people have been dreaming about riches. But instead of green bills or long lists of winning stocks, what tickles the imagination most is gold. Especially in the form of gold coins. Or maybe you are different? When you see money in your imagination, perhaps you think of your bank account with lots of nice fat digits?

Real Gold, Unreal Coins

The Hutts in Star Wars pay in a gold coin that is called wupiupi, and in Harry Potter a gold coin goes by the name of galleon. Brilliant name, isn’t it? You’d think that the earliest coins were made of gold, but that’s not the case. Gold was too expensive to allow printing lots of coins, so what we see is that most coins were issued in cheaper metals. These alloys (mixes of metals) were cheaper than the value of the coin, so as a guarantee for the value of the money that was in circulation, the authority that issued the coins (for example a king or queen) stored gold bars in their Treasury. Many countries still do that today. In the Vaults of the Bank of England there is a heap of gold bars that is worth 197 billion pounds, according to this article. But that was in 2012 and today the price of gold is much higher. Naturally the Royal Mint Vault is one of the most heavily secured facilities in the world and no visitors are allowed. In the Museum of the Bank of England you can gawk at a chunk of gold for yourself.



Which is the real coin?


A is the real coin. It shows Queen Victoria.

B is the Harry Potter Galleon.

And C is a Mickey Mouse fun coin.

Commemoration coins and special coins are big business, did you know that? Especially when they’re minted in precious metals that are valued according to their weight. This is called bullion coins and they’re coveted by investors. The gold and silver coins of Mickey Mouse can be bought online for hundreds of dollars. The idea is that their value goes up and then they’ll be worth even more.

Coins in the United States

  • Let’s start with the littlest coin: the cent. As the name says (cent means one hundred in French), a hundred cents, or pennies, go into one dollar. The coin is made of copper, tin and zinc. On the heads side it features Abraham Lincoln and the tails side has an image of wheat.
  • The five-cent and ten-cent coins are both made of copper and nickel. Founding Father Thomas Jefferson is on the obverse of the five penny and Monticello or the Westward Journey Series is on the reverse side. Franklin D. Roosevelt is on the obverse side of the 10 cents-coins and a torch, oak branch and olive branch are on the reverse side.
  • The twenty-five cent coin is known as a quarter. It has 119 reeds on the edge (a fifty-cent coin has 150 reeds). The coin features George Washington on the obverse side and a bald eagle on the reverse. To commemorate America’s two-hundred-year independence in 1975, a quarter was released with a colonial military drummer.
  • A fifty-cent coin or what is called a half dollar carries the head of John F. Kennedy and the Seal of the President of the United States surrounded by 50 stars on the flip side. A bicentennial half dollar coin was released in 1975 featuring the Independence Hall.
  • The dollar has various slang names: buck is one of them. Although the one dollar bill is used, the silver-colour coin, made of copper, zinc, manganese and nickel, is still accepted. There is a coin for a dollar that features Dwight D. Eisenhower on the obverse and the Apollo 11 mission insignia on the reverse. There is a variant that has the Liberty Bell and a moon on the reverse side. There are other variants featuring feminist and reformer Susan B. Anthony, American native woman Sacagawea, the Statue of Liberty and other American icons and themes.

Coins in the United Kingdom

  • In the UK, all the old coins were revised in 1971. Before that, the pound was divided into twenty shillings, and a shilling was ten pennies. This made foreigners who travelled to Britain mad, even more so because there was also a guinea which was worth 21 shillings. Get it? Today, the pound equals 100 pence (which is the plural of penny), which makes things a lot easier. The shilling and guinea went out of circulation, as did the florin (which equalled two shillings, or two bob).
  • All the British coins wear the portrait of Queen Elizabeth. The back sides are different depending on the value of the coin.
  • A new coin, the half penny (“half pee”), that was also introduced in 1971, had a shiny beginning, but sadly no one used it. Shops never charged in half pennies, but only in whole numbers.
  • The values climb up with one penny, two pence and five pence. Five pence was a replacement for the shilling, which used to be nicknamed bob. Ten pence was a replacement for two shillings or florin. Both the coins have changed substantially over the years, as people complained about their weight and then they were changed again, and then there were complaints about the size and they were redesigned again.
  • Twenty pence has been used in the UK since 1982. It was the result of these complaints about heaviness of the ten p coins, so then the designers of The Royal Mint thought it would be good to introduce a more expensive coin to reduce the number of smaller coins. Clever, isn’t it? The 20 p coin is heptagonal (it has seven sides) which makes it easily identifiable. It also rolls very nicely through vending machines.
  • The UK doesn’t have a quarter coin anymore, differently from in America, even though in the old English system they used to have the crown, which was a quarter of a pound. However a twenty-five pence coin was released as a commemorative coin between 1972-1981. The 1981 issue celebrated the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana (later they divorced). The interesting thing is that Diana doesn’t look like herself at all. Maybe that’s why they discontinued these coins (?).
  • The fifty pence coin was launched in 1969. It replaced the ten shilling note, or what was called ten bob. The notes live on in the expression “Queer as a nine bob note.” (As this note never existed.)
  • The one pound coin was released in 1983 and it has since replaced the one pound note. A pound is often nicknamed quid. It’s yellow in colour and in the newest designs with a yellow outer band, but, sorry to disappoint you, there is no gold in it, only copper. The back side went through many different designs, one of the most popular ones shows the four parts of the UK: Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The pound coins also carry different mottos (that is, a sort of slogan that is meant to inspire). None of the mottos are in English, however: most are in Latin, and two are in Welsh, so hardly anybody understands them.
  • The two pounds coin has been in circulation since 1998. It was first introduced as a commemorative coin in 1986 and later it replaced the two pounds note.
  • The five pounds coin, also called crown (but higher in value than the old crown) exists in precious metal version as collectors’ items or in versions made of a cheaper alloy. You will not usually get them back as change in a shop because people are holding on to them due to their rarity. Another reason they’re not being used is because banks are not obliged to accept them. They are issued for special events.
  • Of course the UK have various bullion coins (see above for an explanation of what this is) made of gold and silver. They have fancy names, such as Lunar, Sovereign and Britannia, and even fancier designs and usually commemorate some special event or development. One of the series, started in 2014, are Chinese New Year Lunar coins which have been printed to strengthen ties with China. Australia runs a similar series of Year of the [animal] coins, so the idea is hardly original. Hurry if you’d like to buy your Year of the Monkey coin! Some of the bullion coins can be as cheap as twenty pounds but they’re usually more valuable. There is no VAT on them, and that is one of the reasons why they remain a popular buy.

Anyway, I hope you’ve read through the infographic and all the other information. Want to do the quiz now?


Click here to do this quiz online. 

Choose the right anwer.

1 Which is older: notes or coins?



Both existed at the same time.

2 What were the first coins made of?


Some of gold, but more usually of cheaper metals

A mix of gold and non-precious metals

3 Which coins are still in use in the UK?

Crown, penny, pound

Shilling, florin, quarter

Bob, guinea, half pee.

4 What was a mite?

A coin that only widows used.

A low value coin that is not in use anymore.

A coin from the time of Jesus.

5 How did the crown (five shillings) get its name?

It was issued in 1707 when England and Scotland united.

It shows a picture of a crown.

It commemorated weddings and jubilees of the UK Royals.

6 Which coin was and is nicknamed quid?

A dollar

A penny

A pound

7 What’s a slang word for a dollar?




8 What kind of stuff is usually printed on the heads side of American coins?

Heads of state

Presidents and other important historical Americans


9 What kind of stuff is usually printed on the heads side of UK coins?

Important British politicians

Historical figures

The reigning king or queen

10 What are bullion coins?

Coins made of precious metals.

Coins, often made of precious metals, that are valued according to their weight.

Special issues of coins that are not in circulation.

2 thoughts on “The Fascinating World of US and UK Coins – Reading Comprehension & Quiz

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s